The Dolphin Dolphy Day Interview

As I wrote last week, after a series of Dolphy Day tweets, I was contacted by Le Moyne’s student newspaper to be interviewed about my Dolphy Day opinions. The nicely done story, by Editor-in-Chief Aubrey Zych, appeared in today’s Dolphin, and here is a related student response also published today. It’s clear there are varied opinions about Dolphy Day at Le Moyne, but since I’ve been here, I don’t recall this much discussion or recognition that there are people, including students, who have problems with the tradition. It’s good that we are talking about it, and I hope we continue to do so. If the tradition goes like usual, however, no one will think much about it until next spring, and it will continue to be as disruptive, dangerous, and exclusionary as ever. One thing is certain, I’ll continue to tweet freely about the things I want to see changed, as well as the things I love about Le Moyne.

With Aubrey Zych’s permission, below I’ve posted my complete responses to the emailed interview questions.

1. Why are you opposed to the tradition of Dolphy Day? When did this opposition begin?
     There are a number of reasons, but chiefly it’s because I believe the day is too disruptive to the educational mission of the College. Personally, I find it very disrespectful to the work I and other professors do to prepare courses and work on behalf of all students. Dolphy Day and the scares, and the general distraction they produce, end up disrupting much more than 1 day. There are always students complaining about how the scares make it hard to sleep and study. I have opposed Dolphy Day since the first year I started teaching at Le Moyne, in 2005. I don’t like that we pretend it’s spontaneous and rebellious when it’s well planned and strongly supported by College offices and staff. If it was an authentic, spontaneous rebellion that got so much participation, I’d actually support it.
2. You made your thoughts about the day public on Twitter, and some students and faculty responded. What were the responses like?
     The responses were varied. Some students strongly opposed me and thought they were cleverly rebutting me, some others at the college thought I was too upset, some simply thought it was funny (which I appreciate), and others agreed with me. There were a number of students who told me in person they liked what I was tweeting, but only 1 or 2 on Twitter who did so. I think there are students who don’t like Dolphy Day but know that saying it publicly will upset other students, and I hope I can give them some space to speak up. If I’m wrong about that, that’s fine too.
3. What would you like to see for the future of Dolphy Day?
     First and foremost, I don’t want to cancel it. I think it can be better coordinated so that it is less disruptive and more inclusive of students who don’t drink or simply want to fit their classes in while they celebrate in their free time. I know there are students who don’t drink who leave campus, and I talked to some this year who just spent the day studying or hanging out in an empty Dolphin Den (no food is served down there on DD which I think should change), and I talked to one student who said she was made fun of for being in the library. I dislike that some faculty cancel classes, but I understand why they do. It’s very difficult to try to teach when half the students simply don’t come to class, and some who do are not sober. Le Moyne does not cancel classes officially, and faculty are expected to use their own discretion. I get angry that I don’t really know if it’s Dolphy Day until I’m on campus (though social media is changing that). It would be a huge improvement if faculty were formally informed whenever it is announced it’s the day. I have never canceled a class when Dolphy Day has fallen on my teaching day. I do whatever activity I had planned on. This year I had about 10 students in a 10:30am, only 3 in my 3:30, but only 2 who missed my 5:30pm. Students know where I stand, or at least they should.
4. Do you believe there are parts of Dolphy Day that are acceptable, while others are inappropriate; or is the entire day uncalled for?
     I don’t believe the day as it is done now is acceptable because faculty are not informed and it is too disruptive, especially for students who don’t like it. Student Affairs, SODEXO and Security do not have adequate staff to manage the day. That’s part of the reason adults end up on top of buildings and shooting off fireworks, even though I believe they are asked not to. The blatant disrespect for campus authority and campus neighbors is very disappointing, and on any other day of the year I imagine the police would be called. As far as what students who do participate in the day do out there, I don’t care that those who are of age drink. I drink. I don’t care that students enjoy the weather and hang out. That’s great fun and it’s important to have those times. I very much dislike that underage students are allowed to drink just because their beverage is not in a clear container. That is irresponsible, and it amounts to the college encouraging underage drinking. Not to mention it leads to some really dumb stories I’ve heard. For example, one commuter who didn’t know it was Dolphy Day until she arrived on campus for her 8:30am class was forced to dump out her iced coffee because it was in a clear cup and security wouldn’t trust her – her choice was to drink her coffee or go to class! I heard from another student who believes he was racially profiled as he parked his car to come to an afternoon class. If, and I stress if, the security and students are so afraid that ‘locals’ will come to the day that they hassle those who don’t look like your average Le Moyne student, then that is a serious problem.
5. I had heard there was a long chain of emails between faculty going around on Dolphy Day regarding the tradition. Can you tell me more about that? Who started the email, what were faculty members feelings, etc?
     There was a long exchange, but I’m not going to try to summarize the many points of view. Some faculty think I’m taking it too seriously and should just let students have their fun, but others agree with me that the day is disruptive, dangerous, and exclusionary.
6. Do you have any plans to call for a change in Dolphy Day? Do you believe the day ever will be changed?
     I have already called for a change in Dolphy Day. Talking to you right now is part of that. I want students who dislike aspects of the day to speak up too because their voices and concerns are as important as mine. I want those who like the day, be they current students, faculty, and alumni to let us all know what they value about the day. I do believe it will change because it has changed a lot since its beginning. What current students now know as Dolphy Day is nothing like the original day, and alumni from then will tell you that. In fact, if it was really spontaneous and truly student led without any coordination or support from any campus offices, and if students really were risking something by skipping classes and ignoring authority, I would love that. I teach about power and how it should be contested. I want students to do that. When you have the college president taking photos with students as they ‘rebel,’ as faculty are required by that same administration to teach on Dolphy Day, that’s just not very rebellious. My anti Dolphy Day lecture is always just that – do a real one that isn’t catered by Sodexo or funded with Activities Fees, and I’m on your side. If our student body could pull something like that off, I’d be proud of them.
     As an aside, I think it’s very interesting to think about whether Dolphy Day even is a tradition like we usually use that term. It has changed so much. DD used to be much less formal, but it’s been pretty much completely taken over by the school’s leaders who cooperate with the students who ‘run’ it. Many current students do not know the Eric Dolphy statue was only put up during Dr. Pestello’s first year as president. We all know DD has nothing to do with Eric Dolphy, who is a very important American artist, and the statue is another part of what makes the day so disrespectful. My guess is that the first one probably had more to do with Frank Zappa’s song “Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue.”* If it was a Frank Zappa statue, which would be very cool, that would probably be more true to the origin of Dolphy Day. At least, that’s my guess. Basically, I want to make it clear that I don’t like what Dolphy Day is in practice. If it was anything like I understand its origins, and students took real risks to skip class and blow off the day, I’d blow it off with them.
*Since the interview, I’ve seen this confirmed on Wikipedia (yes, I know…) and in the completed article in the Dolphin.
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