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Knott’s SYR celebrates America

Knott Hall Staff | Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Yesterday Grace Chiarella published a Letter to the Editor (“SYR themes disrespect rural poverty,” Oct. 15) claiming, in no uncertain terms, that Knott Hall’s annual SYR mocks rural poverty. As members of the Knott Hall staff, we wanted to address some of the issues raised in the article. In particular,  Chiarella states, “Although the SAO-approved theme for Knott Hall’s SYR this past weekend was ‘Americana,’ students preferred to call it the ‘White Trash Bash’ as they asked around for a pair of ‘jorts’ to borrow or boarded the bus bound for the dance at the RV Hall of Fame.” She goes on to claim this dance was nothing short of poverty-themed and offensive to millions of Americans who live in rural poverty.
First and foremost, we would like to personally and unequivocally apologize on behalf of ourselves and the dorm to anyone who was offended by some residents’ referring to the dance as the “White Trash Bash.” This is not the theme of the dance, and it is highly offensive. The hall staff and hall government took numerous steps to prevent this rogue theme from becoming pervasive, and the failure of our efforts reflects a failure of leadership.
The actual theme of Knott’s annual SYR is “Americana.” Put differently, the goal of the dance is to celebrate patriotism and love for the United States. Most attendees to the dance wear some sort of apparel normally associated with the United States. Many wore items such as American flag bandanas, jean shorts and flannel shirts. Why was this the case? The term Americana connotes a specific type of American patriotism and culture. Merriam-Webster provides two definitions: “materials concerning or characteristic of America … or a genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music.” This theme is poignantly captured by legendary artist Norman Rockwell, whose art is almost universally referred to as “Americana” in nature. In fact, one of the most famous books on the subject is titled “Norman Rockwell’s Americana.” His paintings depict ordinary Americans going about their lives, often in rural or suburban areas. Blue jeans, a uniquely American fashion, feature prominently in many of his pieces, as do flannel shirts, baseball, family dinners etc. Therefore, the decision by many residents to wear items such as jean shorts, flannel shirts and American flag bandanas should not be conceived as an attempt to mock any group of people, but as an expression of a distinctly American fashion.
As with all things, some people chose to take things too far.  Chiarella is correct that this happened – some residents took the theme in an unacceptable direction. We are deeply sorry and will continue doing everything possible to rectify this situation. To the best of our knowledge, however,  Chiarella did not contact any member of the Knott Hall staff or government. Had she done so, she would have been informed of vigorous efforts to counteract the term “White Trash” and other manifestations that are offensive. Instead, she decided to write a Letter to the Editor of The Observer, publicly shaming Knott Hall, rather than trying to engage in a constructive and helpful conversation. In the future, we would appreciate being contacted directly, as we seek to make Knott Hall the best place possible and find feedback of any sort to be extremely helpful.
We deeply and sincerely appreciate Chiarella’s concern and seek to stamp out this and all other manifestations of insensitivity we see. In the future, we can promise Knott Hall will double and triple efforts to disassociate this dance and any Knott Hall function from the term “White Trash.” Knott prides itself on being an inclusive, welcoming and accepting community, and it will only seek to build on those pillars in the future. If any member of the Notre Dame community wishes to further discuss this issue, we are happy to do so at his or her convenience.

Will Miller
Class of 2014
Knott Hall RA

Denver Lobo
Class of 2014
Knott Hall RA

Cole Wogoman
Class of 2014
Knott Hall RA

Ben Moore
Class of 2014
Knott Hall RA

Ricardo Duarte
Class of 2014
Knott Hall RA

Mitchell Lopez
Class of 2014
Knott Hall RA

Br. Jerome Meyer
Knott Hall Rector

Matt Barloh
Notre Dame Law School
Class of 2015
AR

Steven Ramsey
Notre Dame Law School
Class of 2014
AR