When I visited the University of Virginia to attend a football game a few years prior to matriculating as a member of the first classes of full coeducation in 1970, I was struck by the song being sung by the students after each score. I knew the tune, of course—“Auld Lang Syne”—but didn’t learn the words to the “Wahoowa” version until much later.
I remember thinking that while the song was nice, it certainly didn’t resonate as a “fight song” in the same way that Michigan’s or Notre Dame’s did. It seemed a bit of a relic, and when my boyfriend from UNC told me that it was too derivative to be much admired, I considered that this might be so.
But as the years passed, and I found myself reconnecting with my alma mater through my brother’s graduation or season tickets to UVA football or class reunions, I came to fully realize why the song was indeed appropriate. There’s something about putting one’s arms over the shoulders of friends and even complete strangers, and swaying and singing that haunting and familiar tune that creates a bond.
But a few years later, I reacted with considerable sadness to a new custom that accompanied the song: yelling “Not gay!” in the small pause that follows, “We come from Old Virginia, where all is bright and gay.” To make things worse, it wasn’t long after the students took the lead in this unenlightened practice that some alumni and fans on the opposite side of the stadium began to follow suit.
Despite a campaign to discourage this expression, the refrain persists. At one game I attended, a friend singing the song and seated in front of me said under his breath, “Not gay,” and then unhappily confided that he had heard from his children now in attendance at the University that the students were being “told” not to say those words.
When I said to him, “The University should be telling them that,” he reacted angrily.
These incidents tell me that the students—and many alumni—are complying with requests not to shout the offending words, but they’re not at all happy about it.
It’s reminiscent of the fall of 1970 when a student was asked to refrain from waving the Confederate flag after a stirring play on the field. After all, there were greater numbers of African-American students attending UVA, a few of whom were in the backfield. Much discussion and bitterness ensued, but that first game of the season was the last for the stars and bars.
Since yelling “Not gay!” is still apparently very much an issue for some of the University of Virginia fans, I think the question needs to be asked: Is it time to bid a fond farewell, once and for all, to “The Good Old Song”? After all, we certainly aren’t much willing to “take a cup of kindness yet” regarding the singing of the song for our fellow human beings who might be of a different sexual persuasion.
This battle, even if under the surface, continues to be waged. Rather than continue to risk the University’s good reputation—albeit somewhat undeserved on the civility front—perhaps it’s time to admit defeat and move on to something new.