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Student responds to criticism of Ring Dance changes

Published: February 14, 2013, 1:44 am ET
Contributor

To begin I would like to thank The Collegian for the piece it published last week called, “Traditions exist for a reason” by Thomas Neale, because the public voicing of opinions of the many people who comprise the University of Richmond community can only serve to broaden and diversify discussions pertinent to the school.

But I must be honest with you, Mr. Neale. I find the arguments made in your piece to be the very essence of what is, in my opinion, most problematic at Richmond: the unwillingness to recognize class privilege and its consequences in terms of campus culture. I’d like to address several points that you’ve made in your article before finally discussing your overarching argument that “traditions exist for a reason.” I write this response in all due respect, and hope that other students and members of the community who both concur and disagree will be encouraged to offer their opinions in the public forum.

“This tradition is based upon paternal love,” your article states in one of the earlier portions. The purity and inherent goodness of “paternal love” seems to be one of the foundational elements of your objection to the changes being made to the event. In reading that one line, I had to ask myself: “Is this an argument whose basis is paternalism?”

Let me refrain from giving examples of the many historical moments when atrocities were committed in the name of “paternal love.” That’s an entirely different beast. Let’s instead look more closely at the insular student body for an explanation for why an event built on such principles would be totally and completely unacceptable.

Allow me to pose a question, Mr. Neale. If the father-daughter relationship is the defining feature of Ring Dance, what then do you say to Westhampton College students without active “paternal” figures in their lives?

What do you say to students with two female parents? Parents who don’t use a gender binary to define their relationships with their children? What do you say to students with no parental presence at all?

How do you propose that such students find meaning in a tradition based on “paternal love,” when the very reason, according to you, that we celebrate Ring Dance is to recognize a relationship that many students simply do not have?

I regret to inform you that long gone are the days when relationships based on “paternal love” are privileged and lauded above others. If an event such as Ring Dance is to exist, if anything, it should celebrate the accomplishments of Westhampton College students.

And yes, there is a time to recognize those whose help has been important to the success of students. But in the year 2013, holding events that raise “paternal love” up on a silver platter (or in this case, a marble staircase) simply isn’t going to fly. Now we come to the portion of your argument, Mr. Neale, that I find most egregious.

We are all aware of the debate concerning the economic aspect of Ring Dance. And perhaps to some “middle class parents” (as you have repeatedly identified yourself as being) the cost of a dress, whether it be a $150 bargain gown purchased in high school, or a $500 evening gown purchased the year of, is no great burden.

But how dare you assume that the financial anxiety of students that appears at such moments as these, is “specious.” Did it ever occur to you, that for some students, spending even $150 for a formal dress is an impossibility? Did it ever occur to you that for some students, supporting their families financially is just as great a priority as getting a good grade on a paper? That for some students, their wallets don’t open to receive from Mommy or Daddy, but open to give, to help pay the mortgage or the electric bill?

And you are willing to go so far as to assert that perhaps these students “should not be attending a college where total costs approximate $58,000 a year.” Mr. Neale, you accuse those interested in changing the tradition of Ring Dance as perpetrators of an “academic politically correct elite,” but perhaps you should consider the ways in which you have implicated yourself as a supporter of the socio-economic elite through ideas such as this, that would refuse educational opportunities to those that fall short of being “middle class.”

And might I also remind you, that in no place does the university mission statement does it state that we are a university for the middle and upper class alone, intent on specifically or exclusively addressing middle and upper class interests. Our school should recognize the diverse economic situations faced by all its students, and if we default to becoming a “middle class” school that assumes “middle class” income to be the norm, we have failed.

And so we come to the lynchpin. “Traditions exist for a reason,” you say. I agree. And I believe traditions can be important and meaningful. But the moment that we, as community, stop questioning our traditions, and why we hold our traditions as important, the traditions themselves become void of meaning, and we willfully submit ourselves to ignorance. There should be no such thing as an easy tradition.

Never should we assign meaning to anything, without first asking ourselves why.

With students actively moving towards changing the so called “tradition” of Ring Dance, and Dean Landphair’s timely call for new policy, debate concerning Ring Dance has exploded in the past few years. But the debate is so much more than the question of the event itself. Ring Dance is just the container.

We need to think deeper as to why we even hold Ring Dance: How do we act our values in these types of celebratory gatherings, and most importantly: We must not submit ourselves to the idea that tradition for tradition’s sake is an adequate explanation.

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  • Common Sense

    Another pointless piece of writing to boost self-confidence and wine about white rich people. Well done.

    If I were a father of a daughter which I raised and cherished for 20 years, the moment I could walk her down the stairs in a white dress would be the proudest moment of my life. The whole tradition is not about social class segregation or money or whatever bs…. It’s about paternal love and cherishing the years of tradition which makes the University of Richmond so unique.

