It is a Michigan tradition to hold a homecoming pep rally to showcase our student organizations and of course, to spread some Maize and Blue love for our athletics. Traditionally, the celebration has been a medley of high-energy performances, encouraging speeches from coaches, and guest appearances from both club and varsity sports teams. But this year’s planning committee for Maize Night Madness decided to change it up a bit.
“This year Maize Night Madness is unique in that we’re not just focusing on athletics,” President of LSA Student Government Natasha Dombrowski said. “We’re branching beyond what people think they really know about a pep rally and we’re focusing on different aspects that really make Michigan unique.”
Because most students are not involved in athletics on campus, the planning committee found it important to showcase a diverse array of groups and performances that apply to the passions of those outside of the realm of sports. This included appearances from the Black Student Union, ComCo, South Asian Awareness Network, and guest speaker Trey Boynton, director of multi-ethnic student affairs, to name a few. This, they predicted, would create an “inclusive and cohesive sense of school spirit.”
Senior William Royster, who performed a deeply emotional poem “I’ll Do It” in honor of his mother and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, believes those goals were met.
“It was an amazing experience sharing my story and struggle with so many students. I think the piece allowed students to take a step back to acknowledge and understand each other,” Royster said. “This experience truly showed that we are a student body that is not only unified in our triumphs, but also unified within our hardships.”
Along with the inclusion of diverse groups on campus, the hashtag #standbyblue appeared on t-shirts for the event and throughout practically every performance, indicating a desire to stand by Team 135. The goal of the event, then, was two-fold: to promote inclusiveness and to promote support for Brady Hoke and the team. Both worthy goals—but at least one student believes that the effort to “bridge campus gaps” fell through the cracks.
Senior Briana Lung said the event “made an effort to incorporate and showcase the diversity that it (the University) has to offer, and the event was a successful presentation of the #standbyblue campaign. However, the reception by the student body ranged from enthusiastic to disrespectful.”
Lung witnessed a change in crowd focus when more diverse groups appeared on stage. Crowd reactions to sports and performance groups were decidedly different than their reactions to BSU or Trey Boynton—it seemed, according to Lung, that these presentations were not what the crowd came for.
“There was so little attention paid to the members of BSU that it was difficult to hear what they were saying. The lead speaker even had a glow stick thrown at him from the crowd,” Lung said.
The planning committee for the event made a well-intentioned attempt, but perhaps a pep rally two days before one of the most intense rivalry games of the season is not the most conducive space for an exhibition of diversity. It is one thing to provide performers with a new chance to make their voices heard, but one can never ensure a respectful crowd.
“We have a lifelong commitment to the success of being leaders and best, so we just hope that students will really benefit from being able to be exposed to so many different students on campus,” Dombrowski said.