Greetings! This year, as a part of The Acorn, I am hoping to bring the rich history of Drew University to light. My research will be conducted using public resources found in the library and digitized archival collections, like the decades worth of Drew’s annual yearbook “Oak Leaves,” in print from 1932 to 2018, and The Acorn’s archives that reach back as far as 1929.
As a student who started their higher education amidst a global pandemic, I believe that I speak for many when I say that campus culture and social life are severely lacking following a return to campus. An “institutional memory” consists of shared culture, traditions, understanding and know-how regarding a certain organization—something I think we can all agree that Drew has lost over the past few years. While talking to seniors with established roots on campus is helpful in understanding life at Drew pre-COVID, it is not a large-scale solution to the problem.
In writing this column, I am looking to explore what life was like at Drew, not only before COVID-19 but also in the recent past. I aim to explore the history of long-held traditions, long-forgotten traditions, campus culture, marginalized groups at Drew and student reactions to wider world phenomena.
To begin this column, I would like to explore one of Drew’s longest-held traditions: Freshman Orientation. Starting in the early days of orientation, freshmen (who were quite literally all men) were required to wear a bright green Dink (a brimless hat), considered integral by sophomores for getting acquainted with the incoming class, and a green necktie. These two items signified the “Frosh” status, as noted in the September 1932 edition of The Acorn.
The first few weeks of the academic year that followed were filled with speeches and letters directed at the incoming class. It is important to note that students were divided into class structures, and in these early days of orientation, the sophomore class was responsible for leading “Frosh Week.” Orientation ran yearly until the outbreak of the second World War. During wartime, much like during the current pandemic, traditions were overlooked.
Yet, orientation returned to normal following the end of the war and included Frosh-Soph athletic competitions, secret socials and well-documented hazing. According to The Acorn’s September 1951 issue, hazing paddles had been eliminated by the 1950s and were replaced with rigorous labor for the newcomers known as the “freshman work program.” By the 1960s, hazing mostly fell out of fashion.
In the 1970s, pre-orientation for students of marginalized backgrounds emerged, which included black, low-income and international students. Upperclassmen of similar backgrounds were recruited to help these students adjust to life at a predominantly white university such as Drew. This tradition continues for our current INTO and direct-entry international students.
It is obvious to all new students that some of these traditions have stayed in the past, for better or for worse. As we adapt to living through COVID, the Class of ‘26 had the first “normal” New Student Orientation since August 2019.
Today, we have a set of traditions that has been well-planned by the admissions staff and Orientation Committee. These traditions include Fire and Ice on the night of move-in, complete with s’mores and Kona Ice. First-years and transfers are also treated to food trucks on campus. Newcomers attend the Opening of School ceremony on the back lawn of Mead Hall as well as their first Drew Seminar class. The new students are also taken on a tour of downtown Madison with an included lunch!
Going forward, and to take a few pages out of Drew of “yesterday,” I believe that the first few weeks on campus could benefit from healthy competition and informal gatherings, like dances between the classes to foster school spirit. And if we somehow bring back the Dinks, I do not think any of the upperclassmen would complain!