Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Dartmouth: Group works to improve bonfire

Shared from The Dartmouth:
The typical Homecoming bonfire experience of heckling at the hands of upperclassmen, who insist that first-year students must "touch the fire" or are the "worst class ever," may be too intimidating for some, according to several upperclassmen currently trying to make the bonfire a more positive event for first-year students.

"I want Homecoming to be more mutually enjoyable," Callista Womick '13, a member of the group, said in an interview. "Upperclassmen have fun hazing, but freshmen don't necessarily enjoy it."

The group held an open meeting attended by 14 students on Tuesday night to discuss the issue.

Womick said she received over 50 responses in the first hour after sending an e-mail invitation to the meeting from people who wanted to be involved but could not attend that night, she said.

"There are a lot of people who didn't have a good time on their Homecoming night, and would be willing to see it change," said Billy Zou '12, who did not attend the meeting but who supports the group's efforts.

"Part of the problem is that a lot of people have a lot of different ideas about what [Homecoming] is supposed to be," Zou said. "We have to send a collective school message. Changing the whole thing to be entirely positive would be a much more meaningful experience."

New to the bonfire this year will be a lane used by students to bring water in or to help freshmen in need of help to exit the bonfire. These came as a result of the students' suggestions, according to Farzeen Mahmud '12, one of the students who originally proposed that improvements to the bonfire ceremony be implemented.

The official bonfire committee independently of the group has also decided to expand the circle where students run around the bonfire. While the distance between the fire itself and where students run used to be 40 feet, this year it will be 50 feet. The outer circle will be at the 150 foot mark. Group members said will improve first-year students' experiences.

Matt Dahlhausen '11, one of the original student organizers, said he has personally handed out water at the past two bonfires, but that Dartmouth Emergency Medical Services could perhaps handle water distribution this year.

Programming Board had already planned an event in Collis Common Ground for Homecoming night, which has been made into a dance party at the group's request, Mahmud said.

Involved students hope to encourage upperclassmen who were offended by the negative atmosphere who might not otherwise attend to instead help change the mood of the evening via their supportive presence, Womick said.

Students could personally provide paint with which upperclassmen may decorate themselves on Homecoming night, according to Mahmud. First-year students will thus be able to recognize the painted upperclassmen as specifically there to help them, Mahmud said at the meeting.

Toward the end of the night, upperclassmen will be encouraged to support freshmen by running with them for a few laps, Dahlhausen said at the meeting.

Like-minded upperclassmen could also cheer during the first-year student sweep, Mahmud said.

Students who led Dartmouth Outing Club first-year trips should also be specifically encouraged to cheer for the first-year students they know, the group suggested.

Some other ideas proposed during the meeting included free massages, positive messages written in chalk on sidewalks and boom boxes to play music as first-year students run around the fire.

Group members also considered talking to sports teams that they said were notorious for causing problems.

"Homecoming isn't about hazing '14's so they feel tight as a class," Zou wrote in a statement to The Dartmouth. "There are plenty of opportunities for that. It's about welcoming them to Dartmouth, and it's about feeling tight as a college. In many ways, it is a celebration of our togetherness in this transient four-year experience."

Some upperclassmen may intend for their negative feedback to gradually become positive as the first-year students continue to circle the bonfire, Zou said.

"Those [first-year students] who exit early never experience the positive moments, if such moments ever come, and upperclassmen get caught up in the jeering and forget to transition to positive things," he said

A difficulty of addressing the negativity of Homecoming is that it presupposes that the ceremony is indeed negative, members of the group said.

Garret Simpson '11, who attended the meeting, said he feels the group is composed of a loose association of people with a common interest, and is not a formal organization.

He was inspired to become involved in changing the Homecoming atmosphere when he considered how much more positive first-year trips were than the bonfire.

Several students interviewed by The Dartmouth also noted the discrepancy between their trips' welcoming atmosphere and the conversely negative atmosphere of Homecoming, but other students said they felt that the atmosphere at the bonfire was either not negative or not an issue.

"I don't think there should be a change," Austin Greenfield '12 said.

The students involved with the movement said they did not mind the varying degrees of commitment across campus.

"If people don't feel like this is a big issue, I don't think any less of them," Simpson said.

The movement is intended primarily to increase comfort overall.

"Dartmouth is home to everyone, and so everyone should feel at home," Womick said.

No comments:

Post a Comment