As the weather turns to a cool September breeze, the shouts of air raids ring across the Mall during the day and the rhythmic chanting of the fight song fills campus in the evening. All of these signs can only mean one thing: Homecoming week is upon us.
As president of the Sphinx Club, Cooper Jacks ’24 is working the magic behind the scenes to bring Homecoming to campus. Many hands touch the Homecoming process, but the successful execution of this week filled with tradition and festivities is one of Jacks’s core objectives. Beyond his duty to campus and the Sphinx Club, Homecoming and the traditions it contains hold a particularly special place in Jacks’s heart.
“Tradition is really what moved me towards coming into Wabash,” said Jacks. “I remember coming[to Wabash] in seventh grade for the first time. Seeing all the people on the track walking with their banners as a pledge class just made me fall in love with the place.”
As the student organization devoted to upholding campus traditions, the Sphinx Club has taken a more active role this year in the education of Wabash traditions by running a session during Freshman Orientation devoted to explaining not only the current state of Wabash traditions, but also their history and evolution over time.
While Homecoming is a time that reminds us of our traditions and provides a nexus of pride and unity for the student body, it is also a time of reflection on those very traditions that make Wabash such a beloved and unique institution. In the moment, events such as Chapel Sing are some of the most prized memories shared by Wabash men. However, these are the very elements that make Wabash seem so alien from an outsider’s perspective.
“Anytime I’ve ever described Chapel Sing, people say ‘Wow, that sounds like a cult,’” said Jacks. “You just have to agree with them because at first it is a little weird. But if you really buy into it, that means you’re bought into Wabash and everything this place has to offer. Where else are you going to see 800 people gathered around a little grassy area listening to people chant their hearts out?”
There will be one notable change to this year’s Homecoming agenda: the annual Homecoming Queen charity competition. The tradition that dates back to the 1950s will be adapted to honor the overarching tradition, while eliminating drag as the main feature of the event.
“Personally, I am not comfortable with attaching my name or the Sphinx Club’s to an event that strictly prohibits someone from dressing up however they please. I simply cannot in good conscience violate someone’s freedom of expression.”Cooper Jacks ’24
“I’ve had quite a few people in faculty and administration reach out with their concerns that the queen has made them uncomfortable,” said Jacks.
“It’s time for it to move on. I have to put my personal opinions aside, because in my eyes I don’t see any offense. That’s certainly not the intent of the Queen competition, but I can’t change how people perceive things. My job as a leader is to step aside and look at everything from all viewpoints and all angles and approach a decision from there.”
This Homecoming will still feature a charity competition in much the same format, with the theme of Wabash Royalty. Freshmen will still dress up, but as kings, with the option to add actors to appear as a “royal court”.
“If you want a jester to clap his hands and do a jig for somebody to get them to donate more, please feel free,” said Jacks.
The choice to remove the Queen from Homecoming has already generated controversy among the student body, but Jacks urges students to keep their eyes on the prize.
“At the end of the day, you’re not even graded on how well you dress up. It’s all about charity. I do think there is merit in maintaining the overall tradition of dressing up to raise money. What’s most important to me is maintaining the overarching tradition rather than necessarily the means by which it’s carried out. Traditions do evolve, and I think it’s probably the right time for this one to evolve too. With that being said, you are by no means required to dress a certain way, nor are you forbidden from dressing how you wish. Personally, I am not comfortable with attaching my name or the Sphinx Club’s to an event that strictly prohibits someone from dressing up however they please. I simply cannot in good conscience violate someone’s freedom of expression.”
Jacks’ priority is not only to preserve and protect tradition, but also to draw as many people into that tradition as possible. Jacks acknowledged that while Homecoming is valuable as a freshmen-oriented experience, it is a time when the whole campus across all class years should be uniting together.
“I would love to see more activities in which everyone’s involved rather than just freshmen rallying behind their pledge class,” said Jacks. “The way we try to help with that is the upperclassmen dodgeball. I feel as if this is a week in which everyone is very involved, but being the leader of an organization that’s focused around campus unity, I love to see everybody show up to events and have a good time with it.”
Even with a greater upperclassmen presence, Jacks has not lost focus on the freshmen and the traditions that they inherit. As the class of 2027 is fully inducted into the Wabash brotherhood, Jacks offers the most important advice.
“Just soak it all in. Looking back on it, these will be some of your best memories at Wabash.”