SMITH: After our loss to Virginia Tech, we revealed the worst of our community

Losses to Tech unveil the prejudicial and privileged backgrounds of our own University community

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What comes across in particular about University students trash talking Tech is a sense of superiority and privilege that frankly showcases the worst of our community. 

Dorothy Wang | Cavalier Daily

Losing the Commonwealth Cup for the fifteenth time in a row hit a lot of Cavalier fans hard. The amount of emotion going into the game as well as after the loss is understandable — Virginia Tech has historically been our fiercest rivals. Even sportscasters before the game had Virginia at a toss-up against Virginia Tech, signalling a recent shift under the Mendenhall #NewStandard era which otherwise would have been seen as near impossible just a few years ago. 

However, after the football team’s tragic fumble in overtime and ultimate defeat, I saw indications of an uncomfortable tradition in U.Va. athletics — distasteful jokes and/or jabs against Tech students and alumni. While I understand that there is a place for playful banter between rival institutions, many of the jokes made at Tech’s expense reveal the worst about our University, rather than theirs.

A quick scroll through Twitter postgame, and the usual suspects arrive. Jokes about Virginia Tech degrees’ worthlessness, their student population’s alleged inbred family trees, redneck qualities and their lack of national prestige abound. Moreover, there’s also a tendency to flout our University’s supposed greatness — our 25 national titles, our ranking as a flagship public university and our low admission rate, hovering currently around 28 percent.

It is certainly good to be proud about your university, but there are limits as well. What comes across in particular about University students trash talking Tech is a sense of superiority and privilege that frankly showcases the worst of our community. In making fun of so-called “redneck” and “white trash” Tech students, the real message is students not from privileged backgrounds or the cultural elite don’t belong at our University. The same follows for jeers against Tech’s supposed backward simpleton student body — read between the lines and this means students from these backgrounds aren’t welcome here. 

The classism and privilege permeating the trash talk from our own student body reflect our values at their worst, when they’re under pressure and wounded by embarrassment. In these moments, we see the true nature of our community when we experience loss, and the result is largely unflattering. However, at the same time, our student body largely seems to support diversity initiatives and expanding access to the University for students who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to come here. 

If that’s the case — if our community truly wants to have a better, more well-rounded University, we have to address the irony of dissing Tech students while we at the same time encourage inclusivity at our University. Even more, we need to be honest about how our privileged sneering at these communities may well be a deterrent for prospective students to even bother applying. Why go to a school that doesn’t value you, where you are the punchline?

We do have some milestones worth celebrating, such as the newly reported early action admission statistics, which show large increases in minority and first generation applicants. However, if we want to cultivate a diverse student body, we have to be mindful of the image of ourselves we are projecting out into the world. Inclusion simply means that a person is welcomed here. The tasteless jokes lodged against Tech students signal the opposite. 

We are slowly working to rewrite the narrative of the University, which still harkens to a painful past for many students currently enrolled here. However, we cannot ignore the hurt we cause in the present. The step towards celebrating all diversity on Grounds compels us to clearly communicate to prospective and current students that their presence in our University space makes us greater. Moreover, inclusion of these communities within our own means that our University will grow and positively change because of their membership. 

Shifting this narrative about ourselves relies upon a change in the way we talk about our rivals. Bashing Tech may be a University pastime for some, but as long as we keep up the jeers, the real joke is on us.

Katherine Smith is a Senior Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at k.smith@cavalierdaily.com

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