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‘Traditions exist for a reason:’ Parent attacks Ring Dance changes

Published: February 7, 2013, 12:42 am ET
Parent of Westhampton alumna

I am the father of a Class of 2010 alumna. My daughter loved her time at Richmond. She graduated summa cum laude, was a three-year officer on the Honor Council and became editor of The Collegian her senior year. She was a journalism major and women’s studies minor.

In short, I presume that Dean Landphair would consider my daughter to be the type of young woman of whom Westhampton academic administrators would be proud. My youngest daughter is an applicant for the Class of 2017.

I have recently read about the small minority of Westhampton undergraduates who believe they need to wear black dresses to Ring Dance at the Jefferson hotel. Apparently, these young women feel they need to proclaim some sort of moral indignation against a long-held tradition founded on the bond between Westhampton students and their fathers.

This tradition is based upon paternal love, not socio-economic exclusion. The two core premises that I read in their argument are totally fallacious: white dresses symbolize debutante balls; white dresses are primarily wedding dresses and therefore financially prohibitive.

My daughter was not a debutante, and we bought her dress from a discount shop here in Baltimore for her high school graduation ceremony (yes, it was a “tradition” here, as well). We paid about $150, and she also wore it for her Ring Dance at the Jefferson Hotel in 2009. The arguments, therefore, are specious at best.

In truth, they are merely further attempts by an academic politically correct elite to annihilate traditions that many parents and alumni/ae hold dear — traditions that form the core premises of what makes colleges like the University of Richmond different from Brandeis, Middlebury, Amherst, Wesleyan and other Northern peer colleges.

I will quote Dean Landphair in her defense of allowing the “Black Dress Protesters” (my term) to invade Ring Dance at the Jefferson Hotel: “We don’t want to deny the meaningful aspects of this for students who like the traditional stuff; but for the incoming students, hopefully they’ll recognize we see this in terms of principles of inclusion.” Huh?

Dean Landphair, I proudly admit that I am a parent who enjoys “traditional stuff.” That is why I chose Richmond for my daughter. Wake up, that is why most parents choose Richmond over Northern colleges.

Just what exactly does wearing black dresses at Ring Dance have to do with “inclusion?” Perhaps Richmond should ban sororities and fraternities, since not every student gets invited or can afford the dues. Perhaps Richmond should ban intercollegiate sports, since not every student has the ability to make the teams or receive the athletic scholarships.

Perhaps Richmond should ban graduating any students cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude since not all the students possess the intellectual acumen or work ethic to attain these academic levels of achievement.

Rubbish. Traditions exist for a reason. They are the bedrock of why undergraduates consider their collegiate experience special, while also providing alumni/ae emotional reasons to return to campus for reunions and contribute to the alumni fund. They are good things.

No one is excluded from attending Ring Dance. If the students choose not to attend, that is their decision. If they cannot afford a $150 white dress from a secondhand store, then perhaps they should not be attending a college where total costs approximate $58,000 a year.

Lastly, if Dean Landphair is losing sleep over students having to pay $150 for these dresses to an “elitist” Westhampton event, where is her sympathy for middle class parents like me who make too much for financial aid, but nowhere near enough to truly afford a Richmond education?

I suggest Dean Landphair attack an obsolete academic “business” model that penalizes hard working middle class parents and that create an academic panel to reduce Richmond’s cost of attendance.

Perhaps if she did this, Ring Dance would truly be affordable for all.

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  • Robyn V.

    What irks me about your letter is your selfishness. This isn’t about you, it’s about the women of Westhampton College. If the students and dean feel the need to make changes then so be it. Ring Dance will still be there as a tradition for your younger daughter, although perhaps not in the same way as you remember it. Your assumption that this tradition is based on “paternal love” is mistaken. Even if you don’t see it, these changes also have meaning and are based on moral principle too. By providing a more flexible space for self expression, perhaps Ring Dance can truly begin to embody the evolution of strength and self-identity in junior women. It’s not just about daddies and girls in white dresses.

    • BA

      The Dean stated in a piece earlier this year that appeared in the Collegian that the students did not have a voice, and if they had, they likely would have voted to not make the changes…

