Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Sad Day

We'll move on to football related business later tonight. First: news of a most disheartening nature came in from campus yesterday. From the student daily, The Observer:
Dillon Hall Rector Fr. Paul Doyle shocked residents Sunday when he announced the residence hall's pep rally, held every year before the first home football game of the season, was cancelled.

The pep rally, a series of skits mocking aspects of Notre Dame life, has been a Dillon Hall tradition since the late 1970s, lead pep rally scriptwriter Ryan O'Connor said.

Fr. Doyle cited two reasons for his decision.

"I failed to provide the necessary direction and support," he said.

The rector also told his residents the pep rally "was not coming together in a timely fashion."

Though this year's event is not intended be rescheduled, Fr. Doyle expressed his intent to hold a pep rally in the future.

"I hope we can have a pep rally next year that is the sort of pep rally the Dillon men and campus community have come to expect," he said.

Before Fr. Doyle broke the news of the pep rally's cancellation to the dormitory as a whole Sunday night, he had a private meeting with current Dillon Hall President, Brendan McQueeney.

"Fr. Doyle felt that he had not given us enough guidance," McQueeney said. "He said that he normally has a meeting with the Hall President at the end of the [previous] school year to get the ball rolling, which didn't happen."

There was a lot of miscommunication on both sides, McQueeney said.

After speaking to McQueeney, Fr. Doyle held a meeting in order to tell hall staff about the cancellation, O'Connor, a resident assistant, said.

The sudden decision surprised hall staff and scriptwriters, O'Connor said.

The students in charge of putting the pep rally together had been working since the spring and throughout the summer, O'Connor said. They were almost finished with the preparations when they heard the news.

"The script was already written," he said. "Tryouts were supposed to be that night. Everything was all set."

The scriptwriters had also already established several guests to speak and appear in skits, O'Connor said. "We had lined up Charlie Weis, Evan Sharpley and Jack Swarbrick, the new athletic director," he said.

Fr. Doyle personally called each of the guests to tell them about the cancellation, O'Connor said.

The news was frustrating to the students who had been working hard on the script, O'Connor said.

"Usually [the pep rally consists of] dumb, juvenile humor," he said. "But this year our object was to make it clever and intelligent without getting laughs at other people's expense."

Fr. Doyle had not read the script when he made the decision to cancel, O'Connor said.

O'Connor said he believes that the wheels were partly set in motion by problems with the pep rally t-shirt.

"Our t-shirt design was rejected by the Student Activities Office," he said.

The setback with the t-shirts seemed to show the rector that the event was not going to be ready in time, O'Connor said.

The explanations given by Fr. Doyle did not satisfy many students involved in the planning. He gave no further details regarding the decision to The Observer.

"He didn't have a very strong argument," contributing scriptwriter Evin Harpur said. "He said we weren't prepared, but any problems could have been remedied if we were made aware of them.

"We would have definitely been ready by Thursday, but Fr. Doyle is a good guy and would not have cancelled the show if there weren't a reason."

The sudden cancellation has led to much speculation among residents.

"I think there is a deeper issue," Harpur said. "I don't know if his hands are tied."

O'Connor said it seems the decision was made unilaterally, but "some are wondering if the orders came down to him" from somewhere else, O'Connor said.

After Fr. Doyle cancelled the pep rally, the writers and other residents tried to come up with alternative ways to put on event this season, McQueeney said.

Some suggested postponing the pep rally to the Thursday before the second home game versus Michigan, in order to have more preparation time and the writers offered to go back over the script and "clean up" the show, McQueeney said. By the time suggestions had been offered, however, the decision was final, he said.
For those of you who might not be familiar with it, a key theme of the dorm life at Notre Dame is each dorm's "signature event", a solo moment when they become the center of attention on campus. Prominent examples include the Fisher Regatta, Keenan Revue, The Alumni Wake, The Keough Chariot Race, Sorin's Fall Talent Show, Badin Breakdown, Pop Farley Week, Football 101 at Walsh Hall, Pangborn's Phox Fire...the list goes on. Every single one of these events is woven into the fabric of Notre Dame's residence life, something the University prides itself on - which it should. The residential community at Notre Dame is different than many other Universities, precisely because of these events which help unite and entertain the entire student body. It's the shared experiences of seeing Crackhead make a total fool of himself at each year's Dillon Pep Rally or watching cardboard boats sink every year in St. Joseph Lake at the Fisher Regatta that give real meaning to the phrase the University gladly shills out on t-shirts proclaiming that on this campus, "We Enter As Many, We Leave as One."

Which brings us to yesterday's out-of-the-blue announcement that Dillon Hall, without warning or notice of any kind, has seen it's traditional Pep Rally (which takes place on the Thursday night before the first home game) canceled due to what's been termed a lack of "necessary direction and support".

