Op-Ed: #UmichBetterThanThis: “The Chant” must change

Thursday, September 5, 2019 - 5:43pm

If you’ve ever been to a football game at the Big House, you know “The Chant.” The Michigan defense brings the opposing team to their knees on third down. The crowd erupts! The Michigan Marching Band begins to play Jerry Bilik’s “Temptation,” and the student section swells in unison: “You suck, you suck … you suck, bitch!

The fall of 2018 was my first season at the Big House. I carved out the time from my graduate school schedule to have the full experience of a Michigan home football game: The Goodyear blimp, the powerful drives to the end zone, the salty-sweet kettle corn, the sheer magnitude of the audience roaring in support of a sack or a touchdown. Though I’ve been to hockey games, I wasn’t prepared to hear thousands of fans yell “You suck, bitch!” in front of a national audience of millions. “What a shame,” I thought. “Aren’t we better than this?”

As an insult, the word “bitch” has historically been used to “convey hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status” and to “denigrate women as a group,” says a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Students feel the same about its use today, from all academic, racial and ethnic backgrounds; from all genders and sexualities; and from every political persuasion.

By the end of the season, I was fed up. Hadn’t the #MeToo movement just begun? Doesn’t the U-M Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan “commit to working actively to challenge and respond to bias, harassment and discrimination”? Didn’t the National Academies just release a comprehensive report demonstrating that “organizational climate is, by far, the greatest predictor of the occurrence of sexual harassment”? 

The Michigan Daily has published five separate pieces on this subject over the last decade. In 2012, more than 2,200 people tried to change the words for one game against Air Force with little success despite praise from the Athletic Department. Yet by 2017, the chant had changed for the worse with the addition of “bitch.

Months ago, I set out to understand the full problem and find a lasting solution, consulting a wide range of stakeholders. The marching band and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance cite alumni support for the “Temptation” tradition, preserving Marching Band Director John Pasquale’s right to choose his own repertoire at games and stating that if they change the song students will just “add words to something else.” Despite having responsibility for everything in the stadium, the Athletic Department says music choices are up to the marching band. The Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion maintains it’s a problem, but agrees that the band ultimately chooses the songs. Even Central Student Government, after engaging and seeking solutions with them, refuses to act without hard numbers detailing the student body’s opinion on the chant. 

Make no mistake, all of us are complicit in this chant. All of us: The director of the band, the dean of the Music, Theatre & Dance School, the president of the University and every person in that stadium, regardless of their involvement in the chant.

Protecting “tradition” and “repertoire” do not justify complacency and tarnishing our reputation as Leaders and the Best, especially during a season where we sit on the cusp of the playoffs with prospective students, alumni and a national audience bearing witness.

Which means it’s time for all of us to act. It’s time for the marching band to replace “Temptation” — even for one game — to demonstrate that they value women, for the administration and Central Student Government to get serious about finding a long-term solution that works for our entire community, and for you — yes, you — to take a stand against “You suck, bitch!” once and for all. Here’s what you can do: 

  1. Sign the petition asking the Michigan Marching Band to replace “Temptation” for one game against Army on Sept. 7: http://chng.it/Bhf8jcxk

  2. Whether you’re an alum, student, staff, faculty or just love football, ask the ‘U’ to act! Students: ask your student body representative to support the Athletic Event Inclusiveness Resolution to design a long-term solution.

  3. Don’t chant “You suck, bitch!” Let’s go back to the old school “De-fense, de-fense … Let’s Go Blue!”

Remember, this community belongs to all of us. Let’s make it welcoming for everyone. But to do that, we must all play our part. #UMichBetterThanThis.

John Meluso is a PhD Candidate in Design Science in the College of Engineering and can be reached at jmeluso@umich.edu.