Friday, August 8, 2014

Three BYU images that made me cringe (and laugh) this week

Image #1:  The Presidential Inauguration Invitation (Are there storms ahead for BYU?)

On September 9th, Kevin Worthen will be inaugurated as the 13th president of BYU.  I know this because I received a formal invitation to the inauguration activities in my campus mail box last week.  Like most of the communications that come from the President's Office at BYU, the invitation was highly formal and signaled the formality and tradition associated with the event.  Like most formal invitations, it was also highly impersonal and forgettable, except for the curious image that appeared on the front cover (see below):

I didn't notice it at first, but the tone of the cover raises some funny (if not alarming) questions about the next few years at BYU:  Is there a storm brewing?  Are dark clouds ahead? I wasn't worried about the new President, but should I be?

It's a nice enough image of an iconic aspect of BYU, but it's a strange image to select to announce this particular event.  Dark, ominous clouds aren't really what I would use to represent an event that most would associate with new beginnings, renewal, and optimism.  I'm actually looking forward to President Worthen's administration and have no reason not to be optimistic, but optimism isn't what I feel when I look at this invitation.

Image #2:  The 2014 BYU Football T-Shirts

After I read this story, I started to wonder if BYU Athletics and the President's Office might have been using the same marketing intern this summer.  In what I see as delicious irony, it was revealed this week that BYU Football's anticipated 2014 slogan ("Rise as One") has already been used by. . .wait for it. . .Budweiser of all corporations (you couldn't make this stuff up), not to mention by Nike the year before .  Not really the association the athletic department was going for.  Apparently, no one had the 12 seconds it would have taken to do a google search of the slogan before printing thousands of t-shirts.

Image #3:  "Please tell me he's not one of our alumni" 
People tend to turn into idiots when they have a microphone, news camera, or reporter in front of them, as demonstrated very well by Cliven Bundy over the last few months.  Not only are Bundy's views on government extremist and skewed, it appears that he is also racist and somewhat deluded.

I cringe anytime I see any news story associated with he or his family, but especially when I saw this accompanying photo this week (look at the t-shirt his son has on).

I don't know if Cliven Lance Bundy (the son) ever attended BYU, but just him wearing the shirt in front of reporters is probably enough to make the Alumni Association pretty nervous.

So, to the President's Office, BYU Athletics, and the Bundy clan--thanks for making me laugh this week!  Here's to hoping the press for BYU is a little less embarrassing next week.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Ohio State Marching Band: The underbelly of tradition and ritual

I've written several times about the role of ritual and tradition in higher education.  I'm a big believer in the miseducative if they marginalize certain members of the community, silence diverse perspectives, or send mixed or conflicting messages about institutional values.
power of traditions to connect members of a community, communicate key community values, and facilitate learning.  However, traditions and rituals also have the potential to be

Over the last week, +The Ohio State University Marching Band has received a great deal of attention surrounding some of the rituals and traditions that are, allegedly, part of the culture of the band in Columbus. On one side of the debate OSU administrators claim the band has developed a hyper-sexualized culture, while others argue that the practices in question were both harmless and unifying.

While I'm not sure how much recently-fired band director Jonathan Waters had to do with the culture and whether his firing was justified (he claims he was working on changing the culture of the band, but wasn't given sufficient time to do so), I will say very emphatically that I do not endorse the types of hazing practices that were well documented at OSU.  There is a very vocal contingent of band alumni that will disagree with me who disagree with me.  A group of 15 former band members (mostly women) marched on OSU's campus earlier this week to protest Waters's firing and sing the praises of the OSU Marching Band.  In her statement to the press she claims to represent the "women's side" of the issue and goes on to say that the actions of band members were appropriate because they "acted like college students."

Cohen's statements represent one of the fundamental dangers with any tradition or ritual.  In asserting that she and her 14 companions represent the "women's side," Cohen fails to acknowledge that her views do not necessarily represent those of the hundreds of other current and former band members.  It's a bit laughable for her to claim that a group of 15 people represent anything other than a very narrow perspective on a very complex issue.  Additionally, she makes a gross overgeneralization in equating "acting like a college student" with the behaviors outlined in OSU's report of the problematic practices taking place among band members.

While traditions and rituals are ideally meant to have a unifying effect within an organization, claims that hazing practices achieve this outcome are naive.  Furthermore, claims that hazing is an acceptable practice that unites a community are always made by a particular segment of that community:  those with privilege and power.  It's safe to say that Cohen was part of the inner circle during her time as a band member.  She didn't have a problem with the practices because they didn't marginalize her, silence her voice, or make her feel unsafe.  But, there is another segment of the OSU Marching Band who feel very differently about these practices and I'll bet the farm that there are more than 15 of them.

In a comment on a post I wrote nearly four years ago, a good friend and colleague +gary daynes pointed out that one of the characteristics of a ritual is that it contains multiple meanings.  And, this is what is often looked over when those in power institute rituals, even well intentioned rituals.  OSU's hazing rituals hold multiple meanings for members of the band.  For some, those meanings include fun, unity, and feelings of belonging.  For others (those whose voice is silenced when these rituals become formalized and part of the culture), these practices mean shame, marginalization, fear, and immorality.

I say this as someone who, 15 years ago, would have sided with Cohen and her group.  During my freshman year of college, I was hazed as part of my initiation to the men's soccer team.  While it was uncomfortable and a little embarrassing for me, I wasn't overly bothered by it because I wasn't on the margins of the team--the team leaders liked me and I didn't feel threatened (it was also fairly mild as far as hazings go).  But, I clearly remember two of my teammates who were very shook up by what went on.  And, it's no coincidence that they were the two members of the team who, even before the hazing, were on the outside looking in (it's also no surprise that they left the team after their freshman year).  From where I sit now, and as someone who has hopefully developed a bit of appreciation for diversity, I see how divisive that hazing was.  

Ritual and tradition should always be a part of campus communities.  But, institutional leaders (like Jonathan Waters) have a responsibility to (a) ensure that campus rituals do indeed have a unifying effect and (b) educate members of the community (especially students) about what constitutes a truly unifying ritual.  As higher education professionals, one of the outcomes we claim to be promoting for students is an appreciation for diverse perspectives.  Those advocating for the appropriateness of OSU's hazing practices clearly haven't learned that lesson.