    • Phil P

      Not a fan of your response. And I’m sure not everyone is going to be a fan of my counter response, but with that said opinions like yours really tick me off. I would like to state that I am a fairly liberal recent grad of Richmond College and I do have a progressive mind, but I in no way agree with any of your sentiments. I am not a woman of Westhampton College, but I believe this change affects just about anyone who cares about the idea of this tradition(Parents, family, students, staff, community, etc.)…tradition means the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way. Any changes to the event would mean it is no longer a tradition to any person who has been a part of the event. It has been altered and made less special because the long standing event, remembered fondly by many is different for all to come. Each person is going to have their own reasons why they loved it, hated it, or for remembering it in a certain light. My own thoughts are that this event isn’t preaching exclusion, nor do I believe it needed to be changed based on moral principle. It’s also not an elitist event. It is a ceremony that many people have experienced, and one that many more will go through in the future. Ring Dance is a great chance for the women of Westhampton College to come together with family and friends and celebrate their accomplishments as is tradition, with white dresses, and with fathers or someone important to escort them down the stairs. I for one am extremely grateful to have attended Ring Dance with one of my best friends, and we will always share the memory of how awesome and special it was so I can relate to some of this fathers sentiments. I struggled to put myself through college, working 2 jobs: Doing everything at The Cellar for 4 years, and bartending downtown for 2 years when I needed to make sure I was able to have experiences like this and still pay the large tuition bills that financial aid didn’t cover. I am upset that It has been changed because a very small group of “progressive agenda” people who feel they don’t like what the event stands for, are determined to change some fundamental aspects of the event that mean so much to so many others. Why can’t some things remain the same, just because you don’t like it the way it is? Just don’t go. Find another event to practice self expression if you think this event doesn’t offer that. Save the rest of the people who do love Ring Dance for what it is, the hassle of being subjected to the negative views you have as well as those like yours on what you “think” the event stands for currently. It irks me that you think this father is selfish. This father is proud, proud of something he experienced with his daughter, and hopefully something he can also experience with his younger daughter. He wants others close to him to experience exactly what he and his one daughter have already experienced. Who are you to claim that his assumption that the tradition is based on paternal love is wrong? Who are you to tell me that Ring Dance doesn’t already embody the evolution of strength and self-identity in junior women. Women coming together as a class at Ring Dance to celebrate their accomplishments. Seems real weak…Being escorted by your father or close friend or family member, and introduced to an audience as an accomplished member of a class of strong, intelligent, and driven women…sounds unnecessary. To the people escorting the women, this is one of the proudest moments of their lives. They are celebrating these women’s achievements and the path they have taken to get where they are today. So in a sense, the event IS partly for them. I feel it is an additional recognition of those women’s identities. You would just have them walk alone because that promotes self-identity better? That to me sounds like you are reaching for a reason to do away with something that in no way hinders self-identity. You are robbing family and friends of potential treasured memories. I have many female friends who found their identity at Richmond. Many strong and proud female friends who are happy with the people they have become because of the Westhampton/Richmond experience. I have many female friends, that it made their life that a special person like their father could share in on the Ring Dance experience. Both you and Thomas sound like intelligent people, and I’m sure you both have opinions. I would ask you though, are you him? Do you determine his opinions, or do you just not relate to the fact that many people are upset with attack on a perceived conservative tradition. He clearly felt strongly enough about this to have written the editorial. I am strongly against the proposed changes, but I can’t articulate my position as well as this father did. Instead, I just get angrier and angrier at seeing people like yourself contributing when your last line reads “It’s not just about daddies and white dresses.” You’re right, its not. Read the article again. Personally, I am disappointed with Landphair and the administration for caving. Still a proud spider, but very sour over this decision as well as many other extremely controversial ones being made by UR administrators these days. Just my opinion, but like this father I am entitled to mine.

      Phil Pendleton
      UR ’06

      • Westhampton Father Class 2010

        Thank you.

      • Robyn V.

        Phil according to you: “Any changes to the event would mean it is no longer a tradition to any person who has been a part of the event. It has been altered and made less special because the long standing event, remembered fondly by many is different for all to come.”

        This is absolutely ridiculous and close-minded to think that traditions don’t change, and if they do then they are no longer traditional. If such a notion were a reality, what would happen to other traditions like Christmas, Thanksgiving and other gatherings we hold dear? Things change based on society, values, and our place in time — whether or not you realize it or not. Although these traditions evolve that doesn’t their meaning and importance is undermined.

        To claim that changes, which I think are fairly minor, “robs” family and friends of potential treasured memories is ridiculous. Although the experiences and memories of future Westhamption may be different from yours, that doesn’t make them of lesser quality or unattainable.

        WC’ 01

  • Reality Check

    This is extremely embarrassing – especially coming from a grown man.

  • Student

    This article is very upsetting to me. I am able to come to the University of Richmond due to the generosity of scholarship donors. I felt excluded because I could not afford to attend Ring Dance once the costs of the ticket, the dress, the ring, and all other additions were calculated. Even if you cut out some of those costs, neither I nor my family have the ability to pay for this. Not to mention the fact that my family hardly has the funds necessary to travel all the way down here. The ability to wear a black dress would not have made a difference to me, because I just can’t afford to go, but I believe that this is a step in the correct direction. by changing the tradition slightly, they are attempting to make it more available and palatable to all students.

    • Student

      I am still not understanding the assumption that a black dress costs less than a white dress. Additionally, I’d like to point out that the rings are optional, and I have not heard anything about the price of tickets being lowered.

      • Sarah

        Those were only some of the reasons they mentioned. I know that if I couldn’t celebrate with my family and loved one’s, it wouldn’t be much of a celebration at all. I think their point is that this is a step forward, and that it may herald more changes. Also, this tradition has already morphed into something other than was originally intended, so will more changes really make a difference. If this helps student in their ability or eagerness to attend, shouldn’t we try it. While some student don’t go to Ring Dance because of the costs, others don’t go because of the what they perceive it to represent or the feelings that it evokes. This traditions is meant to bring junior women together, so we should be trying to do that.

        • Melissa Smith

          It has been bringing junior women together just as it did this past weekend. Check out the article that tells how some really inventive women made up their own minds on what to wear to a DANCE.

      • Haley

        I also didn’t understand this complaint until I had to shop for a white dress. Unless you buy the dress between February and March (discounted prom season), any long white dress is typically labelled as “wedding dress.” Having this label automatically raises the price of the dress, even if you can get a nearly identical one in any other color for half the cost. It also makes alterations more expensive, because they become labelled “wedding” alterations. I got my dress hemmed and made sure to tell the seamstress that it was not a wedding gown. She replied, “Well it looks like one,” and then charged me double the normal hemming rate under the label “wedding dress alterations.”
        The price of tickets will be lowered in the future because Ring Dance will not always be held at the Jefferson.

  • Ashley G.

    I knew your daughter and thought of her as a kind and thoughtful person- traits you definitely aren’t showing in this piece. You obviously have the right to publicly express this opinion, and that’s one of the wonderful things about the country we live in. That said, shouldn’t everyone with the academic merit also have the right to attend a respected college, even if it is outside of their immediate financial means? Also, you say this tradition is based upon “paternal love.” Funny, I thought it was about spending time with your peers, getting your class ring, and growing up in general. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful that you care about your children enough to want them to have a great college experience. I was adopted by a single mother and have never experienced such “paternal love.” My mother walked me down the stairs the same year you walked your older daughter down. Does that mean I shouldn’t have been there enjoying my time as well?