First things first: as all of us on the blog have a special place in our hearts for Dillon, and three of us served as resident assistants with Father Doyle, let us be very clear on one thing: we trust his judgment. If he felt the rally was falling badly behind schedule and harmed beyond repair logistically, we believe him. What we find very troubling is how the decision was dropped on the Men of Dillon without warning and with absolute finality, despite offers from our fellow Dillonites to perform their due diligence in order to pull the rally off on another weekend.

Furthermore, the timing and half-explained decision gives us pause since the organization and logistics of the Dillon Rally have long been an exercise in controlled chaos; it is, after all, an event which needs to come together very quickly, often smack in the middle of move-in week and the start of class. Three years ago there was an exception for this as the organizers had three full weeks to prepare (and the Rally got shortened by rain anyway), since the Irish home opener did not occur until September 17th. Last year's rally had to be ready, and was, before the end of the first week of school due to a September 1st opener. How was it that this year's organizers had time to write a script, announce auditions, and arrange for appearances by the head coach and new athletic director yet somehow weren't putting the event together in a timely fashion? To hear that this year the hurried nature of plotting the rally became an insurmountable obstacle strikes us as logic conveniently propped up without much explanation in order to mask somebody else's agenda.

Anybody who has seen previous Dillon Pep Rallys knows the event has a long history of speaking truth to power, from targeting the Vagina Monologues controversy - a skit Father Doyle participated in - to other "sacred cows" of the campus like Mr. Dining Hall Food Stealer Watcher. The humor might strike some as "sophomoric", but it is not demeaning. The primary goal of the event is to formally induct the Dillon freshman into the community and to get the campus at large pumped up for the season in a way that includes no roof-raising, Monk Malloy-approved 'skits', or canned speeches made solely for the enlightenment of tourists and visiting alumni. Here is Charlie himself speaking at the '06 edition of the Rally. Note how he specifically praises a pep rally being put on by students, for students:

Additionally, here is Notre Dame-sanctioned coverage of last year's Rally extolling the virtues of the event:

Again, let us state that it is not the decision made by Father Doyle to cancel the rally's planned performance on September 4th with which we take issue. We have no reason to doubt him if he says there was too much commotion in order for an effective performance on that date. What we find very upsetting is how this decision has apparently given way to an out-and-out cancellation of the rally this year, in spite of the willingness of Dillon Hall's upperclassmen to take whatever actions were necessary to put the DPR back where it belongs - front and center on South Quad as a true example of what it means to belong to the community of Notre Dame. Knowing how much the rally has meant to Dillon Hall, its residents, and Father Doyle gives us a strong suspicion that the decision to put the Pep Rally on ice for the year (with only the "hope" that it will return next year as the kind of rally Dillon and the community have come to expect) is a result of somebody inside the Main Building taking issue with a joke in the script or the planned t-shirt and once again hitting the PC panic button. Even though we fully acknowledge that we do not have all the facts, it appears to us that this is another in a long chain of actions taken by ResLife and Student Activities to reign in and dumb-down things that once made Notre Dame special, lest anybody find it offensive or uncomfortable.

Previous skits and performances at the Rally may have gone overboard, and we would probably agree that at times the rally drags on without end and without much actual humor. But when examining it versus the over-rehearsed, over-killed "raising of the roof" which requires tickets at the JACC on Fridays, there is little question which event captures the true spirit and enthusiasm of the Notre Dame student body as football season gets underway. There is also no question that at least until Sunday the University was proud to market Dillon Hall's annual Pep Rally as a unique part of the Notre Dame spirit. What happened to change that apparently is something that nobody in the administration wants known, in all likelihood because they know it will be exposed as the flimsy, hyper-sensitive display of hand wringing that it probably is.

As of this posting (9/3/08, 2:15 PM Pacific time), there has been no indication that any further explanation of why the Pep Rally was canceled will be forthcoming. Additionally, we'd like to note that other Signature Events within the dorm system at Notre Dame have seen their activities neutered over the course of the past few years, so in that context the DPR can merely be seen as the latest victim. What we'd like from any and all fans of the Irish out there, as well as the readers of this blog (all 7 of them) is for you to leave some notes of encouragement in the comments section of this post that we can forward on to the current leaders of Dillon Hall, letting them know we are behind them and to hope they will find some way to keep the Pep Rally alive this year, perhaps at an off-campus location ala the Keenan Revue. Not to steer off into a poltically charged comment or come across as somebody making a mountain out of a molehill, but it really [bleep]in' angers me that the University makes the time and effort to protect the Vagina Monologues but sweeps aside an event that's become so ingrained in not just the Dillon Hall, but Notre Dame, experience. Please take time to leave a comment.


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