As we celebrate our Wabash community this Homecoming week, it seems that our customs may not be quite as etched in stone as we believe. Many of our returning alumni remind us just how different – and often gentler – our current traditions are. All Wabash traditions change and have changed, and our evolving standards constitute somewhat of their own tradition. Perhaps the very act of revisiting Wabash traditions has become a Wabash tradition itself.
For greek life, change is clearly in the air. As we documented last week, FIJI national has moved away from pledgeship, though the Wabash chapter may pursue a four-day abbreviated pledgeship. But FIJI is not alone; nationally, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Zeta Beta Tau have both formally ended pledgeship in recent years. With rush numbers on the decline nationwide, and with greek life abuses and tragedies in major headlines, we seem to be in the midst of a national reckoning and redesign of what fraternities can offer. While some of the most egregious examples of the need for change have occurred in fraternities far from our campus, overreach and misconduct are not strangers to Wabash living units. We all know the stories. This year alone, we have seen far too much physical violence and harm over the Senior Bench and certain ballcaps. When fights break out on the Mall, it appears that our Homecoming traditions are dividing us far more than they are uniting us. How, in the name of tradition and brotherhood, can the current Homecoming dynamics stay the same?
Regardless of our feelings on the merits of pledgeship or current Homecoming customs, it seems that changes are coming. If freshmen cannot be required to participate in activities that upperclassmen are not involved in, how exactly can fraternities require new brothers to spend each night chanting the Fight Song endlessly? As we look to the future, as we try to anticipate the coming tide before it reaches Crawfordsville, we find it critical to discuss competing visions for how Homecoming might adapt. One option, of course, could be a system of winks and nods, where we all refer to Homecoming events as voluntary, but we still expect all freshmen to participate. This is the vision of minimal change. Freshmen would still spend each night together–yes, bonding as a class, but also losing an incredibly-busy week to Homecoming events. We could facially satisfy greek life changes while adapting only our rhetoric.
Is another vision possible? Could a hypothetical pledge-less Homecoming strengthen ties between fraternity classes, and not just within a single class? In such a Homecoming, each living unit could field a team of brothers from all class years, brothers working together to build floats, recite chants, and battle over the Fight Song in a shared celebration of what it means to be a Wabash man. As an Editorial Staff, we are by no means advocating for any specific changes. Rather, we hope to spark a campus-wide conversation in the continued evolution of our sacred traditions. And now is certainly the time for this conversation. As the era of pledgeship changes, students and administration need to imagine our shared horizon together.
It’s up to the entire Wabash community to decide the future vision we want–and which traditions best embody the Wabash ethos.