Disclaimer. This page is hosted by Georgia Tech, but the opinions are solely those of Dr. Robert Butera. Nobody else on this lab web site may even share these opinions.
By now, if you are a die-hard Georgia Tech fan, you have heard of this:
While the original petition was intended to be short and simple, that brevity has caused a lot of reactionary furor not just over the proposed change, but the intentions behind it.
I am part of a small group that has been discussing this idea and created the web site. We decided to put it out to the Tech Community for discussion, which it certainly has.
Nothing in this post represents the opinions of GT or even those that are behind this initiative. They are solely my opinions. Even the use of “we” is based upon my personal recollection and discussion and may not accurately represent the consensus of my peers.
What this initiative is not.
This initiative was not the product of a diversity task force. It was not hatched in meetings among administrators. No President, Provost, or Associate Vice-Anything was involved, although they are aware of it. It is not an attempt to compromise or take us down a slippery slope of wholesale changes to the Rambling Wreck or any other traditions. It has no long term agenda other than what is written on the web page — a single word change.
Why we created this initiative.
We are not administrators. We are faculty and alumni and parents of students and alumni. We are season ticket holders. Some of us were very active undergraduates at GT, and some of us remain quite active as faculty and/or alumni. We love Georgia Tech, its traditions and yes, its songs. Our most visible anthem by far is the Rambling Wreck. People outside of GT likely have not even heard of Up with the White and Gold, most of our students and alumni never learn the words of our alma mater, but many know of the Ramblin’ Wreck.
But we also want to send a message to past, present, and future students at Georgia Tech that women can be afforded the same opportunities as men, and can accomplish just as much. A one word change from “cheer” to “join” conveys that, and does nothing to wreck any of the culture, traditions, or intentions of the song and those who sing it.
While the Deans and many school chairs support this effort, they are also doing so as individuals. We are a grass roots effort. No committee meetings, just people talking after social events and via email.
A little bit about me.
I am a GT alum (EE ’91), a GT professor, a season ticket holder. I was in the band, various student organizations including ODK, and a fraternity. I have my rat cap in my office, sitting on top of my 1990 NCAA Football National Championship Coke commemorative bottle. I worry that too few student organizations today are continuing long-standing GT traditions (e.g. the slow fade of “real” Wrecks in the wreck parade, the dwindling use of the rat cap, the elimination of the Greek Week soapbox derby down Freshmen Hill because it was “dangerous”). I am on the organizing committee for the 25th reunion of the class of 1991. I don’t know the words to our alma mater, but still know all the words to “O Shafts of Tech” (which I suspect the band still sings). I loved playing the Horse after football games, and my daughter loves to hang out after the game until it is over. While I cannot bring a barrel of rum into a football game, I have used my toddler’s backpack to make sure my beverages found their way into the game (dear AA and GTPD — statute of limitations applies). Finally, I think people who say “Georgia Tech University” should be publicly humiliated 🙂
I am only saying all this for a simple reason — to convince you that I am one of the last people who wants to demean or corrupt any of the long-standing traditions of this institute. I don’t want ravage or desecrate all the lyrics of the school song. I probably love this place as much as any other die-hard Tech fan does. Yell about it all you want, but do not assume that those behind this petition had some complex evil diabolical plan. It is one word. And it isn’t even hell, rum, or whiskey. I would oppose any such lyrical changes!
Why *I* support this initiative.
The diversity task force in 1998 was guilty of talking about change without talking about specifics. Everything seemed to be on the table, details were lacking, and that scared people. I was against any talk of changing the school song, in part because it seemed like some people, via their public statements, were considering broad sweeping changes.
The Ramblin’ Wreck is our most visible tradition to the outside world. People read it, prospective students look at it, my daughters have sung it — and dressed in white and gold — and those words do matter to many. I find this proposed change ideal in that it sends a clear message to the world of what GT is today, without wrecking anything about what GT has been.
It is not perfect, and some are analyzing the lyrics with the intensity of biblical literalists. I am personally not even sure that the proposed change is the best choice of words. As a father of two daughters, I like to swap “son” and “daughter” (and associated gender pronouns) while singing. Can we do that? Why not?
Ultimately, I support this initiative not because I expect some official name change, but rather that people will sing it this way simple because they want to. And while it is one word, the very act of changing it sends a strong positive message to the world and does nothing to compromise any of the great traditions of this school.
It is easy to say that a mysterious “they” want to change the school song. There is no “they” — it is us. If you don’t agree with it, you will still keep on singing it the same way – right? Real change is not some official act, it is what people do with their actions. I do expect that this will facilitate a dialogue on campus – not about the song per se, but gender bias and parity even today, both at Georgia Tech and within the companies that we all work for.
I do not expect much productive discussion to happen via social media, and I won’t spend hours debating people on Facebook. You can email me, but I already receive too much email (email firstname.lastname@example.org – it all gets collected by someone) I know some of my closest friends disagree with me strongly about this. But I do hope that our motivations are clear, and that those who feel strongly about this can disagree knowing that we all love this school. Someone can always buy me a beer and talk about it 🙂
Robert Butera (EE ’91)
Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineerin