College Must Recapture School Traditions
Issue   |   Wed, 10/05/2011 - 01:28

Aquick google search for “Amherst College traditions” uncovers a 1913 New York Times article about the College’s lively and numerous student traditions. Fast forward 98 years, however, and those self-same traditions have largely faded into obscurity.

Whereas our peer institutions take care on their websites and guided tours to highlight their unique traditions, Amherst’s only comparable practice is the myth of the Sabrina statue. The statue has been MIA for years now, however, and many students are unaware of its existence or history. This is a severe blow for a school that already lacks substantive traditions. Instead of school-wide pillow fights (Wellesley), winter carnivals (Dartmouth) and watch dropping (Williams), Amherst students can look forward to going out to local bars as part of a now-strictly-non-school-sponsored Senior Bar Night.

One might argue that college traditions are, in fact, unnecessary and even frivolous. This is categorically untrue, however, as traditions serve a function far more important than providing a bit of light-hearted fun. Traditions are a way of connecting students to alumni, to their alma mater and to each other. Anemic school spirit and low turnout at sports games are endemic problems for the College. Furthermore, on a campus as diverse as ours, the social glue of college traditions is more important than ever for fostering community and inclusiveness. Resident counselors may plan dorm-bonding events, student activists may rally for shared causes, and the Singing College’s musicians may harmonize beautifully together — but no affinity group can ever bring the entire school together as traditions can. A late-night rave in Williston is simply not the same as a campus-wide Mountain Day.

Being situated in a geographical region as beautiful as the Pioneer Valley makes it doubly a crime that the College no longer has a Mountain Day. For those unfamiliar with the term, Mountain Day is a day during the fall semester when the President of the College spontaneously cancels classes due to unusually good weather. Students go out to enjoy a day of hiking, picnicking and socializing, all on the College’s dime. As inter- and intra-class bonding opportunities decrease due to lack of social spaces, reviving the tradition of Mountain Day could be the perfect answer to raising school spirit and building campus community.

One major concern about Mountain Day is, understandably, the potential disruption to classes and professors’ carefully-constructed syllabi. Being a New England school, however, the College is more than experienced with seasonal challenges — including snowstorms, ice storm and even hurricanes. As this year demonstrated, our staff, faculty and students are more than prepared to weather whatever meteorological challenges blow our way. Mountain Day would be less of a disruption than a late-December blizzard.

In fact, Mountain Day would be less disruptive than classes cancelled due to inclement weather; while we cannot guarantee a severe ice storms every winter, a tradition does promise that element of consistency, year to year. The importance of continuity and shared experiences among students, past and present, cannot be overestimated.