    The part about money makes me cringe the most. I am not white, I was not even born in the US. I fully support myself financially and periodically send money to my parents by working on few jobs. Frankly, spending 150 bucks on the dress is not the big deal. Moreover, If I were a parent earning a lot of money, I would buy a $10,000 dress for my daughter. Because it is my daughter and because I can.

    The big problem is that certain people, who feel offended by the fact that they go to school with great traditions, have to sh#t on everybody else, because if 10% of students doesn’t like the tradition, then other 90% has to suffer as well. Why? Because f*ck you, that’s why…

    If you don’t like Ring Dance, don’t go to it. No one is forcing you to go. In fact nobody cares if you go or not.

    • MN

      This poster names themselves “Common Sense” and then relies on arguments that are what Miyata directly addresses in their article. Well done indeed.
      PS nobody said white people but your racial guilt rings in my ears.

      • Common Sense

        Good job on bringing up racial issues, when I wasn’t even talking about them.

        My point can be summarized really shortly: Ring Dance is a long and beautiful tradition, which a lot of people enjoy. No one drags anyone anyone to this event. No one makes people buy white dresses. The fact that people, who simply don’t like this event, are trying to ruin this tradition is utterly ridiculous.

        • Sall

          Not that ridiculous. Substitute any major tradition that promoted inequality in the space where you put Ring Dance. “____ is a long and beautiful tradition which a lot people enjoy. No one drags anyone to this event…the fact that people [sic] who simply don’t like this event are trying to ruin this tradition is utterly ridiculous.” What else could fit in that blank? Anti-miscegenation laws, laws that favored one race over another, and more. It isn’t about whether or not we are required to go to Ring Dance, nor that some “simply don’t like this event.” It’s about the underlying ideology and principles that Ring Dance inadvertently promotes, which Miyata eloquently writes about above.

          • Sally James

            Pluuueezzeeee. Absolutely stop comparing laws that said whites couldn’t marry blacks to Ring Dance. It’s stupid. And it’s insulting to the real grownups who fought those racist practices. So some well-meaning dad writes in about caring about his daughter and being proud of her and all of you people haters (what kind of a loser goes out of her/his way to put [sic] when quoting another’s comment on an online article? And BTW if you’re pointing in out in the second sentence then to be consistent you little “sic” pr!ck, you should have included it in the first reference.)

            This is a dance. A student dance. But mommy dean stepped into protect the tuxedo wearing trans students from the nasty mean privileged females in their new white dresses. God. And in FACT the women students stood up for the woman student who wanted to look like/ live like a male – put the deep seeded hatred for the female students who, surprise surprise, like to wear dresses to a formal dance results in all Westhampton students getting punished.
            PS: It’s a dance. It’s not an academic occasion.

          • Jessica

            Wow…do you not hear how angry, how spiteful you are — or at least seem to be? Another example of life in the UR bubble, with people like Sally James utilizing an underlying rhetoric to denigrate those who are different.

    • Uncommon Common Sense

      You are right in that Ring Dance is not about “social class segregation or money or whatever bs”—that was not its original purpose. However, it is not and never was about “paternal love” either. Just as people’s perception of Ring Dance has warped through the years, so too has Ring Dance BECOME about “social class segregation or money or whatever bs.” You refuse or fail to recognize this and your (and others’) attempts to demean other people’s serious consideration of the issue, to pigeonhole it to suit your subjective view, is ultimately ineffectual. You are not a voice meaningfully advancing the dialogue, but a child’s whine at not wanting to throw away his or her old, muddy shirt. You still want to wear your muddy shirt even if it is time to get a new one.

      As indicated by your first two paragraphs riddled with “I” pronouns, your response reveals the exact self-absorbed and narrow-minded behavior against which the article protests, the type that willfully dismisses what are quickly—and inevitably–becoming real issues. Your inability to understand what you read and to respond in a well-thought manner damages your ‘argument’. (Please, cursing is unbecoming on an online university newspaper, and more suitable in Youtube comments sections). Even if you HAVE read the article, I see no evidence of comprehension or reflection. You cannot hope to convince others of your way of thinking if you are not articulate. Maybe you should work on that before bashing your keyboard in righteous anger at “pointless piece[s] of writing” such as this.

  • AS

    Maybe that is the reason you do not have a daughter, “Common Sense.”
    I am proud of you Starr Miyata.

  • Spidas

    I’m confused by this article. Again, as I pointed out in the coordinate college system article, why are you and others trying to be “heroes” by tearing down fun traditions? Yes, these types of traditions are meant to be fun just like a wedding, graduation, or a night out at Sines. Also, in terms of feeling inferior to the wealthy upper class at Richmond the solution is simple: spend a little extra time finding a nice suit/tux or dress at a lowered price. Absolutely broke and attending UR? Doesn’t exist. I know Richmond takes care of those financially who may be at a disadvantage. As an upperclassmen at UR, you need to take responsibility for your life and make changes in your life and others that actually have meaning. Spending time protesting traditional activities is not a responsible use of time.

