Our Work Is But Begun: A History of the University of Rochester 1850– 2005, by Janice Bullard Pieterse, was released in the fall of 2014 by the University of Rochester Press. The book includes a look back at changing student traditions throughout the University—and some that continue to stand the test of time. Read more in Our Work Is But Begun (from which the first three stories are excerpted) and on the University’s traditions web page (from which the final three stories originate).
Coat and tie in Todd
Despite plenty of opposition, the Student Senate in the fall of 1951 passed a requirement for men to dress formally for dinner. Concerns were rising over “sloppy” sweatshirts and dungarees, the Campus newspaper, an advocate of the measure, explained. As the Senate’s proposal came under scrutiny, full pages of letters filled the editorial section of the Campus—many vehemently opposed. They complained of uncomfortable dress clothes, extra wear and cleaning expenses for costly shirts, and the hassle of changing for dinner. “The idea of being more presentable at the dinner table is good, but a person unwillingly subjected to this new proposal can appear much more appalling in a dirty tie and wrinkled jacket than one who is conscious of a trend toward neatness and accordingly is dressed in slacks and a sport shirt,” wrote one student. The newspaper supported the move vigorously. It acknowledged that the rule, which would apply only in the dining room in Todd Union but not in the cafeteria, might inconvenience some, such as graduate students in science or the undergraduate students who worked in labs through the afternoon. But more appealing attire could lead to better social circumstances and project a sophisticated image of the College, the newspaper said. The measure passed 15–0.
For about as long as there have been freshmen there have been ways—official and unofficial—to acquaint them with University life. Among the more memorable unofficial traditions were Flag Rush and freshmen rules. Class of 1876 graduate Joseph Alling, later a member of the Board of Trustees, said the freshmen- sophomore “cane rushes” of his day evolved into Flag Rush, a battle for a flag on top of a greased pole, which continued until 1964.President Martin Anderson, Alling remembered, would “seize two grappling students, separate them, and then plunge again into the fray.” Into the 1970s freshmen received class beanies and were expected to wear them during the first semester except while dining or in class. The Frosh Bible listed expectations, which in 1952 included staying off the Eastman and fraternity quadrangles, being able to recite any University song or cheer when requested by an upperclassman, and sitting in the freshman cheerleading section at home football games.
Wilson Day evolves
Former president and chancellor W. Allen Wallis designated Wilson Day in 1972 to memorialize Joseph Wilson ’31, founder of Xerox and chairman of the University Board of Trustees from 1959 to 1967. “Wilson Day will not be a day of mourning his death,” Wallis said, “but a day of celebrating his life, a day full of the kinds of things that Mr. Wilson prized about the University: music, art, poetry, science, scholar- ship, education, research.”
Until 1987, Wilson Day celebrated intellectual engagement by featuring talks, concerts, or symposia by Nobel and Pulitzer–winning scientists, musicians, and writers. Everyone at the University and from the Rochester community was welcome.
The format of the day evolved to focus on Wilson’s generosity, kindness, and service to the community. Since 1989, more than 21,000 students, faculty, and staff have contributed more than 90,000 hours to help social agencies, hospitals, schools, and parks.
Freshmen at the College take part in Wilson Day during orientation.
Boar’s Head Dinner tradition lives on
One of the University’s oldest and most beloved traditions, the Boar’s Head Dinner began in 1934 and is held annually in December. The dinner recalls the spirit of English court dinners, such as those served at Queens College, Oxford University, during the Middle Ages.
Legend has it that back in 16th-century Oxford, a scholar of the college was strolling in the woods when he was attacked by a wild boar. A student rescued him by stuffing a copy of Aristotle down the creature’s throat. The boar choked to death on the “dry stuff,” and our hero saved the scholar. The student bore back the boar’s head in triumph, and the college instituted the custom in grati- tude for the scholar’s rescue.
For the first 40 years, the dinner was an all-male event. In 1971, members
of the University’s Women’s Caucus wrote a letter to the editor of the Campus Times expressing discontent over the event’s gender discrimination. Thereafter, the dinner became a coed event.
Today, Rochester students borrow the ceremony of the boar’s head for their winter feast. The celebration begins with a trumpet call and procession of stu- dents, faculty, and administrators clad in medieval costumes. The multicourse dinner features performances and entertainment during the meal, including songs before each course is served.
More than 500 students, faculty, and staff typically attend the holiday feast.
Clock tower superstition
You’ll find the clock tower (erected in fall 2000) in Dandelion Square, the area between Wilson Commons and the Goergen Athletic Center. The superstition about the clock tower is that if you walk under it and tread on the dandelions, something dreadful will happen to you. For example, if you’re a prospective student, you won’t be admitted; if you’re a current student, you won’t graduate on time. So walk under the clock tower at your own risk. If you accidentally tempt fate, there is a way to avoid catastrophe. You’ll need an acorn, a statue, and good aim: throw an acorn at the statue of George Eastman in the quad and have it land in the brim of his hat. You are then absolved. But stock up on acorns just in case you forget to watch where you’re walking.
Leaving your mark in the tunnels
Tunnel travel has been a way of life at River Campus since the early 1930s. The earliest navigable tunnels were under Rush Rhees Library tunnels and the quad; tunnels between Hoyt, Schlegel, Meliora Hall, and Wilson Commons were added later.
Their main purpose is to protect students against Rochester’s winter weather conditions. But painting the Eastman Quad tunnel has become an important part of campus culture. The custom originated in the early 1970s. Students would leave their mark by creating, posting, and affixing aphorisms, exhortations, slogans, and elaborate artwork.
Today, painting the tunnel walls is often a group activity for Greek organizations, class councils, and groups hosting special events or raising awareness.
But painter beware: although no official tunnel-painting regulation exists, the following etiquette is generally understood:
- Painting of profanities, obscenities, or hate speech is not tolerated.
- A group must not paint over another group’s work before the event advertised has occurred.
- No spray painting in the tunnels (because it is an enclosed space).