21 April 2011

got a little story for you, internet

this is a story about a very special holiday celebrated every year on san jacinto day, 21 april, the anniversary of the 1836 battle at which texas gained its independence from mexico. since 1922 it has also been a day for texas a&m aggies to gather, recall their days as students, and remember their absent comrades and friends. since world war II, we have called this day muster.

texas a&m is an interesting place. the university as it exists today is so very different from the tiny land-grant military college established by the texas legislature in 1871, but current and former students continually strive to maintain a lot of the culture established during its first few decades -- values that the first aggies, most of them poor farmers' sons, brought with them when they arrived on the campus of the agricultural and mechanical college of texas beginning in 1876. muster is, essentially, the convergence of several of these values: family, fellowship, and duty towards the fallen.

it is, to paraphrase in the extreme, a Big Fucking Deal.

i didn't attend muster until i was 19, but my first experience with aggies united to remember and support their own came several years earlier. americans and especially texans probably recall the bonfire collapse of 1999; i recall it because one of the kids who was killed was the youngest child of extremely dear friends of my family. i was a little too young to know him personally, but i have known and loved his parents since i was eleven years old. my mother was one of the people his dad called in the middle of the night on november 18th to let us know that stack had fallen.

his funeral was so crowded that hundreds of people ended up packed into the foyers and aisles at our modestly-sized church. there were speakers set up outside so that mourners seated on the lawn in folding chairs could hear the service.

a lot of those people were parishioners and friends. but a lot of them weren't.

i start to tear up just thinking about it, even now.

i bring this up not because i'm trying to establish some sort of aggie cred or whatnot; i only want to try and explains what it means when i say that as a demonstration of solidarity, support, and strength in the face of grief, muster leaves that day in the dust. and we hold muster every single year.

more than any other of the myriad traditions associated with texas a&m, i feel like muster is really when we put our money where our mouths are with regard our bluster about all belonging to the aggie family. with a lot of other institutions, claiming to be a family would be -- is, even -- empty rhetoric meant to cajole donations out of alumni. not so a&m.

once an aggie, always an aggie, we say. no "ex-students" of texas a&m; if you were among us once, we will stand with you always. even if you never attended a single day of classes -- although thankfully, this year campus muster will only count one from the class of 2014. i didn't know him. i don't even know where he's from. i will probably never know. but because i am part of the family that boy chose, because in choosing that family he chose me, i likewise choose to mourn for him and for all of the joys and sorrows he would have endured alongside me in this family, this state, this country, this planet.

muster is on a very fundamental level about how we all belong, and about how the least of us is just as worthy of remembrance as the greatest. it doesn't matter who we are. our colors and churches and classes don't matter. we are all aggies, and we honor our own.

so imagine, then, the overwhelming horror i felt when -- on this of all possible days -- i found out that the following resolution passed the texas a&m student senate at their meeting last night:
Whereas: The Texas A&M GLBT Resource Center is partially funded by student fees.

Let it be
That it is the opinion of the students of Texas A&M University that the university should provide equal funding for family and traditional values education, as well as alternative sexual education...

(full resolution available here)

now, the fact that the student senate (charitably described as "a bunch of careerist junior republicans" by my aggie best friend) produced this garbage isn't really surprising. they've been trying to find an excuse to defund the campus GLBT resource center for years, and this isn't even the first time i've written about it. i suppose it's a little surprising that they're using this separate-but-equal tactic, if only because it's so manifestly stupid, but then again, when i was a student i actually witnessed an anti-marriage equality protest wherein a dude "married" his bike. i guess they couldn't get the administration to allow them to bring a goat onto main campus for political purposes.

honestly, their argument isn't any more absurd than any of the dozens of other versions of it that queer advocacy groups get bombarded with every single day. at any other time, this would just be business as usual: see the news pop up on metafilter, roll eyes, forward to friends with a few exclamation points, and then go about the day's business.

but today is not a usual day. today is the day when aggies come together to affirm their support for one another. today is the day, more than any other, when we show that we are a family.

the student senate, in their wisdom, decided that today would be a grand day to openly attack part of that family. and worse, then they decided that it would be appropriate to sign that attack with the names of 46,000 members of that family, thousands of whom will be assembling in a few hours' time to do right by their fellow aggies at the campus muster ceremony.

and to that i say: no.

a&m student senate, you don't get to do that. you do not have the right to taint today with bigotry and hate, and the fact that you thought it not only appropriate but fair to do such a thing makes me wonder about you. something like this goes so far beyond bad bull; it undermines not only the very values that you are disingenuously claiming to stand for, but the entire spirit of both muster and of texas a&m.

when i started writing this post, i was agonizing over whether i should even go to my local muster this year. i wasn't sure how i could square the sick feeling i had in my chest over this with not just my responsibility but my desire to honor my aggie family? how many of them would approve of the sophistry which the elected representatives of current students have so proudly endorsed? can i even claim them as family at all?

i still don't know the answer to those questions, but i do know this: if you can't set aside your prejudices in order to support your fellow aggies, on this day especially, then i'm not sure you deserve to be counted among this family at all.

softly call the muster -- i'll be there.

rachel '07

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