The Macalester Traditions (Trads), an all-male a capella group famous for their innuendo-laden performances, has agreed to stop performing two of their most well-known songs after their Valentine’s Day performances last week left some students and teachers upset.
The Trads – along with the Sirens, Macalester’s all-female a capella group – traditionally offer students the opportunity to purchase Valentine’s Day performances for partners, friends or professors, often during class hours.
The Trads offer a variety of songs for purchase – ranging from classic love songs by The Beatles and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles to the racier “Dominated Love Slave” by Green Day and “Masturbating Over You”, written by a former Trad. For an extra five dollars, the group also performs with its shirts off.
This type of performance isn’t new to the Trads. “Masturbating Over You” has been part of the group’s repertoire since at least 2009. This year, however, the performances were met with significant blowback.
Ana Gvozdic ’21 was in a political science class on Feb. 14 when the Trads arrived to perform “Dominated Love Slave” for a student in her class.
“The performance involves bringing the girl in front of the class, together with the Trads, and one of the Trads kneels down on the floor in a dog position and has the girl sit on his back,” Gvozdic said. “They started singing a song about how they like it dirty and how they want to be whipped.”
As the song continued, the group members took off their shirts as one member removed his belt, handed it to the student, and posed for her to whip him.
“At the beginning of the performance I found it funny as well, but then I started thinking about it, and especially as it progressed with the belt and everything, I just was thinking about how it’s really wrong and inappropriate what they’re doing,” Gvozdic said.
“It was upsetting to me that we were sitting there and that this was something happening in our school, when we emphasize consent so much.”
As the centerpiece of a classroom performance, Gvozdic was concerned that a student might feel pressured to participate. She left class upset and eager to discuss the incident with the group.
Gvozdic wasn’t alone in her discomfort. Her professor contacted Associate Dean of Students Andrew Wells with his own complaints regarding the content of the number.
“Heading into the noon hour, I got [an] email from a faculty member with concerns – it might’ve been a couple faculty members – about the performance that happened,” Wells said. “Based on the emails that I got, it was apparent to me that they had been very disruptive.”
The Trads, too, contacted Wells after the incident in the political science class.
“I got an email from them in the late morning saying that they had performed in a classroom. It was something to the nature of, ‘it didn’t go well, we apologize’. I knew from conversations I’d had with my staff in Campus Activities that they had met with the Trads and advised them on ways not to be disruptive,” Wells said. “And so that’s why I asked them to meet with me.”
Last year, the Trads received complaints from former Director of Campus Activities and Operations Joan Maze regarding class consent to their shirtless performances, and, the preceding Valentine’s Day, the group addressed the concern with Associate Director of Campus Activities and Operations Laurie Adamson. They agreed to be cautious removing their shirts if the class seemed uncomfortable.
While cognizant of the importance of creating a comfortable classroom environment, Trads members Clay Whipp ’18, David Garrido ’20, Zack Dizdar ’20 and Tianyou Li ’19 were unaware of their songs’ potential to seriously upset.
“We would try and gauge the room – again, like with the shirts on, shirts off thing – like, does this seem okay? If it’s not, we’re gonna leave our shirts on,” Whipp said.
“I was surprised. Because of my conversation with Laurie, and my history going into it, I expected it to be about a shirts on, shirts off thing,” Whipp continued. “But that it was related to the content of the songs? I was very surprised, initially. But after I thought about it, and heard other people’s perspectives, I wasn’t still surprised.”
“It made sense,” Garrido agreed.
The Trads had separate discussions with Wells and Gvozdic in the following days to address the matter and consider solutions. Gvozdic was impressed by their understanding of her concerns and commitment to change.
“I felt really listened-to,” Gvozdic said. “They really showed that they want to reconsider their actions.”
As a result of their conversation with Wells, the Trads agreed to stop performing the two songs in question in classroom settings or anywhere attendance is mandatory.
“After receiving some comments from Andrew and Ana, we talked about [ending] some of the more antiquated traditions, to not offend people,” Dizdar said. “We’re just trying to make [people] laugh.”
“The spirit of the Trads is to make people laugh,” Garrido agreed. “That’s what people expect from us and that’s what we hope to give people.”
The Trads wanted to make one thing especially clear.
“We’re sorry that we’ve hurt people,” Whipp said, his fellow Trads nodding in agreement. “That definitely wasn’t our intention and we definitely want to change so that doesn’t happen again.”