  • Sandra

    Can we please remember that Ring Dance was NEVER supposed to be a “long-held tradition founded on the bond between Westhampton students and their fathers’.” The tradition was NOT based on paternal love. The original tradition was based upon a celebration of female scholarship, and through the years it has grown to be misconstrued and reshaped into something different which members of the community felt wasn’t given proper pledge to the values of our institution. The fact that the author of this piece assumes Ring Dance was about HIM and his daughter is highly problematic, and points to reason why conversations around the role of Ring Dance in student life, how we want to best express what it means to us a student body, etc, was important, including some changes.

  • Claire L

    I think the best thing to do would be to create a ring dance closet where girls from years before can donate their dresses to allow for others to use, keep, whatever. That would reduce the cost significantly and make ring dance even more of a tradition that bring the women of Westhampton together.

  • Disgusted

    It’s unfortunate that you miss the point entirely. It is not about black dresses at all. It’s about allowing as many women as possible feel comfortable enjoying the event that you and your daughter had the opportunity to enjoy. Where whatever you want, walk down the stairs with whomever you want…honor the tradition by being yourself and celebrating with your family and friends.

    Your sense of entitlement is disgusting and reasoning is quite closed minded.

    • Student

      What about all of the women that will not feel comfortable in black dresses? What about the ones that don’t want to blend in with the rest of the crowd that night? What about the ones that deserve the distinction that the night was created for? Black dresses take that away from everyone.

  • MN

    “They are the bedrock of why undergraduates consider their collegiate experience special, while also providing alumni/ae emotional reasons to return to campus for reunions and contribute to the alumni fund. They are good things.”

    My experience is special because of the quality education I’m receiving from Richmond. I will give back to Richmond for just that reason.

    I, like you, assume everybody in the world is exactly like me, so clearly your point about traditions existing for a reason is wrong.

  • Student

    Great post. I could not agree more. The majority of students are on your side!

  • Student

    I applaud your article, sir. I know that my father is truly upset with the recent decisions as well – as is my entire family, including me. I am a current senior and am on full scholarship here at Richmond. Just as your daughter did, I bought a cheap white dress for my ceremony. Mine was only $75, and I was told by numerous people that I had one of the most beautiful dresses my junior year. It is quite easy to find a beautiful, cheap white dress if only people take an hour out of their day to look for it. And as for all of these comments saying that families can’t afford it- mine couldn’t either. You know what we did? We contacted the Dean’s office, who are more than readily prepared to help out families in need so that those students may have the same experience as others.

    Cost has nothing to do with it anyway. A black gown will be just as expensive as a white one. The cost of a ring will be the same. The cost of attendance will be the same. Now, instead of letting the junior women uphold a beautiful tradition and stand out from the crowd, they will not be recognized for their achievements throughout the night, which is one of the most special parts of Ring Dance. As a guest, just as many others do, I am able to congratulate each Westhampton woman I see in a white dress throughout the night, just as I was congratulated by complete strangers. The white dress is more than a tradition- it is a mark of distinction. It should never be taken away.

  • L S

    I agree with Student and Ashley G. The insensitivity and self-absorption of your letter bothered me enough that I felt the need to write this. I’m an international student, from a third world country, who graduated U of R in 2010. Had I not received a merit-based scholarship, my parents would have never been able to afford to send me to U of R. I earned my place at U of R. I earned a BA and a BSc concurrently, in four years, and am now working on a PhD. I didn’t choose to attend U of R because of ‘traditions’. I chose to attend because of the solid education that was offered to me. International students are restricted in the number of hours that they can work, so my living expenses were largely supported by my parents…who were also supporting my younger sister and my grandparents, on a currency that is worth 1/6 of a US dollar. I did not attend Ring Dance, because it would have been the height of selfishness to ask my parents to help pay for a white dress (that I probably would’ve never worn again), a class ring, tickets and so on. The cost for my father to have been there would have made those expenses seem paltry in comparison. All that expense, for something so trivial. The point that I’m trying to make, is that there are far more valuable things about the college experience than a silly dance. That is never more acutely apparent than when one has to sacrifice -and watch others sacrifice- in order for you to obtain a good education. I don’t begrudge the women of my class who had the means to attend and the means to have their fathers attend- I’m happy for those that were able to make Ring Dance a part of their experience. However, it seems that some people just cannot seem to fathom how such traditions (certainly not based on ‘paternal love’) can make others feel alienated. Or maybe they do, but just don’t care. The mentality does seem to be disturbingly of the ‘ us vs. them’ sort. The university is not eliminating Ring Dance. They are merely making some minor changes, in the spirit of inclusion. I’m not sure that those changes will be particularly effective, but they represent a step in the right direction. I’ve no idea why designating something ‘a tradition’ renders it above reproach and immune to progressive change. If the premise of Ring Dance is *really* to celebrate junior women’s achievements and to promote their solidarity as Westhampton women, then these changes should have no negative effect on the celebration, should they?

  • Susan

    Meanwhile, children are dying of hunger all over the world. Get a grip, dude.

  • Student

    This is clearly not about the cost, because I have never heard any evidence that white dresses generally cost less than black ones. I also have not heard any move to change ticket prices or move to a less upscale venue. This was about doing away with a tradition that is seen to be anti-feminist. However, the fact that such a premium is being placed on the color of the dress that is worn is problematic to me. In 2008, when I attended, most girls did wear white. I noticed a few in pink, and one in red. Those women clearly did not feel pressured to wear white and did not feel excluded from the event. I don’t remember there ever being a mandate that girls wear white. So why must women be encouraged not to wear white? Why not just leave it up to the women themselves to decide? That being said, I do think there was something unique and special to the tradition of women wearing white at ring dance. I see nothing wrong with allowing the women to wear white as a sign of Westhampton unity. Why does wearing white need to be a symbol of anti-feminism? Perhaps the way to do away with these antiquated notions of femininity is to refuse to give in to the stereotypes associated with wearing certain colors.

