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Hutchinson Eliminates Cheer Battle

By Anita Alem     1/14/15 5:08pm

Orientation Week 2015 will not include a scheduled time for teaching and performing cheers before the Rice Rally. The event, referred to as Cheer Battle, will remain a possibility at the discretion of the O-Week coordinators, but will not be university-sanctioned, according to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson.

‘Doesn’t represent who we are’

“[Cheer Battle] is actually an anachronism,” Hutchinson said. “It really doesn’t represent who we are at Rice anymore, and I can say that because I go back to the 80s, when this was an extremely popular thing. I am not banning cheers … it’s just that we’re removing this particularly university-sanctioned privileged time during O-Week.”

Hutchison cited several reasons for the change, including Rice’s harassment policy requiring a non-hostile environment. Some students have viewed a few of the cheers as objectionable and creating a hostile environment, according to staff, focus groups and the annual O-Week survey. Hutchinson also said the event is not in accordance with the theme of O-Week and may provide a distorted view of life as a Rice student.

“Orientation is to help students get to know what Rice is, and the whole concept of a Cheer Battle doesn’t really represent Rice — it’s not something that we do the rest of the year,” Hutchinson said. “Imagine you’re trying to form your own understanding of this new campus and suddenly this rather major sponsored event scheduled by the university takes place that you find silly or confusing or off-putting. It’s not [going to] give you a good feeling about your new experiences at Rice.”

According to Hutchinson, college masters agreed that the cheer battle was counterproductive to fostering inclusion during O-Week, and college presidents and O-Week coordinators shared similar concerns, though not unanimously. First Year Programs Assistant Director Chris Landry said FYP fully supports Dean Hutchinson’s decision to remove Cheer Battle from O-Week.

Campus-wide O-Week Student Director Sneha Kohirkar said she supports the changes and believes it will help raise awareness about the negative consequences of the cheers.

“The Coordinators and everyone involved in O-Week want to avoid these situations where new students feel alienated and [get] a negative perception of Rice’s social culture, because that completely goes against the mission,” Kohirkar said. “I’m hoping this change will benefit everyone [by increasing] the inclusivity in O-week and accurately [representing] the positive spirit of the college system.”

Past changes

Martel O-Week 2014 Coordinator Thomas Plackemeier said changes occurred in Cheer Battle last year in an attempt to trim down the event.

“Changes were made without consulting coordinators even though they chose us to plan O-Week,” Plackemeier said. “There was no meet-up of all colleges and the route was shorter with small college interactions, though we did switch to Rice Cheers [later in Cheer Battle].”

Traditionally during Cheer Battle, groups of colleges meet up to yell cheers and anti-cheers at each other, then move on to meet other groups of colleges, forming a larger and larger group while slowly approaching Rice Stadium for Rice Rally. Plackemeier said last year’s structure consisted of small groups of colleges battling, after which the groups would approach the inner loop and walk to Tudor Fieldhouse for the Rice Rally, ideally exposing each college to several other colleges. According to Plackemeier, this format resulted in two issues: Students were constantly surrounded by the same colleges, so cheers became boring very fast, and the long walk to Tudor placed loud extroverts in close proximity to people who would prefer to stay back.

“For me, it was really hard to make the event fun even for advisors, let alone an entire college, when you were forced to just cheer the same thing over and over,” Plackemeier said. “From the rushed time to teach cheers to the constant backlash we received from the administration, it felt like ... FYP and Rice wanted to make the event purposefully awful [just to] have another reason to get rid of it, which it looks like they finally have.”

Martel O-Week 2014 Coordinator Elizabeth Sok said the lack of a meet-up among all the students contributed to the problem of separation between residential colleges in Rice’s culture.

“Students complain that there is no larger Rice spirit or Rice identity,” Sok said. “But it’s impossible to have a collective spirit if there is no reconciliation between the part and the whole. It doesn’t make any sense [to cheer] against a couple of colleges at a time and then start saying Rice cheers as we approach [Tudor]. It does, however, make sense to cheer all together and then transition as a whole body into Rice cheers, remembering our identity as Rice Owls.”

Landry said moving the location of Rice Rally to Tudor necessitated the changes to the route.

“Rice Rally in 2014 was an overwhelming success – the energy from the event was unlike any other year and we were quite happy with the event’s promise for the future,” Landry said. “The logistical improvements were positive overall and not connected to the shifts ahead for 2015.”

Plackemeier said he is an overall supporter of Cheer Battle, but said he understands that it is a liability for the university and may be pushing students who are already nervous out of their comfort zones. However, he said the event shows students how their individual colleges fit into Rice University as a whole.

“The time spent for Cheer Battle can be used for something more useful, but I hope it is used for college-specific pride rather than [for] more [mandatory] sessions,” Plackemeier said. “Hopefully, next year’s coordinators can work something out to keep its basic purposes at play somewhere in O-Week.”

Beer Bike

Both Hutchinson and Plackemeier said people were concerned that the removal of Cheer Battle may negatively affect Beer Bike.

“Beer Bike is one of the only times when college cheers are used to signify pride, and if they are never taught and never seen as fun, it’s the start of taking the fun away from Beer Bike little by little,” Plackemeier said.

However, although Cheer Battle will not be sponsored by the university, cheers are not banned during O-Week or throughout the year, including during Beer Bike. There is still a possibility of cheers occurring during O-Week if coordinators choose to somehow incorporate them into a college event.

Hutchinson said he will not moderate the cheers, but he does expect students to cheer in accordance with Rice’s policies and to continue maintaining an attitude of inclusion.

“If a complaint were to come from a student saying, ‘This group of people yelled these things at me and I found it offensive,’ we would have to pursue that complaint under our non-harassment policies,” Hutchinson said. “So people need to choose wisely. But I am not saying you can cheer this and you cannot cheer that.”

Sok said although the removal of Cheer Battle protects the university, the idea of how to incorporate the cheers is now a burden on coordinators and advisors.

“Advisors in O-Week groups will most likely have to practice them together which will undoubtedly create larger inconsistencies and increased possibility for discomfort and harassment,” Sok said. “Instead of a random larger group of strangers yelling things that could potentially hurt an unknown individual, it’s possible that the group of friends someone just made is now cheering things that disturb them, albeit unintentionally.”

Student feedback

The change will not be discussed at the Student Senate. Hutchinson said he expects to receive concerns from students directly.

“I imagine students will [send] emails [and] come by to chat with me about it,” Hutchinson said. “It gives me the opportunity to explain my reasoning. The emphasis here is on preserving the tradition without necessarily privileging activities that really are not representative of orientation.”

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