    • SMiyata

      Assuming that as one person you can know that “Absolutely broke and attending UR? Doesn’t exist.,” is a huge assumption. Do students here have financial responsibilities outside of school? Yes. Does financial aid cover that? No.

      And to respond to the statement you made, about my use of time as irresponsible (which again, is a huge judgment) I’d like to think that taking time to ask people to stop, question, and think is always a good use of time.

  • Fellow chieftain and spider

    Star, You are my hero.

  • Just a thought

    Let me get this straight…

    Westhampton will be requiring girls to wear black dresses when the current state of affairs is that women may wear any color dress (or even a suit), even though the majority wears white?

    It seems to me that Westhampton is forcing students to conform more with the new policy than the old one.

    • MN

      Westhampton will be encouraging women to wear black in 2015, just like they have encouraged women in the past to wear white. Historically, some women have decided to wear whatever color/outfit they’d like. If you want to wear white to Ring Dance, you can wear white. Can we all stop writing editorials now?

  • Sally James

    There was no “we” in the decision to overhaul Ring Dance. It was a small group of militant feminine hating students (I’m not sure what even to call them lest they get offended) who conspired with the dean’s staff to change a student dance without any student input – beyond that small group of haters.

  • Student

    It is time to fill in the lake, spread trash around campus, and spray paint all the buildings – Richmond’s campus MUST be representative of diverse economic backgrounds instead of serving as a symbol of the socio-economic elite… Ring dance is no more representative of soci-economic privlige than the day-to-day experience on every student on this campus.

    Starr, you need to realize that nothing about four years at the University of Richmond is remotely representative of the real world. It isn’t representative of the real world for the poor student, the rich student, the straight student, or the bisexual student, and guess what – it isn’t supposed to be… Have you considered enjoying your four years at the University of Richmond for what it is rather than spending your time trying to make the college experience more representative of ‘typical life’?

    Richmond is a nice place, and those things that make it a nice place, including ring dance, aren’t meant to offend or oppress us, they are meant to give us opportunities we may not have otherwise. Not every female can afford to have a debutante ball (which cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars) but the University of Richmond provides every female with a similar opportunity for pennies on the dollar. Ring dance is not an exclusive event, it is actually an incredibly inclusive event. The richest students will still have their debutante balls no matter what happens to Ring Dance, but what will happen for students who come from modest backgrounds who wouldn’t have a similar opportunity otherwise? This entire debate is about perspective. You consider the cost of ring dance to be prohibitive because you compare it to a world with no event for junior women, but I consider the cost of ring dance to be extremely accessible because I compare it to the cost of having a celebration with friends and family at the Jefferson hotel.

    Our campus is beautiful, our food is prepared, our bathrooms are cleaned, and there are employees on staff who are responsible for entertaining us. My advice to you is to take advantage of every opportunity. Maybe you will realize that ring dance isn’t for you, but at least you will get to say you were privliged enough to have that experience, priviliged enough to attend the University of Richmond.

    • Smiyata

      Hmmm. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we should take advantage of
      the fact that UR is an environment conducive to not thinking about so called
      “real life.” Because yes our campus is beautiful, for those with meal plans,
      prepared food is available at all times. And maybe if we choose to ignore that
      the people who plant the tulips every spring, or the individuals who work at D
      Hall, maybe if we choose to pretend that their presence on campus isn’t part of
      “real life,” and that we aren’t responsible for thinking about how the work
      they do for us is tied to our lives, then maybe we can all spend four years
      enjoying the fruits of privilege without ever thinking about the ways in which other
      “real people” with “real lives” are inextricably tied to our ability to receive
      that privileged education. Maybe we should all enter college and pretend that
      for four years, we can live without consequences.

      Yes, all students at UR are privileged to have access to
      higher education. But privilege is not a yes or no box on a survey. It’s
      possible for students to be privileged in one respect while simultaneously
      being the victims of others’ privilege. Are you going to tell a student that is
      exposed to discrimination, whether that be ethnic, economic, gender expressive,
      etc. that that student should just sit back and enjoy what’s nice about
      Richmond, because when it comes down to it, we’re all privileged by very merit
      of being here? It’s not that simple.

      I fully recognize and am extremely thankful for the
      privilege of studying here for fours years with professors and students who push me to
      reconsider my most basic assumptions on a daily basis. But I’d like to think
      that the educational privilege that I am lucky enough to have at this
      University will result in something a little more substantial than looking back
      at fours years and saying, “I didn’t have to clean bathrooms. I didn’t have to
      cook for myself. I got to wear a pretty white dress to a nice hotel. Wasn’t
      college nice.”

      • Sally James

        It’s about white dresses. Dresses. And a student dance at a hotel. Seriously. Get over yourself.