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Yet when administrators tried this year to change the dress code and enforce a no-escort rule, it wasn’t just students who pushed back, but their fathers, too.During the ceremony earlier this semester, at least a handful of fathers sneaked to the top of the staircase at the Jefferson Hotel and walked their daughters down as their names were announced.
And when administrators suspended the procession amid the hoopla, some people in the crowd shouted, “Let them walk.” In the days that followed, the rebellion at Ring Dance was the hot topic on the 3,500-student campus.But even as the furor over the dance this year has died down, it has pointed to larger questions about how traditions should be preserved in a more inclusive way at an institution proudly diversifying its student body.Diversifying the Ring Dance Westhampton College was founded as the undergraduate women’s liberal arts college to accompany then male-only Richmond College.(These days the University of Richmond is fully coeducational, but it retains an system in which men and women have separate colleges, deans and student governments.) The first dean of Westhampton College, May Keller, launched several rituals to unite the women and mark their academic success at a time when there was still considerable resistance to sending women to college. But Landphair said that during her years as dean, it became obvious that the event had strayed from its purpose of celebrating academic accomplishments.In some years, the awarding of class rings that gives the dance its name wasn’t even a part of the ceremony. That’s what administrators at the University of Richmond discovered this year in trying to update the annual Ring Dance.
Dating back more than 80 years, the Ring Dance was started to celebrate female students’ achievement upon becoming upperclassmen.
In the past decade or so, though, some on campus started growing uncomfortable with the aspects of classism, patriarchy and presumptive heterosexuality ingrained in the dance.
Some faculty members felt the dance was reminiscent of a debutante ball, said Juliette Landphair, dean of Richmond's Westhampton College.
Administrators also wanted the dance to be more inclusive and to reflect the how the university has grown more demographically diverse in the past decade.
Twenty-five percent of Richmond’s undergraduates this year are racial minorities and 9 percent are international students.
That’s compared to 13 percent minority and 7 percent international students in 2007.