    • Haley

      During my dress hunt I found that ordering a dress in white automatically made the dress more expensive, because it was then labelled a “wedding dress.” My seamstress also labelled my alterations as “wedding gown alterations” despite my protest, and charged me double the amount she did for my very similar red prom gown.
      Also, there are very few events in which wearing a long, white gown is considered appropriate, whereas other colors can be worn at any formal occasion or night out. Changing colors drops the cost per wear of the dress.

  • Red F.

    While I do disagree with you (the author) on points, you seem like you have thought this through. Attacking your character will not change the inherent “right” or “wrong” of what you said, points/allegations stand or fall on their own merits, not on who says/makes them. That being said, something that has always confused me is why traditions are connected with being inherently good. I am not saying that traditions cannot be good, but the ones that are good are not good because they are traditions. In the same way that who you are doesn’t effect the validity of of an argument; I don’t see that something being a tradition makes something good or bad. (I.e. segregation was certainly a tradition, but so are christmas celebrations; both traditions but one is bad and the other good). I will personally say that I had an awesome time at this last one, and I frankly don’t care what color dress anyone wears (florals being more my taste anyway). But that stemmed from the fact that I loved going with my friends and having a fun time dancing, not from the fact that it is a tradition. So my questions would be, what is it that makes ring dance being a tradition such a great thing?/What makes anything that is a tradition inherently good?

    • daisy323

      You are exactly right. Another example is when Fraternities and Sororities legitimize hazing activities because they are “traditions” for their particular chapter. If they really thought about it though, their group’s founders certainly did not have hazing in mind when they founded their fraternal organizations so many years ago. The activities were added later in an effort to have members earn their place. People often mistake more recent traditions and practices as being associated with the original purpose of an organization or event. Gift-giving and putting up a tree during Christmas, brunch and egg hunting on Easter, etc.

  • Happy with changes

    I agree with all of the comments about the selfish nature of this article. I do want to add a few things. I personally did not choose to attend the University of Richmond for its “traditions”. Frankly, I didn’t know of ANY of UR’s traditions until after I enrolled and learned I needed a white semi-formal dress for Proclamation Night. I chose UR because of its academics and the generous financial aid package I was offered over other colleges. I would not have been able to afford this school otherwise. Yes, I am one of those girls whose family can’t afford a $150 dress unless I dip into my 50+ hour/week summer job fund for fear of sending my family further into debt. My mother recently earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in order to get a new job, my sister is currently a junior in college collecting her own debt, and my family’s main source of income is my father’s indebted local landscaping business. We would be considered under-privileged by some American standards. We cannot afford a school like Richmond but are blessed by the fact that my high school academics earned me a spot at this school which is so generous with financial and merit aid. Additionally, I thought of Richmond as a very diverse school because of its constant advertising of “high” international and first-generation percentages. I was sadly let down by this to find there are many students who come from over-privileged, conservative, closed-minded backgrounds. (Obviously this does not describe all students but it does describe an overwhelming percentage much higher than I expected from any college I applied to.) One of my closest friends who lives in the area knows many people who have attended and graduated UR asserts that UR is known in state as the “rich, white school.” In a state that is historically conservative, UR is taking a step in the right direction by eliminating characteristics of this “tradition” that make it so similar to the controversial debutante ball and changing its negative reputation. That being said, students in the past have worn colors other than white so in no way are they being forced to wear black now. It simply opens the doors for students to feel they have more say and freedom in their choice of attire for the event. If a student can’t afford a white dress, which DO cost significantly more than dresses in any other color, they can wear a much less expensive dress in black or any other color they choose. Lastly, my aforementioned friend didn’t grow up with a father figure and the elimination of escorts allows her to feel more included in an event full of daughters and fathers. We will still be surrounded by friends and family, but I feel these changes allow for students to hold onto traditions while attending an event that better reflects the progressive and inclusive values many college students live up to. Please open up your mind to 2013.

    • Student

      If you didn’t attend Richmond for the traditions, why are you so involved in the debate about Ring Dance? Get back to studying.

      • Happy with changes

        I didn’t CHOSE Richmond for its traditions. But I am a student now and I feel I have a say in what happens on campus, a say as equal to every other person in Westhampton College and every student at UR. This happens to be one of the traditions students are invited to attend. One that is supposed to be for ALL WC students in their junior year. I feel that these changes are good and wish to voice my opinion against those who feel differently, not because I think they are wrong but because I have the same right as them to voice an opinion. I can’t imagine anyone would chose a college just for its “traditions” and if someone did, it does not entitle them to a better or more important opinion than mine.

        • Rachael Johnson

          Way to judge a book by its cover – how do you know the other students are conservative and privileged Because they dress nicely? Now who’s shallow?

  • Westhampton Father Class 2010

    And being “smart” does not mean having class. Learn some manners.

  • AB

    With all due respect, I don’t think you recognize your own privilege. You went to a private college and graduate school, you make enough to pay for (or borrow for) three children to go to college, and you had 20 years worth of savings wiped out by recession. That’s not exactly the “working class” roots your letter portrays.

    This is not about class warfare, neither is my comment above. What is this about then? This is about privilege and those in the majority recognizing their privilege and making decisions and having beliefs based upon that privilege without recognizing it. You are well-educated, have a well-educated family, are financially stable (I assume from the financial sharing you have done in your letter and response), and appear to be in the majority across a variety of categories. Again, with all due respect and without sarcasm, congratulations, on that success and on the success of your family. You have every right to be proud of your accomplishments and your families.

    Without understanding your own privilege though, you fail to see how that privilege affects those who are in the minority or without those privileges. This clearly isn’t going to change your mind, but I challenge you to think about that carefully.

