The death of “howdy”: Why I just don’t care

I was pointed to this old article on the Battalion by a mail call. It was published in April, but this “Oh no! No one is friendly anymore on campus!” pearl-clutching is a regular feature in the Battalion and, I’m sure, in conversations between undergraduates and old alumns and administrators who think that traditions at A&M are ERODING and it’s TERRIBLE.

If you’re not familiar with this tradition, “howdy” is the “official greeting” of A&M. Aggies are apparently supposed to say “howdy” to everyone they see on campus. I’ve written before about why shaming people who don’t say “howdy” is a problem:

This is not about friendliness at all, but about politeness and faking a community feeling that (presumably, since not that many people say “Howdy”) many people on campus do not feel. The author of this article seems to be attacking people like me, who do not feel as though our campus is at all like a unified community. And instead of trying to figure out why that is, he instead attacks that feeling and demands that we accept the addresses of strangers. This is troubling because, while I place little value in school spirit and being an “Aggie” and thus have no trouble ignoring such a demand, some people may feel obligated to accept this advice because they do value school spirit. And, despite what the author of this article believes, campus is not always a safe space, and Aggies are not always going to be principled and harmless conversationalists. While most of the time I ignore people saying “Howdy” to me because I think they’re annoying, and not because I think they’re dangerous, it is not as though a campus environment is free from violence. It’s safer to trust your instincts when it comes to talking to strangers on campus, rather than trusting Aggie traditions. But I don’t think they teach that at freshman orientation.

A group of women wear shirts reading out HOWDY on campus.

A group of young women wear shirts reading out HOWDY on campus at Texas A&M. Picture from Clear Lake Aggie Moms Club.

In the newest addition to the apparently endless string of articles defending the tradition and exhorting Aggies to say howdy (damnit), some old dude who used to go to A&M gives 14 reasons as to why it’s a “good tradition.” I’m obviously not going to cover all of them. Most of them are “it’s tradition!” which is, you know, begging the question.

6 It made our University known as the friendliest campus worldwide.

7 It promoted student body unity and made each student feel a part of the Aggie family.

Speaking from experience, I call bullshit. Having random Corps dudes say “howdy!” to me on the sidewalk does not make me “feel a part of the Aggie family,” and I doubt it’s enough to overcome the hostile environment A&M fosters for students of color, queer students, liberal students, and non-Christians.

How about instead of demanding that students pretend that campus is friendly and safe and welcoming by parroting a greeting they don’t mean or don’t care about, we instead demand that the administration do something about the fact that campus is not friendly and safe and welcoming? I know embracing diversity is not a tradition, and picking on black people and gays is, but it might be nice to try and improve the safety of our campus instead of writing endless articles about “howdy.”

8 It originated among Aggies who later bled and died to protect your freedom. They had no problem saying, Howdy.

9 Every unspoken Howdy disrespects each of those heroes.

These two are the BEST. If you don’t say “howdy” then you are NOT SUPPORTING THE TROOPS. For fuck’s sake. This line of reasoning doesn’t make any sense. There are Aggies who fought for my freedom who had no problem committing violence against women, or lynching black people, too, but that doesn’t mean everything they do is SHINY and WONDERFUL. Further, it is not the responsibility of every person who attends A&M to constantly honor the memories of their fallen alumn. Look, I get it, you think that people who join the military are automatic heroes, no matter what kind of person they are, but not everyone does. And while I appreciate “fighting for freedom” as much as the next person, I’m not sure how many of the wars in the past century have done that so much as oppress people for the sake of money, power, and oil. Also, it’s not so much freedom if you’re being coerced and shamed into saying things you don’t want to say, right? We all have the right to say or not say whatever the hell we want, and the right to engage or not engage with strangers on campus, and it’s idiotic to claim that exercising that freedom is, in fact, disrespecting people who “bled and died to protect your freedom.”

You know that old chestnut where conservative military vets (especially fictional, I’m thinking of Red Foreman on That ‘70s Show) say sarcastic things like “I’m so glad I got shot in Korea/Vietnam/WWII/Iraq/Afghanistan so that you could have the freedom to do [something I morally or politically disagree with, like burn the American flag, go to a feminist rally, or have homosexual sex].” It’s related to this because the message of that trope is “I wish I could fight for your freedom to do the things I approve of” instead of, you know, for your freedom. The freedom that the military claims to fight for is not the freedom to do whatever it is conservatives are a-okay with, like having boring sex or saying “howdy” to every asshole on the sidewalk.

13 Howdy’s disappearance is an obvious sign of the loss of other not so noticeable traditions, and is a harbinger of further loss of tradition by neglect from our student body and administration.

14 The former students would be extremely relieved and pleased to see Howdy resume its reign as one of our oldest and best traditions.

I have a hard time, obviously, being concerned about the erosion of tradition at A&M. I think it’s about time this university stopped putting tradition on a pedestal, and viewed it with the same mixture of sincerity and ironic distance that every other university approaches their traditions with. But what I get out of both these reasons is that alumns are overly obsessed with dictating the actions of former students, who they don’t know and thus have absolutely no authority over or valid basis for interfering in their lives, and honestly I don’t get it. It doesn’t cheapen your experience of Aggie traditions that they are no longer in effect. It shouldn’t change your memories, or alter your experience of the world that negatively now. (Yeah, maybe you don’t feel as welcome on campus as you used to, and as an old white straight dude that chaps your ass, but welcome to the fucking club. Plenty of current Aggies don’t feel welcome on campus, and a few “howdy”s sure won’t change that for them.) I’m just not sure where this author, or the mother in the mail call, gets off labelling me as a bad Aggie. I believe in the mission of higher education; I believe that A&M can and should be a safe and nurturing place for a diverse population of students and academics; I believe A&M can and should be a place that nurtures research and social justice, and improves the world we live in. But just because I don’t attend football games or give a shit about yell leaders or other various “traditions,” I’m a bad Aggie? I’m not buying it, and neither should any other A&M student.

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