As a proud Westhampton alumna, I want to give words to those Westhampton women who may feel disheartened by the openness to change demonstrated by many since the changes to Ring Dance have been announced.
Let me begin by saying my four years at Richmond were some of the most impactful of my life. As chairwoman of orientation, an intern in the Westhampton Deanery, and a member of the Junior Class Cabinet that coordinated Ring Dance in 2006, I am a firm supporter of the coordinate college system and the experiences in leadership and self-actualization that it offers. My Ring Dance was an amazing evening filled with beautiful memories that I will always cherish.
That being said, I also know my Westhampton history and that the current iteration of Ring Dance has developed over time. It has not always been white dresses and escorts down the grand staircase at the Jefferson. Just as many of us grew and changed from our experiences at Richmond, so can tradition grow and evolve for the better.
We all acknowledge from time to time that the University of Richmond is a “bubble.” When I left this bubble and decided to pursue a career in higher education, I was exposed to other, very different university and college experiences. As I began to understand the dynamics of power, privilege and difference, I became more aware of those experiences that fly under the radar; the students who constantly feel marginalized from colleges and universities because they do not have the same perspective or experience as most of the student body.
It is easy to say you are “free” to do what you want when you are in the majority. But it takes an incredible amount of bravery to be the person who wears a green dress or purple suit in a sea of white. It takes an incredible amount of humility to approach your peers and say, “I can’t afford to be part of this celebration,” when seemingly everyone else can, and no, it’s not just the dress or the ring you are paying for. It can be incredibly isolating to be the only girl who does not have her father as an escort for whatever reason that may be.
All these examples are ones I have heard from at least one Westhampton woman who, although she enjoyed her Ring Dance, also remembers the feelings of exclusivity that parts of that experience entailed. Imagine how many more have not felt empowered enough to speak up about their feelings of marginalization.
If the spirit of the event is truly what has always been stated — class unity, family, friendship and academic achievement — then the color of the dress or a walk down the staircase won’t change that. In fact, while nothing is truly sacrificed, it can only serve to further enhance class unity by acknowledging that we value the unique experience of all Westhampton women, and we are welcoming of their perspective. I believe as a community of students and alumnae we are open
and empathic enough to see beyond the surface of this tradition and realize that it is the underlying
current of unity and empowerment that is the true hallmark of any Westhampton tradition.
I have read comments on Facebook and in the Collegian that condemn the changes as “selfish” and
exclaim that a tradition shared by so many Westhampton women has been ruined. I can guarantee
you there are more than a few women who feel more connected and supported by these changes
and I commend the bravery of the administration in taking steps to create a more inclusive community despite the resistance to it.
As I write this I look down as my Westhampton Ring and I am filled with
pride to be part of this community. Growth that reflects a supportive and compassionate community
dedicated to creating a more inclusive environment for all women is growth that makes me even
prouder to be a Westhampton alumna.