Tufts traditions attempt to unify, connect communities past and present
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 09:03
Every university has its own unique set of decades−long traditions. Here, traditions include the painting of the cannon, kissing under Bowen Gate, Tuftonia’s Day observations, the candle lighting (or illumination) ceremony, ‘pumpkining’ and the annual Fall Ball, Winter Bash and Spring Fling events. The university rituals Tufts observes today are different from those that existed 100, 50 or even 10 years ago, as the loss of NQR and other traditions has demonstrated.
However, the importance of traditions to shaping the identity of the student body and building relationships between students and alumni remains for some.
“Tradition is definitely important to institutions such as Tufts because it does make them unique and gives people pride in what their school represents and what their school has to offer,” Beelzebubs President Vinny Amaru, a sophomore, said in reference to the illumination ceremony.
Amaru said that traditions don’t necessarily require a particularly meaningful or storied history to be enjoyable, citing Spring Fling as an example.
“I think the Tufts community can come together in fun ways, too. It doesn’t have to be very sentimental,” he said.
The Traditions Committee within the Tufts Alumni Association takes on the job of tracking and nurturing the university’s traditions. The committee’s goal is to “identify and celebrate the traditions and the milestones that make our school and community what it is,” according to Alexandra Dunk (LA ‘08), who chairs the committee. Members dedicate research and time to the task of delving into and preserving Tufts’ history, tapping into the emotions and nostalgia that some may feel regarding the university.
The Traditions Committee also teams with student groups and academic departments to celebrate special anniversaries. Similarly, the committee has been responsible for the Tufts Sesquicentennial Time Capsule, which has been housed in the Office of Digital and Archival Collections since 2002 and will be opened in the 2051−2052 school year to celebrate the university’s 200th birthday. The committee also produces “Then & Now,” a publication that provides a historical tour of the campus and examines changes that have occurred over time.
Alum Bryn Kass (LA ‘12) noted that one special aspect of Tufts traditions lies in the small size of the university, allowing a more hands−on and participatory approach than other larger universities. According to Kass, traditions are crucial in creating the unique Tufts experience.
“It’s comforting to know that I was part of something that’s going to continue for years and years,” Kass said.
Not everyone, however, believes Tufts traditions have withstood the test of time. Some believe they’re dying out.
“Traditions? You don’t have any. Really, the only traditions I see left are the illumination nights,” Sondra Szymczak (J ‘59) said. Szymcak has been the chair of the Traditions Committee on−and−off for 40 years and credits the Vietnam War with the death of many Tufts traditions.
“Up until Vietnam, we were all very happy and innocent and having fun and doing dumb things. But then everybody got extremely serious. Nobody wanted to join anything,” she said. “All the good traditions died out. The class honorary societies went down the tube, and they were the ones that organized a lot of the activities on campus.”
Szymczak added that reviving these dying traditions is complicated, in part by drug use and underage drinking as part of the current culture of some college campuses, citing the reported rampant student intoxication at Winter Bash last month, which resulted in nearly 20 hospitalizations, according to a Feb. 19 Daily op−ed by Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman.
Szymczak also noted that many events have been taken over by professionals with an eye toward effective fundraising. When Szymczak was a student, she said, students were primarily responsible for organizing the traditional events and dances,, which Szymczak said were often held at least once a month.
Another reason rituals have faded is that some of the traditions are not as necessary as they may have been in the past, she said. Szymczak claimed that at one time, around 45 percent of Tufts students were commuters. During that time, traditions were a crucial way to integrate those students into campus life, drawing students from different spheres together for enjoyable activities, Szymczak said.
“Fun was not a four−letter word then,” she said, laughing.
Szymczak has amassed a wealth of information on traditions through interviews with alumni, as well as her own memories of these events. She noted that the alumni who come back to visit Tufts are largely former members of sports teams, fraternities and those students who actively participated in traditions.
“Tufts is more than just a place to get an education,” she said.
If Szymczak is correct and traditions are dying, what’s the answer to community cohesion?
“What I would like to see students do is put down all those electronic gadgets and just talk to each other,” she said. As someone long past graduation, she particularly cherishes her years at Tufts and hopes current students don’t take them for granted.