Friday, October 26, 2012

The Dartmouth: Students attempt to create a more positive Homecoming

Shared from The Dartmouth:
Several student groups are spearheading new initiatives to cultivate a more positive bonfire experience for freshmen in response to increased discussions of hazing on campus. Some have argued that running around the bonfire, students "yelling touch the fire'" and similar incidents could be considered acts of hazing under the College's new hazing policies, according to Green Key Society President Andres Ramirez 14.

The Green Key Society's bonfire committee is leading a number of new projects aimed at replacing negative traditions with more positive ones, Ramirez said. The society is generally involved with traditional campus events such as Commencement and Winter Carnival, he said. Its bonfire committee, led by co-chairs Jose Rodarte-Canales '16 and Amanda Winch '16, has been organizing the group's Homecoming plans.

"There was a big push in our bonfire council meetings to reinforce the idea that it's not something people would be nervous about," Winch said. "It's all about doing as much or as little as you want and participating in the tradition as much as you can."

This year, the College encouraged the bonfire committee to make running around the bonfire optional to ensure that no students feel they are being hazed, Rodarte-Canales said.

"This year we are telling the students that you can run, but you can also not run," he said. "We don't want the non-runners to be ostracized."

In a campus-wide email, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said on Thursday that members of the Class of 2016 should make their own choices over Homecoming weekend and not feel obligated to participate in the bonfire or the freshman sweep.

An exit tunnel will also be put in place this year to ensure that freshmen do not feel trapped in the circle designated for running, according to Rodarte-Canales.

Other initiatives include a positive poster-making session at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, a group of upperclassmen that will cheer on freshmen as they run laps and food and water stations, Ramirez said.

"We've expanded the amount of food that will be provided," Ramirez said. "There's going to be donuts and cider at Collis from 8 to 11 p.m. to distract the students that usually participate in the negative side of the bonfire."

Although students have not been punished in the past for shouting negative comments, such behavior should be avoided because it encourages students to try to touch the fire, an activity which can result in arrests or injuries, Ramirez said. Students who arrive obviously intoxicated at the bonfire also risk being turned away, he said.

"It's weird coming in from Trips and everyone expecting you to be the best class ever [and] everyone singing to you," said Ramirez. "Then during Homecoming, it's a complete turnaround. We want to maintain that positive momentum from Trips to Homecoming to the rest of the year."

Enforcement mechanisms are still being developed, and specific rules may not be decided until Homecoming weekend, Ramirez said.

"If we do hear negative responses, we are just gonna be like, Yo, be more positive,'" Ramirez said.

The Green Key Society also wants to involve other organizations, including Class Councils and Greek organizations, in its push for a more positive bonfire experience, according to Ramirez. On Tuesday, Ramirez sent emails to the heads of the Council on Student Organizations and to every Greek letter society detailing the purpose and endeavors of the Green Key Society's initiatives, with the hope that on Friday other students will join in its positive poster-making session, he said.

"I think that the main thing these organizations can do is participate in the Dartmouth Night parade," Ramirez said.

The parade through downtown Hanover is an annual tradition, and Ramirez said that the Green Key Society hopes more students will participate this year. The Green Key Society sent emails to Dartmouth student organizations with details about the parade, encouraging students to join and become positive leaders on campus.

The Class Councils and Student Assembly also emailed campus Tuesday night to outline the potential dangers of the bonfire, specifically citing an incident at Texas A&M University where students died during a bonfire.

"We're trying to split up the different things we're talking about so it's not one really long email," Ramirez said. "We're just trying to divide and conquer."

Outside of campus organizations' efforts, individual students are also aiming to make the bonfire more positive. Karolina Krelinova '14 said that she and some friends are hoping to support the '16s with signs, boomboxes and positive cheers.

"The whole thing was started in the Fall of 2010 by the action of people like Farzeen Mahmud '12 and Callista Womick '13," Krelinova said. "They didn't like the atmosphere around Homecoming and decided to make things better, and I believe that their efforts these past two years have actually made a lot of students change sides from hazers to supporters."

Krelinova's group will meet in the basement of Robinson Hall on Friday afternoon to make posters and may organize more activities depending on turnout, Krelinova said.

Not all freshmen are worried about the negative taunting associated with past bonfires, according to Tori Nevel '16.

"Overall, everyone seems excited and most people gave me a blank stare when I asked them about hazing," Nevel said. "Hazing doesn't seem to be a huge issue for freshmen I know."

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