Listening in on the sounds of Rensselaer

I’m Bryce Miller, and if you are a regular reader of The Poly, you might have some idea of my long-running exploits as a performer, between my eight Players acting roles, my two years in Partial Credit, and more recently, my twice-weekly podcast. (I am told I even have some kind of “fan club” within this paper). By the time this article has reached your eyeholes, I will be partway through my final production with the RPI Players: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. As far as lasts go, this is an intriguing one: Drood is a musical with an incomplete story, and by making assumptions about the plot threads provided, the audience is charged with making their own conclusions. While I will undoubtedly miss Players, and the talented people who make up its ranks, you didn’t come here for a sappy editorial about the things I can’t replace, and frankly, I don’t want to write such an article. Instead, I want to talk about assumptions and a logical fallacy: the fallacy of composition. As Drood tells us, “Quick conclusions often lead the best of us astray,” and the fallacy of composition is all about quick conclusions. It’s something that any RPI student has probably encountered, and it might have gone something like this:

“You go to RPI? Isn’t that a school for nerds who don’t leave their rooms?”

That’s the fallacy of composition: looking at a subset (in this case, of people) and assuming that it is representative of the larger whole. From a logical standpoint, this fallacy frustrates me; from an emotional standpoint, it saddens me deeply. Story time: I auditioned for, and joined, Partial Credit in the fall of my junior year, which brought me into the remarkably political fold of RPI’s a cappella groups. While the situation is continually improving, there was, and to an extent still is, tension between the groups. In some cases, this tension includes other organizations on campus, like the time that UPAC Sound was hired to mic a multi-group performance. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to run sound for an a cappella show—I certainly haven’t—but apparently it is not an easy task, and not something that an inexperienced operator should take on alone. At this particular event, however, the UPAC Sound coordinator intentionally (I am told) sent only the greenest members of the club to the show, without a safety net of any kind. Consequently, the sound quality was understandably shaky. Among some members of the a cappella groups, this created resentment that, to this day, hasn’t fully dissipated. This story brings with it an accompanying moral:

“UPAC Sound sucks and you should hate them as I do.”

Let me summarize that: the actions of one person (intentional or not) engendered negative feelings towards an entire club of people, and those feelings persisted for three or four years. That’s patently ridiculous; even if you assume that every person in a club sucks (somehow), the membership of any club will have changed out almost completely in that period of time. This story, and its “moral,” contributed to the immense discomfort I first felt upon taking up a cappella at RPI. I mean, I had friends in UPAC Sound! And here in front of me were people who callously dismissed them as terrible people in a terrible organization. Of course, by no means did everyone hold this sentiment—wouldn’t that be ironic, if in describing the fallacy of composition I fell victim to it myself—but a few held strongly to it, enough to make it feel pervasive. This hurt, but what hurts far worse is this sentiment that seems to crop up on campus:

“The Players are just a bunch of nutjobs who constantly sleep around.”

And the craziest part? That sentiment, the fallacy of that particular composition, originated in the 70s and 80s: over 30 years ago. Now, are there Players who sleep around? There are probably one or two, though I don’t know for sure, nor do I really care about who’s sleeping with whom. Is that all Players is? Hell no. When I joined Players (and college) my freshman year, I fully expected to find some unpleasant types, or at the very least, some with disdain for the fresh-faced noobs. I found none of these things. Every person, without exception, was exceptionally kind, and welcoming, and accepting. The Playhouse is full of friendly, ingenious, talented, diverse people: people who will construct an entire set over the weekend even when they have a test on Monday, people who will care about me whether I’m straight or gay or white or black or cis or trans, and people who are among the nicest I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

What I find in Players, many others find in UPAC Sound, or in a cappella, or in any one of the countless organizations on this campus. UPAC Sound doesn’t suck. The a cappella groups aren’t defined by the occasional political squabble. Players is not composed of insane nymphomaniacs. We are, every organization, not defined by the assumptions made of us. I hope you’ll take the care to learn that.

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