    • Westhampton Father Class 2010

      I am not arguing this point anymore because you are right, it seems that opposing sides’ positions are rather instransigent on this Ring Dance. I do want to clarify a point in your response which is a key one concerning my background. I did NOT graduate from a private college and grad school. I attended public grade school, a Roman Catholic Jesuit high school in Buffalo, NY (cost $380 first year, $500 my senior year), then attended UVA as an out-of-state student for my BA, William and Mary as a then in-state student for my MBA. In both cases, I obtained loans and worked 20-30 hours a week. I also got a scholarship at William and Mary. I chose UVA over Georgetown, where I was also accepted, for a few reasons, primary of which was UVA was then 40% of the cost of Georgetown. I have made, as have my daughters, numerous life decisions – academic and otherwise – always with the short and long term cost consequences in mind. Everything my wife and I have made or saved we have done through hard work, with no inheritances/trust funds from our parents. I expect others can also do well in America if they work hard and make considered judgments about financial choices – college, dances, clothes, cars, homes, etc. I also do not begrudge anyone better off than I, since America is all about hard work and opportunity, frankly now more than ever for ethnic and religious minorities who 40+ uears ago suffered from bigotry, racism, and religious antipathy. Jews had to endure Jewish quotas at Ivy League schools even into the late 1950′s, early 1960′s, while as you know blacks were virtually without top college options until the 1960′s. With affirmative action and aggressive recruting of international students, diversity not only is the norm, but at my alma mater UVA 27.8% (2011-2012 school year) of the undergraduate student body is comprised of minority students, in excess of the general population. We have made vast strides, with the exception of open debate and civil discourse, which unfortunately has coarsened among many the past two decades. My last point is that my wife’s and my savings are not the result of “privilege” as AB says above. Privilege is being born into the British Royal Family. Nor am I, despite the ill-informed over use of this word in the numerous commentary diatribes below, an “elitist.” Our family savings are the result of hard work and thrift, two attributes that American society used to pride itself on, but now are the object of scorn to many. I am a hard-working American, a handle I wear proudly, and with no shame whatsoever.

  • Haley

    1) Long white dresses are typically more expensive because they are labelled “wedding” gowns, and therefore the price goes up. I was charged more for ordering my gown in white and for my alterations because it was labelled as “wedding,” despite my protests. It is also much more likely that you will be able to wear a gown of any color other than white again, reducing the cost per wear of the dress.

    2) It is not just the LGBTQ community that feels excluded and offended by white dresses. But because you mentioned it, one of the reasons many LGBTQ individuals don’t like the white dresses is because this may be the only occasion when they can ever wear them because they may never have the opportunity for a legal wedding ceremony. The connotations between white gowns and weddings shove in their faces the rights they don’t have access to. That same connotation also harks back to the time in which Ring Dance was invented, when women were told that college was only a stepping stone, a waiting room, until they found husbands and got married. This “practice marriage ceremony” makes many students uncomfortable.

    Also, just because some people defend others’ right to wear what they please is certainly not representative of the general reaction. I was harassed enough for even considering not wearing white that I backed down and conformed, and the verbal abuse, stares, gossip, and threats that some non-conforming students receive is absolutely unacceptable.

    3) While it wasn’t intended to be patriarchal, the expectation to have escorts suggests that WC students need to rely on someone and are not able to shine as individuals. And while many people, like myself, choose not to have a father as an escort either because it’s not possible or they don’t want to, we become subject to comments like, “Do your parents not love you?” Bullying prevents people from enjoying the night as they wish.

    We are not militant and we are not even a minority. I have not yet talked to a single person who said they would pick white if they were allowed to choose any color and if that expectation was not already in place.

    • Rachel Johnson

      It takes a village – we all rely on others for our success in life and to state otherwise is arrogant and self centered. And plenty of same sex coupled wear white gowns to celebrate their unions. My sister resides over commitment ceremonies and the participants wear what they want. No one has been telling LGBTQ students they can’t wear tuxes or whatever they choose. If students can’t learn to stand up for themselves in college instead if hiding begin the apron strings of the Sean’s office then they are going to be in for a rude awakening in the real world. And if the seamstress (what an outdated term) is bullying you into paying extra for your alterations because your dress is white, then go elsewhere. My roommate hemmed my dress.

  • Westhampton Father Class 2010

    “Smart” (I am giving you the benefit of the doubt) does not mean one has class. Learn some etiquette and good manners. By the way, reread my original letter. I never said “rich” equates to a good education. Perhaps you ought to take Philosophy and Rhetoric as an elective at UR before you graduate to improve your analytical ability.

    • Robyn V.

      You didn’t need to say it explicitly. Instead of attempting to undermine the voice of the students, as you already have done in your letter, perhaps you should listen to them. In your letter you assume that a student needs to be rich in order to get a degree from UR: ” If they cannot afford a $150 white dress from a secondhand store, then perhaps they should not be attending a college where total costs approximate $58,000 a year.”

      This statement is purely elitist. As a need-blind institution (as well as many others), UR admits studies based on their ability and intellect — not how deep their pockets may or may not be. This is why many students whose parents make a fraction of tuition costs can afford to go to private elite colleges. So yes, perhaps each student can’t afford $150 on a dress they are likely to only wear once. This does not mean such a student should not be able to attend Richmond.

  • BP 2012 Grad Dad

    I would like to congratulate Tom Neale for his courage in expressing his feelings and beliefs in the aforementioned letter. As a parent of a 2012 Graduate, although I don’t concur with everything Mr. Neale portrays in his well thought out letter, I believe he speaks for the “silent majority” of UR Women, who didn’t pressure the Dean of Westhampton to make a change based on the views of the ” Militant Mob” as described by one of the previous writers, Sally. Apparently this struggle with the “angry mob” goes way beyond this Ring Dance issue, and the cost argument, black dress versus white dress, doesn’t hold water ladies.

