I heard about the University of Richmond Ring Dance as a prospective student. Being the girly girl that I am, I looked forward to this event the moment I signed on the dotted line and accepted my admission as a Spider. The opportunity to don a fancy white dress and walk down the stairs of The Jefferson Hotel with my dad then have a big party with my family and classmates was right up my alley!
As junior year approached, my mom and I mapped out all of the stores we would go to in search of the perfect dress. After scouring numerous racks, I settled on two dresses. One was a very inexpensive dress (under $100) and the other could have been worn as a wedding gown, if I so desired one day. Both were white and equally appropriate for the occasion. I couldn't decide which one I liked better, so I brought my dad in to break the tie. I happily paraded around in both dresses, showing off my good side so that my dad could make an informed decision. In the end, he chose the more expensive dress. Anytime he complained about the price, I kindly reminded him that he chose it! I plan to use this same tactic for my wedding gown one day.
Friday night of the big weekend, my parents checked into The Jefferson Hotel and I decided to stay over with them. I wanted to take a bubble bath (I was tired of dorm showers) and wanted to practice walking down the stairs. Dad and I thought it would be so awesome if I walked down without my canes. We practiced and practiced the night before. The practice paid off and I was able to descend the huge staircase sans canes!
It was one of the proudest moments of my life! As I walked down the staircase with my dad on my arm and a sterling rose in my hand, my classmates at the bottom cheered loudly for me! At the end of the procession, we all formed the Westhampton "W" (our photo got screwed up) and then went upstairs to party! It was one of my fondest memories of college. The next morning, one of my close friends and her family met my family downstairs for the most delicious brunch. Then we said goodbye to our families and went back to reality at 28 Westhampton Way.
I realize my experience is one of someone who was privileged to be able to afford to have something so grand. While not everyone is going to be able to have all of that fuss, there is no reason why they cannot have some of it and enjoy the experience as much as I did. This article says that Ring Dance is expensive, a white dress is expensive and "bridal" or "debutante"-ish, not every woman wants to wear white and not everyone has a good relationship with their father so escorts are being done away with, too. I don't disagree with any of these points. While I was not in this position I can understand how they could be concerns. But, I do think there is a way to address the concerns without morphing the tradition into what is being proposed. There is a way to keep the tradition and make it memorable for all involved.
First of all, if you do everything I did for Ring Dance, yes, it can be very pricey. But, how about creating a fund for women who cannot afford the tickets to the event to get scholarships for themselves and two family members? I believe this may actually already be in existence. Not everyone has to spend the night in The Jefferson. If you want to but can't afford it, chances are, you know someone who is staying there or in the surrounding hotels and can bunk with them.
Now onto the dress...The dress I ended up wearing was not cheap, but remember I did find one for under $100 and was absolutely willing to wear it! You may not be able to find a white dress in the winter, but you know this is coming the moment you enter as a first-year student, so shop early! Another option would be for the sororities to organize a "dress drive" and the senior women could donate their dresses. Sororities could also organize a fundraiser to pay for tickets for women who could not afford their own. All of the funds raised and dresses donated could be given to the Dean so there is some privacy for those using the funds. Not to mention, the dress is not *required* to be white. There are so many formal dresses lying around in our closets from formals that could be donated, too. Richmond students are big on community service, so why not help out those amongst us? Unfortunately, I cannot donate my dress because it has turned yellow over time, but I would have been happy to if it looked nice. I would also be willing to donate to a fund to help other women have a wonderful Ring Dance! (As for the color white, yes, it is "bridal", but white also symbolizes transition to me and I think this could be one of the intentions as you transition to upper-class-women.
WC'04 Ring Dance was also memorable because we had TLC's Makeover Story film our event. Two women in our class wrote into the show, they liked their story, picked up all the expenses for the event, and came to film the big night! This is unlikely to happen again especially since the show is no longer on the air, but you never know, if another show might not latch onto the idea and help another Westhampton woman or two.
The author also discusses that not all women have a good relationship with their father. Again, no requirement to have your father walk you down the stairs. And, chances are, if you and your dad don't have a good relationship, it probably started long before your junior year of college. Have your mom, boyfriend, uncle, favorite professor, best friend walk you down! Not a show-stopper.
The over-arching issue is about inclusion. Ring Dance is perceived as being exclusive because it is expensive and not everyone wants to participate. If not participating is a function of cost, I offered suggestions above. If you are championing the inclusion idea because you are concerned it singles out women, I hope you aren't in a sorority. We all know sororities do not champion inclusion as we sit in a room and decide who we want and don't want to call our sisters! And, how much money did you spend on dues, t-shirts, social attire and gifts for your littles during your four years in college? I am not sure how the new proposal is going to solve this problem because the focus seems to be on rings which not everyone buys, and academics, of which not everyone earns some distinction.
I know this might seem like an over-reaction to be upset about the changes. I am upset because not only was Ring Dance one of the most memorable nights of my life, it was tradition. I chose to come to UR because, not only did I think it would provide me with a wonderful education, but the school is rooted in tradition. Richmond's strong commitment to tradition is one of the things that sets it apart. If you don't like that about the school, you don't need to participate or you can choose another place to further your education. You could argue that they're not eliminating the tradition, just changing it, and it has had a few changes over time. Yes, that's true. But, they are taking away the crux of Ring Dance - the white dresses, the escorts, the stairs -- the things that make it unique. In an effort to be more inclusive, Richmond is moving away from what made it so special and unique. I'm not saying we shouldn't aim for inclusion. The more the merrier, but be inclusive within the framework of who you are as a school.
My senior year at UR, I took a class with one of the past Presidents of the University, Dr. Richard Morrill. We talked a lot about how institutions have stories and what the UR story is. I am an alumni recruiter and the proudest Spider you will ever meet! I get the opportunity to tell Richmond's story often. What do I say? We are a cutting edge school with a strong commitment to academics, study abroad and community service. But, what sets us apart is that we are grounded in tradition. It is truly special when you reflect on the fact that generations of Spiders have participated in the same experience. I am sad to see this one, as so many of us have known it, go.
WC'04, Thanks for the memories! OH, WHAT A NIGHT!