Confusion Corner: A PSA on the “cult” mentality

A Public Service Announcement from the Dean of Student Affairs:

It has come to our attention that, after numerous fallacious comments tossed about by the student body and inappropriate articles in various student-run newspapers, some vicious and quite vacuous rumors need to be put to rest. Let it be clear, the College of William and Mary is not a cult. I understand that a few sources have suggested that we are a cult, but I assure you these sources are not reputable. This is fake news. It may seem like light-hearted humor that some upperclassmen have adopted in jest, but we take student freedom very seriously and want everyone to feel that they have full autonomy and individual identity on campus. There has never been a time in William and Mary’s history in which students could not leave of their own free will, were unknowingly indoctrinated into a controlling, unique cultural identity, or in which we manipulated them into believing in a constructed superiority of the institution for the purpose of student retention. As such, there are several things we would like to “clear the air” about so that we may continue to have a happy, productive, fully autonomous semester.

First, we recognize that calling ourselves a “tribe” and having our president, the One True Reveley, idealized as an immortal, all-knowing demigod with impeccable bow tie taste may seem “cultish.” However, these organizational idiosyncrasies are fairly inconsequential arbitrary naming and leadership decisions made by a series of different committee board members over the years that are designed to create a cohesive brand for the college — a brand, not a cult. President Reveley may have a magnetic personality that has enamored the student body with an admiration so powerful that they can wash over a lot of his individual flaws, but these schoolboy crushes are very different from the worship of a Jim Jones character or Warren Jeff’s marriage. After all, those men were manipulative in their personal presentation to cover amoral and self-perpetuating motives. Despite what some people may shout in the heat of the reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, no one is actually obligated, or even wants, to have Reveley’s babies.

There are also some concerns about the typical response of the student body when asked about their attitude towards the school. I assure you that their avid attachment to the College is in no way coerced. You will not be excommunicated or “disappeared” by a secret USSR-inspired night police if you fail to profess a gushing love for the College, despite what some rumors may have you believe. The fact that any randomly-sampled student stopped by a college tour group will fervently and automatically proclaim their undying love for the College is simply the result of a highly-targeted and accurate admission process that selects open-minded students who will thrive in our close-knit community. It is in no way reflective of a cult-like nature.

There have also been several points raised against our induction ceremonies and regular use of rituals, but these are merely traditions. Traditions are very important to the College and other non-cult institutions because they help with bonding and morale. These kinds of bonds are important for ensuring any institution’s longevity, not just that of a cult. The hot chocolate at Yule Log is just hot chocolate; there’s nothing special slipped in. The alma mater, despite what some may say to the contrary, was not designed by the CIA in the 1970s as a subtle form of mind control. Furthermore, I assure you that the rivalry between our fine institution (not a cult) and U.Va. is not a cleverly constructed conflict to ensnare our student body further into some illusion of our superiority, thus increasing devotion. It’s just a friendly competition between two almost equally-matched schools. (Although, we were first and are better in every possible way.) Finally, orientation week only serves the purpose of familiarizing new students to our complex campus, with its many academic buildings, sacrificial altars and dining halls. By no stretch of the imagination is it an initiation process designed to ingrain the rules and social hierarchy of a cult. It is equally preposterous to believe that the week is intentionally fast-paced and overwhelming in order to make the subliminal messages about the school easier to deliver between games of Trainwreck.

I must emphasize that William and Mary is not a cult. Yes, we all share a common twamp mindset and a unique cultural dialogue, but our students came endowed with this. We gathered a lot of like-minded students; we did not take advantage of vulnerable, high-achieving high schoolers and bend them to our will through subtle messages about the value of working hard or through promises of employment. With that issue settled, we would like to note that we are very happy to have new brothers and sisters joining us soon in the fall in our completely voluntary, relaxed non-conformist community, and we would like to welcome them. We want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and that they have no fear about the Kool-Aid we drink at the final commencement ceremony (before our graduates pass onto the next plane of existence), so we are taking any complaints very seriously. Any comments you may have related to “cult” related activity can be emailed to us or made in the more traditional fashion by sacrificing a U.Va. mascot to the Swem Gods. I repeat, we are not a cult. William and Mary is completely safe, and we are all so very happy that all of our former, current and incoming students made the decision to join us.

Emily Gardner is a Confusion Corner columnist who swears ‘ISC’ does not stand for ‘Illuminati Sit-in Center.’



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