    My daughter and several of her friends from UR have reiterated their displeasure and frustration over the Ring Dance changes, but more so the nature of the proceedings which resulted in the decisions.

    Rather than these nasty comments and tacit remarks about Mr. Neale’s character, perhaps you could address the flawed and inappropriate process whereby the women of Westhampton College were not allowed to have a vote or an opinion, or a voice in this decision…. I believe in this country the majority is supposed to have a vote!

    I was at the 2011 Ring Dance, and there were women without white dresses, escorts, and expensive accoutrements. Many appeared to have a wonderful time!

    I will remember the Ring Dance as one of the most special occasions spent with my daughter… not only at Richmond, but in our last twenty-two years together. Now, for these disgruntled individuals to effectuate these changes is grossly inappropriate.

    Although I can’t speak for all parents who have attended the Ring Dances, I do know the ones I have had discussions with are vehemently opposed to these arbitrary and capricious changes.

    Well done Tom Neale… that noise you hear is applause from me and other parents!

    • Anonymous

      Sir, may I suggest that IF your daughter and Mr. Neale’s daughter are so affected by changes that will never impact their experience (seeing as they have already had their Ring Dance) they PLEASE iterate their comments themselves? Honestly, no one is keeping them from doing it in the Collegian. As an alumni from the class of 2012, I am shocked to keep seeing mother and father come into the conversation and talk for their daughters as if they didn’t have a voice they could quite easily use to express themselves in this situation if they were really so bothered by it. I am sure you pride yourself in bringing up a strong, independent woman — why steal her voice?

      The problem behind the lack of structural transparency is duly noted. Students from the university know it well. We have known about it for a long time. They are the ones that will deal with it. They are the ones dealing with it. Not you. Please have some respect and know when to step back and let others’ voices be heard. If the women to be affected by the change aren’t speaking out about it, then why keep throwing salt on the wound as an outsider?

      I am also sick and tired of hearing about this ‘imaginary’ militant mob. Can we please stop vilifying students, Miss Sally, especially /if/ the story we’re going to keep pushing is that there was such a HUGE lack of student participation in the decision? Make up your minds, upset parents and alumna.

      I, for one, can tell you that there was no such thing as a minority militant mob at UR in my time. There are a lot of passionate students working for many issues in the university and outside of it, including how to get more student participation in the decision-making process. So can we please stop bashing them like their work doesn’t matter?

      What I do keep hearing is a militant group of parents and alumni that keep failing to recognize that this issue is not about them and that keep insulting the concept of inclusion as if it wasn’t important and singling out students like some metaphorical group in a way that further puts them down. You know, for some people, it’s hard enough getting up in the mornings knowing people will discriminate against you. Know how it feels to know not just your classmates but even alumni and parents want to invalidate you? Keep applauding parents. But I know the faces of some of the students for whom the changes were at least a little breath of air and they are some of the ones putting UR’s name on the map. Go ahead and call them a militant mob. They’ll thank you by never wanting to be part of their alma matter again. Don’t push them to that: our university has enough problems with creating a strong network.

      Hear the sounds of people stomping away angrily? Those are the students with potential that would rather not fight parents they’ve never met and go to schools where change is welcome and people are respected as human beings. I hate getting asked by potential minority applicants if THIS is what they’ll have to deal with all the time. And all I can do is point them to messages like Mr.. Neale’s, Sally’s and yours.

      • Rachael Johnson

        So it’s ok for you as an alumna to chime in but other alumnae who are concerned that a few students demanded changes and the Dean caved should just shut up and go away? Really? Hypocrite.

  • overit

    Exactly how many transgender students are there on campus that make this that big of an issue?

  • Dear Sillyman,

    I think, perhaps, it might behoove you to read some other Collegian articles on the subject of Ring Dance, sir. Upon doing so, you will find that the tradition of wearing floor-length white dresses only began in the 1980s, meaning that this “long-standing” tradition that you are rearing to fight for is roughly half your age. I understand that you and your family will be impacted by the changes made to this tradition. Having worn the white dress myself, I am sad to see that experience change for future Westhampton generations.

    However, there is no such thing as a “Black Dress Protester,” and Dean Landphair did not march into a boardroom and make demands based on her own agenda. This issue has been deliberated for years–probably since the tradition was put in place–and it is certainly your place to question why that decision was made, but it is certainly not your place to insult or undermine the authorities who made that decision based on what pitifully little information you have. The simple fact is that white dresses exude an air of exclusivity, whether they prevent inclusion or not.

    With that, I recommend that you examine what positive change might occur at the University of Richmond if we continue to focus on this concept of inclusivity, and the next time you determine to make a public statement similar to this, consider whether you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. And consider how it might reflect on yourself, and more importantly, your daughters.

  • Rachael Johnson

    The dean forced this change on the students of Westhampton because of a few whiners who are trying to chip away at everything traditional out of anger and resentment at the mainstream. They wrap themselves in the civil rights blanket to legitimize their cause. Guess what, it’s a gender binary world and no matter of surgical attempts to change one’s gender will ever alter the DNA. Trying to deny the rest if us the ability to express our gender just makes us resentful. So, the rest if us need to stand up for our rights to pick out our own clothes or risk having the dean issue us all beige jumpsuits lest we offend the militant minority who hates everything feminine and make UR a laughing stock nationally.
    PS: the militant minority needs to stop rewriting history to suit their narrative – white dresses have always been the norm but unlike the new directives, the WC students have always encouraged students to express themselves differently. Ironically no one told the student in her tux she couldn’t wear a black tux. Hmmmmmm . . . But this new directive toward a student – run social dance doesn’t provide the same flexibility. And I just went to the mall and a local thrift shop – there were lots if white dresses at ALL price ranges.

