Margaret McKenzie | Features Editor
Wheaton College welcomes its new students with the Mastodon March and a Big Sibs service trip to Chicago.
In previous years, however, when freshmen de-trained at the Wheaton Metra station, they were bombarded with water balloons as they walked from the station to campus. If they weren’t soaked on the walk back to the dorms, the freshmen were met with buckets and pitchers of water on the lawns of Smith-Traber and Fischer Halls.
When current seniors Jasmine Young and Yaphet Tedla walked back to their dormitory together from Big Sibs in 2009, they hoped that upperclassmen would mistake them for a sophomore couple. In 2010, current junior Luke Holladay and senior Sarah Carter simply carried themselves like upperclassmen – pretending the fear of getting wet was needless. “We walked slowly and sensibly,” Carter said.
The strategy worked. Despite a gauntlet of water balloon-throwing upperclassmen, both pairs made it back to their dormitories unscathed. Others were not so lucky; with would-be ambushers stationed all over campus – some hiding in bushes, others facilitating drive-by balloonings – survival was unlikely.
The class of 2016 may not realize just how narrowly they have escaped such an orientation week experience; just two years ago, freshman orientation saw a couple of significant changes. In 2011, the class of 2014 did not bombard the class of 2015 with water balloons, and Big Sibs became reoriented around community-building service projects in Chicago rather than tours of the city.
With the first documented example of initiation at Wheaton dating back to 1862, the water balloon experience was by no means the first hazing or initiation event. Despite the presence of water balloons, recent orientations pale in comparison to those of decades past.
In the 1920s, freshmen would attempt a planned, hopefully unobserved escape to a secret destination for a private picnic. One year, sophomores ambushed the freshmen at the site and deprived them of their meal. In later years, a new practice reminiscent of stealing the senior bench was introduced. Freshmen sought to capture the sophomore class flag; it was a difficult feat, particularly when the sophomores greased the flagpole. The most enduring initiation practice was implemented by the Sophomore Court. The court established bizarre rules for the freshmen and was responsible for trying those who refused to comply. In 1941, these were some of the court’s rules as printed for freshmen’s notice in the Record:
“Wednesday – Carry books in wastepaper basket. Boys will also carry whisk brooms and cloths to perform valet services for any upper classman.
“Thursday – Both boys and girls must wear ALL clothes backwards, including dress shirts worn by boys. Walk backwards on campus. Girls’ hair must be in pigtails.
“Friday until 6:30 p.m. – Girls, one dress shoe with sock; one saddle shoe with stocking. Boys, clothes inside out, with one pant leg rolled to the knee.”
These rules changed from year to year. In 1953, freshmen were required to kneel every time they encountered any of the sophomores, who were identified by blue-and-white ribbons. Sophomores addressed freshmen with the rhyme, “Oh stupid frosh of tender years, I see you’re wet behind your ears.” Freshmen were to reply, “Ah noble sophomore, brave and true, I humbly dry my ears for you.” Though it is unclear to what degree, if any, these rules were enforced, it is fairly clear that they were intended to promote bonding between the freshman and sophomore classes. In 1953, the Sophomore Court announced the “Day of Judgment,” the date upon which freshman misdemeanors were convicted and “punished.” The judgment day ended in a dinner for the two classes and devotions led by the Rev. Malcolm Cronk, who pastored Wheaton Bible Church at the time.
The termination of water-ballooning Wheaton freshmen marks the removal of all traces of hazing and initiation practices from campus-wide orientation events. This is not to say that the class of 2016 will not experience unofficial initiation over the next few weeks at the hands of student groups, clubs or dormitory floors. One night last year, for example, freshmen on Smith 2 East were led blindfolded across campus by their sophomore floor mates. The 2 East sophomores maneuvered the hapless freshmen up and down staircases and forced them to talk for half an hour. Little was disclosed by the tough 2 Easters, however, who deflected attention from their deepest secrets by providing more trivial information such as their first names, number of siblings and majors. When the freshmen surveyed a room full of treats and friendly faces upon blindfold removal at the end of their trek, many cried, “We’ve been duped!”
When considering that most initiation and hazing practices do not end in cookies and conversation, one can hardly blame them for their surprise. But this is just another way in which Wheaton College is unlike other schools; even freshman initiations are community-building.
Correction: Luke Holladay is no longer a student at Wheaton College. The Record regrets this error.
Editor’s Note: Jasmine Young is Editor in Chief of the Record.
Photo credit: Grace Cannell
Printed in the September 7, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.