This week’s “Keep the ‘T’ in Tech” campaign has sparked some interesting dialogue about the nature of tradition here at Tech. Some students see the practice of stealing small T’s as vandalism. Others see it as the continuation of the tradition of stealing the T from Tech Tower. One undergraduate student stated that the continued theft of small T’s has become a new tradition that is the “most cherished tradition of Tech.” Another undergraduate stated she is “disgusted that most (if not all) of the T’s have been removed.” Statements like these prompt questions—what is a tradition? And do we have an obligation to continue practices that are seen as traditions?
The Webster’s definition of a tradition is “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation.” So I agree with students who state that stealing small T’s has become a new tradition. It certainly has become a custom passed down to new Jackets. But the more important question remains: Are we obligated as a community to continue with a practice simply because it is a tradition?
That answer to this question is simple. No, we are not, and we should not. Traditions are intended to bring us together, to enrich the fabric of our campus life, and to instill in us a pride in our Institute. If they are not doing so, they should be ended. One quotation that I think aptly captures the current situation is, “Tradition is an explanation for acting without thinking.” I am certainly not saying that there is no value in Tech traditions, simply that all of our traditions should be questioned. They should not be acted upon without thinking.
Our rich history and traditions are amongst the greatest strengths of our Institute. George P. Burdell, Midnight Breakfast and the Mini 500 are all reasons why we love it here. They are essential to our campus life and they are among the shared experiences that make us Jackets. And yet they must be continually reassessed to ensure that their contributions to our campus life outweigh any harm. The label ‘tradition’ alone should never make a behavior permissible.
I think our alumni are most acutely aware that this practice is not a continuation of the original tradition. I received an email on Wednesday from a member of the group who first stole the T from the Tech Tower in the 1960s. He discussed in his email that “the purpose of the ‘theft’ was to present the T to the retiring President of Tech, Dr. Edwin Harrison, who had guided Tech peacefully through the turbulence of the 1960s,” most notably through the integration of African-American students on our campus. In his email he said, “We felt a great President needed a great retirement gift, and what better gift than his own T.” He went on to write that there is no link between the original theft and what is currently happening on our campus. He concluded, “what is happening now is vandalism, pure and simple.”
Today, we pride ourselves on being problem solvers, prepared to look beneath the surface of obstacles. If we engage in behaviors simply because someone before us did the same, what does that say about our community? And what does that say about Tech students? So I challenge each of you to look beyond simply the word ‘tradition’. Consider for yourself if you want to be a part of continuing this practice. The simple fact that the practice has been happening for a few years does not give it exemption from the review of each member of our community. If anything, we should consider its legitimacy all the more harshly.
In my opinion, when I critically assess the impact on stealing small T’s on our campus, I can find no justification for continuing it. Stealing small T’s is not bringing us together. It is not enriching our campus life. It has cost the Institute over $100,000 this year alone, and alumni, prospective students and donors consistently ask why Tech students are vandalizing their own campus. Rather than building pride, it gives the impression that we have none.