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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Student bonfire opinions are mixed

Student reactions to the possibility that Homecoming 2000 will see the end of the more than 120-year-old bonfire tradition range from skepticism to understanding to distress.

Over the weekend, Dartmouth undergraduates received a letter in their Hinman Boxes indicating that future Homecoming bonfires may be in danger if students behave unsafely Friday night.

"If risky, unsafe or irresponsible actions like those that have occurred in a few past incidents continue, the Class of 2005 and all future Dartmouth first-years may never be able to feel the glow of our smoldering bonfire," the letter warned.

Although the letter was signed only by students -- Student Assembly President Jorge Miranda '01, Green Key President Jen Tutak '02, Coed Fraternity Sorority Council President Eric Etu '01 and all four class presidents -- all the students who spoke with the Dartmouth referred to College administrators as the originators of the letter.

Many students reacted doubtfully to the suggestion that the bonfire will be abolished, however. Few believed that the tradition would come to an end this year unless Dartmouth Night 2000 sees a significant increase in incidents or injuries.

"The bonfire is one of the traditions without which Homecoming wouldn't be the same," David Lopez '02 said. "It's the cornerstone of Homecoming weekend, more even than the football game."

Elise Gaynor '03 expressed a similar opinion, "I was kind of surprised, because this is a place where tradition is so important, that they could even conceive of doing away with [the bonfire]."

Some suggested the letter was simply an attempt by the College to get students to think about the choices they make over the weekend, especially in terms of alcohol consumption.

However, few freshmen said the threat to the bonfire will make an impact on their own behavior, but said they hope others will take into account when making choices over the weekend.

"You just have to hope that people will hold back and not ruin it for everyone else," David Lewis '04 said.

Upperclassmen also expressed the hope that other students would not ruin the event.

But, as with the freshmen surveyed by the Dartmouth, upperclassmen did not plan to alter their own behavior in response to the letter and the planned bonfire study.

"It might be on my mind, but it wouldn't affect my behavior. I'll just be more concerned about what the '04s do," Aaron Nutt '03 said, a sentiment expressed by several other students.

The letter began with a list of the names of the 12 students killed when Texas A&M's bonfire collapsed during construction last fall. Since that tragedy, schools across the country have been reexamining the role bonfires play in campus celebrations.

The focus of the letter, however, was on encouraging students to exercise good judgement in terms of behavior during the bonfire, parade and Freshman Sweep as well as in judgment.

"We have this year to show that we can enjoy the bonfire and flourish our strong Dartmouth spirit without endangering ourselves."

Collis Director and bonfire committee chair Joe Cassidy told The Dartmouth last week that, while no one wants to see the end of the bonfire tradition, planners are very concerned about safety.

"I think everybody's biggest fear is that if we can't somehow curb some of the dangerous behavior, the College gets into a tough decision about how to continue the tradition," he said.

The letter encouraged students to show school spirit, but suggested freshmen walk during the Sweep and run around the bonfire without changing directions or attempting to touch or climb on the structure.

In addition, the letter asked upperclassmen not to encourage the Class of 2004 to behave in unsafe ways.

In meetings with their advisees this week, Undergraduate Advisors will be reminding students that their behavior this weekend will have an impact on the College's decision to continue or discontinue the bonfire tradition.

"We're mainly just supposed to talk about the fact that this weekend people get pretty wild and crazy and just to take it easy," Richardson Hall UGA Madhu Iyengar '03 said.

After last year's tragedy, Texas A&M has placed a moratorium on the bonfire until at least 2002.

However, a student group "Keep the Fire Burning" is organizing an unofficial bonfire off-campus. An alumni group donated $27,000 to purchase liability insurance for the event.