  • Melanie Wyatt

    Good Lord! So the whole world needs to change, turn on it’s head, because of transgender individuals. Seriously? That makes absolutely no sense at all!! So just because you aren’t comfortable in your own skin or evidently at even looking at another woman in traditional woman’s clothing, you need to bash everything that hints at feminine? Gosh, I guess the next thing we need to get rid of is weddings all together because transgendered or LGBTQ persons can’t get married. And let’s make sure no woman is allowed to wear a white dress or academic robe that’s white to any school’s graduation. Let’s get rid of white dresses for Confirmations too. And Christenings. Because, of course, those all stand for marriage and purity and the horrid patriarchal society we are all forced to endure. Yeah, that’s the way to win folks over to your side to support you. You know, I have always lived by the philosophy of “live and let live” and “to each his own”. I pride myself on being understanding and welcoming. But that’s over for me when I think of my alma mater because of this. Over today. I am done with the lengths to which transgendered individuals want to turn us into a brown jumpsuit wearing bunch of lemmings because they cannot accept who they are and let the rest of us “live and let live.” They are so unhappy in their own skin that they need to punish the rest of us, who previously were understanding and supportive. All of my lesbian and gay friends are equally horrified. They just want to live their lives and not become obsessed around something so foolish. They don’t hate everything feminine or masculine. They just don’t fit that mold. That’s fine. They don’t want the rest of us to change. They just want us to be respectful and accepting. Which we are – of them.

    I cannot believe that the Dean’s Office caved to this ridiculous argument. Surely, freshman shouldn’t be wearing white dresses to Proclamation Night either. God forbid that anyone would ever wear white clothes!!

    I hope that the rest of the students will stand up for their rights. And not let a few students who are he** bent on destroying everything in their path to the gender blind/neutral world they desire. Instead of focusing their misguided efforts on trashing this loving father and repelling everyone else who would otherwise be supportive, they should be focused on helping others to be welcoming and celebrate all of our differences – just as the previous Westhampton juniors wearing white dresses embraced the one Westhampton student who wanted to wear a black tuxedo to her Ring Dance. Those students did the right thing!!. And it seems that they and everyone else is being punished for it. Sadly no one seems to trust the current students to accept those who are LBGTQ. That’s the real issue and these few militant students are wrong. I think the WC students deserve more credit. The problem isn’t the color of white dresses or if most all of the students want someone, anyone, to show them that they’re loved and supported. If those are the read issues, then why doesn’t the Dean and her staff offer to walk down the stairs with the students who can’t find anyone at all to accompany them?

    Why don’t they get rid of the rings as a newly added part of the ceremony – they are outrageously expensive. Get rid of rings all together because some can’t afford a ring and we wouldn’t want students walking around campus seeing someone else with a class ring on. Don’t have the dance in the Jefferson because of the cost – do it in the Robins Center. Then to take that argument to the next level, let’s not allow anyone to have cars on campus because some students have expensive cars while others don’t. Let’s get rid of sororities and fraternities too. And religious organizations. Maybe we’ll just have the Safe Zone and LGBTQ student lounge because they are the only persons on campus that are just, smart, progressive, and understanding. See how stupid this line of thinking is when taken to its natural conclusion?

    This is a student dance. A student dance. Not a Dean’s Office Dance. Not an academic occasion. It’s a dance. It’s run by the junior class. It’s touted on all of the admissions materials and online information. Most of the students love it. The parents and special friends love it. It connects all WC students through the years as do Proclamation Night and Tree Planting etc. The students who wish to change it don’t seem happy with much of anything at UR. I guess this change is their start to completely remake UR in their vision of a gender neutral utopia where no one would be marked as male or female, married or single, child of a man and woman or not.

    Get out your beige jumpsuits, students!

  • Melanie Wyatt

    So black dresses are more inclusive? So that any LBGTQ students who wants to wear a black tux won’t stand out like a sore thumb in the picture? And who is the “we” in your statement “we’re transitioning to eventually have people wear whatever formal wear they’re comfortable in, doing away with escorts . . . , and moving the location from the Jefferson” ? Are you on the staff at WC and therefore able to oversee these changes? Or are you a student who will presumably be gone this year or have you already graduated? Aren’t you one of the ones who admonished alumnae and parents earlier this year from having the nerve to say anything about this change? I seem to remember your name popping up in these discussions often and with the same messages. Hmmm . . .

    Do the current students realize that this is just the first step to dismantle the Junior Ring Dance? And if they do, what are they going to do about it? And is this just the first step in your diabolical plan to do away with the accoutrements of Proclamation Night and the Coordinate System?

    I think it is offensive that anyone would say that your “parents don’t love you because they didn’t attend.” It’s hard to believe that anyone would be so cruel. I didn’t have a father in my life to escort me down the stairs as my parents were estranged and I was therefore estranged from my dad. A friend escorted me. And my friends were perfectly fine with that. No one made fun of me, at least to my face. I was comfortable with the arrangement anyway so I would have deflected any criticism. But if your experience was otherwise, that’s the kind of attitude that needs to be addressed, not the dress and not the escort. The world is a world with male and female. Parents, most of whom are male and female. Rich and poor. The college would be doing you a service to learn to live in that world and not instead wipe away any component of it that’s male and female. And the college would also be doing a service to any student who would be mean enough to say the things you claim that they said. And the college would be doing you a service to learn to deal with such meanness because it is everywhere and not just directed at LBGTQ students.

    Perhaps you felt uncomfortable with the color of your outfit or that your parents didn’t accompany you because you are uncomfortable with those things. Forcing everyone else into a different kind of celebration wouldn’t make you happy or comfortable. And I’ll be the mean comments would just worsen out of resentment. Encouraging the student body and society to respect others in their differences would be positive.

