Last weekend, Viking Days gave new meaning to the rouser lyrics, “Fight on for our alma mater, Augustana blue and gold.”
This year, students fought on through homecoming week, balancing celebrations and the stress of midterms. Meanwhile, administration and the development office fought on to wine and dine alumni, leaving students to fend for themselves.
The alumni experience is no doubt very important to the college, particularly when they bring their checkbooks along for the weekend. However, Viking Days should provide an opportunity for students to celebrate as well.
The most obvious instance of catering to alumni at the expense of students was the bastardization of Viking Varieties. For the 60th anniversary, Varieties staged a showboating assortment of student and alumni acts at the Washington Pavilion, including performances of all three choirs and the orchestra.
For the 25 percent of the Augustana student body that participates in choir or orchestra, the “invitation” to perform meant a mandatory time commitment of no fewer than 10 hours on top of our already hectic schedules between homecoming and midterms.
Additionally, the show was scripted. Instead of going to Varieties to see friends from down the hall in their band or the international student who does stand-up, the audience sat through alumni re-living their wonder years while stumbling through poorly written jokes.
For the nearly two-hour long Varieties show, the choirs, orchestra and other talented students paraded around on stage like show ponies getting the audience more and more excited until president Rob Oliver came on stage to make his grand announcement: the college has raised $18 million working toward a $20 million goal needed to build the new Sven Froiland Science Center.
Great. But why are we celebrating money raised for the science center with an event showcasing fine arts? Couldn’t president Oliver at least have thrown the humanities a bone by suggesting alumni also offer support to the music and theater departments that worked tirelessly to entertain them?
Oliver’s announcement is just the tip of the iceberg. While the choirs were waiting to enter for the finale, we saw bartenders dressed in lab coats, desserts in test tubes and buttons reading, “Sven and Ole support the Science Center Project and so do I!” It didn’t take long to realize that our singing wasn’t the grand finale; it was the warm-up before we discover that money is the real reason for the season.
By the end of the night, I felt like one of the Von Trapp kids, only allowed to come to the party if I sang and danced and behaved myself. I stood there behind a proud Captain Oliver thinking about all of the fun events missed or made less enjoyable with the stress of rehearsal always looming overhead.
The most frustrating part of the whole ordeal was that all along the way students were largely ignored. Those who did fork out $15 for a student ticket to attend Varieties struggled to find a seat between all of the reserved sections for the “friends of the college.” The price of the ticket alone was enough to keep most students from attending the event, which, based on the monetary goals of the event, may have been a strategy to keep the poor students at home and leave room for the donors.
To add insult to injury, a portion of the money used to put on Varieties came from an Augustana Student Association (ASA) allocation of the student activities fund. Student money was used to fund what became a primarily alumni event.
The ultimate success of this years’ Varieties performance came at the cost of alienating students. Those in choir and orchestra were left too tired to “fight on” anymore, and many even skipped the homecoming football game to have a few hours to sleep.
The students that actually did attend the event were forced to watch from the periphery, and the majority of the student body was left back on campus to entertain themselves. During one of the most high-risk party weekends of the year, according to Augustana Residence Life, students who didn’t attend Varieties had no alternate event (unless you count the football party).
Based on how current students are treated, it’s no wonder Augustana administration has to work so hard to get alumni to “sing out thy praises” for their alma mater.