When image control goes too far

Letter to the Editor

As a lead resident adviser and writing center tutor, the wellbeing of my community matters to me. As an Honors College student and critical thinker, honesty and academic integrity do as well. I feel I must speak out against the problematic email sent by Annie Stevens, vice provost for student affairs, to the parents of UVM students last week about Naked Bike Ride.

There are two UVMs: the UVM students attend and the image of UVM the administration manicures. One need only look at UVM’s spending budget to see how important image is.

Students are unaware of this email, which relates to my first concern. This email encouraged our parents to dissuade us attending NBR. I think I speak for many when I say this is distasteful.

A university should not be recruiting parents to affect student behavior. Students, despite how we’re sometimes treated, are adults. We are the ones going thousands of dollars in debt for the rest of our lives; if administrators want to persuade us, they should speak to us, not behind our backs.

More concerning, however, was the dishonesty within the email, tactics reminiscent of a used car salesman. In fact, the email functioned as clickbait. The subject read “UVM Exams: What You Need To Know” when the majority of the email was about NBR.

NBR has taken place twice a year for over twenty years, yet Stevens wrote that the event occurs “at times.” Quotes were even put around the word event; while perhaps a legal necessity, it’s read as condescending. Stevens described NBR as “waning” twice, promoting “new traditions” like “WE Has Talent,” which “draws larger crowds.”

Any student and every professor recognizes this Trump-like trick. There’s no official data on NBR participation since UVM makes it a point to mention it is not a university event. They do not make students swipe in.

So naturally, any crowd at a UVM event could be said to be “larger.” It’s hard to compete with a nonexistent number. And if you go to these events, you will see that her claim is false.

While most attest that participation in NBR has declined recently, I think anyone living here would agree that the word “waning” is ingenious. The notion that WE Has Talent (in which students more often swipe in, nab free food, then leave) draws a larger crowd than NBR is laughable.

Especially this year, as NBR was held on Central campus, right next to the Davis Center, right next to WE Has Talent. So, many students went to this event, grabbed free backpacks and walked outside to NBR.

This may seem trivial, but words matter perhaps now more than ever.

Stevens holds a doctorate. She is the vice provost. I’m sure she, like UVM, means well. But engaging in dishonest language, using parents as political pawns to alter student choices, all in service of UVM’s precious image, is not okay.

Unless the University wants their crusade against NBR to remain as effective as a D.A.R.E. program, UVM needs to act like a university first and a business last.


Seth Wade