Five days after I marched with the GLBT Resource Center at the Houston Pride Parade, the official social media accounts of Texas A&M posted pictures of the march online. The posts quickly invite negative comments sharing a simple rationale: Pride is not what A&M is about; it is not part of Aggie tradition.
Aggies are proud of tradition. Since my first day at A&M, I’ve been trying to understand what Aggie tradition stands for. In this case, I’ve been asking: What “Aggie tradition” are these comments referring to? Along my journey here, I’ve learned from my fellow Aggies, throughout teaching and participating in community services, and my answer is no Aggie tradition could ever justify these comments.
Tradition embraces everyone; it does not exclude people. Tradition transcends; it does not fade away over time. And if we want to talk about tradition, we need to learn from history.
As most higher education institutions in this country, A&M has a troubled history on marginalized groups. People of color and females were not allowed to be Aggies. Those with power legitimized exclusion and sustained an unjust system in the name of “tradition.” The kind of appropriation of “tradition,” deliberately or not, still prevails at A&M in one way or another, as shown in the recent sexual misconduct allegations, and of course, in the negative comments mentioned above. But it will be outlived by tradition, because tradition is much bigger and better.
Great people like Aggies are not immune from making mistakes; we learn from mistakes. Great institutions like A&M do not have to have a clean slate; we are honest to our history so that we can avoid the same mistakes. If we try hard, mistakes can be transient in the long run; tradition is transcendent. Aggies and A&M do not shy away from the following question: What tradition shall we uphold?
Tradition is appreciated by all, not just a certain group of people. Tradition transcends times and speak to humanity and our desire for a better society. Aggie tradition means we unite as Aggie family, relating to each other. We cherish small moments of bliss, share sorrow in hard times, celebrate love in any form. We lend a hand whenever possible not because we want something in return but because this is who we are. We stand up and fight for our sisters and brothers because we are people of integrity and because we all deserve a just society.
It is not difficult to tell tradition from appropriation of “tradition.” Tradition is positive and inspiring. We know it when we are in the Muster answering “here,” when we get a warm reply to our cold email to an Aggie working in a company we are applying for, when we march with fellow Aggies at the Pride Parade.
This tradition echoes the words emblazoned on the gates of Memorial Student Center. Our Aggie core values read: Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty, Respect, and Selfless Service. They last longer than any of us. They are the tradition we must preserve and pass down for the sake of our Aggie family.
Dadao Hou is an international student, Ph.D. candidate and member of LGBT+ community at Texas A&M.