    My son goes to a school that is diverse. The teachers don’t try to pretend that everyone is the same color. They celebrate their differences. The learn from one another. It would be a tragedy to not embrace their diversity, to try to hide it. Hiding it behind a sea of black fabric at the Ring Dance, isn’t celebrating diversity of gender expression. It’s trying to hide that diversity. And haven’t LBGTQ students already spent enough time hiding in the closet? I admire the student who wore a tux and I also admire her peers who stood up for her to do so in light of mistaken and maybe even mean attempts to remove her from the class photograph. Both groups deserve praise. Right now it appear that everyone but the student in the tux is being punished. And it will not get the students who feel persecuted any closer to their goal of being accepted.

  • Melanie Wyatt

    It’s true. The middle class gets screwed! Perhaps you’re the ignorant one, Ew. You either have a daddy who writes a check for the whole cost or you get grants to pay the whole cost. And the middle class kids either can’t choose Richmond at all because they don’t fit into either category to manage the exorbitant cost or their parents take on enormous debt to be able to get a Richmond degree. Yes, most students at Richmond are either rich, living like the rich with credit card maxed out, or they’re dirt poor and getting a free ride. That leaves the hard-working middle class kids resentful.

    Do you know that the financial aid formulas take into account debt which works to the advantage of students with a lot of household dept? So if the parents are completely overextended with a big house and fancy cars, that student qualifies for more financial aid while the parents who have saved every penny get punished for their prudence with no financial aid? Yes, the middle class gets screwed. And those who are trying to live within their means have the hardest time.

    And most of current students will be middle class when they become parents later in life. So, guess what, most of their kids won’t be able to go to Richmond or any other private school even if they can gain admission. That’s an issue on which everyone should be focused – the middle class getting screwed, yet again. And if those parents want to have a moment with their daughter to celebrate all that they have ALL sacrificed to obtain this education, then why begrudge them? That’s embarrassing and that’s ignorant. And we all see it.

  • 98 Grad

    My perception is that the administration is trying to be “inclusive” for everyone and remove any obstacle that might impede the great learning experience that is a Richmond education. While that aim may be noble, unfortunately the real world outside the “Richmond Bubble” is not inclusive, and will present a myriad of challenges- socio-economic, political, familial etc.. In the business world I talk daily about setting proper expectations with customers, suppliers, co-workers and bosses. Is Richmond doing these students a disservice by not preparing them for the cruel world that is life outside the “Bubble?”

  • Melissa Smith

    Hypocrite. It seems that the women of Westhampton are not being allowed to make their own choices – the dean’s staff is dictating to them that they must all wear black because we wouldn’t want the transgendered students who want to wear a tux to stand out, even though standing out is what they have willingly done during their entire career at UR.

    If color has such compelling symbolism that cannot be ignored then remember that black is the color of mourning, of death. I guess we will all be mourning the beginning of the end of anything traditional at UR. The death of Ring Dance. Next will be death to Proclamation Night. It’s funny, progressive institutions that are more exclusive than UR are holding tight to their traditions while Richmond throws long-standing traditions out with the gender neutral plan.

    So when is Richmond going to have gender-blind admissions?

  • Happy with changes

    I really appreciate this response. It is very possible to lack a feeling of inclusiveness on this campus and you have a very good point that this is a ceremony for WC women, who have made it up to junior year. Not parents who have paid up to junior year.

  • alumna

    “If they cannot afford a $150 white dress from a secondhand store, then perhaps they should not be attending a college where total costs approximate $58,000 a year.”

    ….that’s the dumbest piece of dumb I’ve ever heard.

  • Ray Troy

    You are all special flowers.

  • Alum

    While some may frame this as an issue of inclusiveness, I am not understanding how the color of a woman’s dress makes her feel less included. I remember girls wearing non-white dresses to the ring dance I attended, and I certainly do not remember any “bullying” or “ridicule.” If a woman needs everyone else to dress like her in order to feel included, or if she needs everyone to dress differently to feel included, she will likely have a very tough time feeling included when she graduates. For example, many women in her office may wear skirts as a personal choice, and if she feels better wearing pants, no one will step in and mandate that all women stop wearing skirts and choose another option. She should learn to feel comfortable with her own choices. If a woman is uncomfortable wearing white for whatever reason, I would think the best way to deal with that would be to have the confidence to simply wear another color. In most situations, you will be unable to ask everyone to conform to something like this to make you more comfortable. Perhaps inclusiveness should focus on more meaningful things than the color of our clothes. I do not buy into this decision being a “stepping stone” to more inclusiveness; this is just a superficial and silly way to claim inclusiveness. Inclusiveness, for the person feeling excluded, should begin with that person feeling more comfortable being different. Inclusiveness, for the people allegedly excluding, should begin with accepting others despite the fact that they may dress or behave differently.

    If this measure is truly one to increase inclusiveness at Richmond, it is an odd, and even sexist, way of doing so. Take this hypothetical situation. Imagine, for one of the ceremonies primarily for the celebration of Richmond College men, the men over time decided to wear red ties. It was never a mandate that they wear red ties, but as the years went on they gravitated towards this option and enjoyed the unity they felt from wearing the same color. If some men felt uncomfortable with this color, would the administration step in and mandate that the men wear a less “inflammatory” color? I think not.

    I am not ignorant to the things that a white dress may represent, many of them sexist in nature. However, if the women have decided over time to overcome these sexist connotations by choosing to wear white despite the meaning some attach to it, why step in and mandate that they wear something else? Why ask them to stop wearing white simply because of archaic connotations? THAT, in itself, is sexist to me. Why must I feel uncomfortable wearing a white dress simply because some may think it represents marriage, when men do not have to think so politically when making wardrobe decisions? If women can still be bright, independent and modern women and STILL wear white, we should support that. I would rather not have to think about the sexist connotations of a given color when I dress for an event. For those women who cannot overcome that and feel uncomfortable, or they just don’t like white, they should simply choose another color and feel confident about that decision. If that woman gets bullied, she should deal with this on a personal level, as she will certainly have to do when she leaves Richmond, as most people do.

  • Jim James

    Traditions are what makes this country great! They took our jobs!