Bonfire Rites

by Andrew Lane | 10/28/05 5:00am

Ah, Homecoming: when the Dartmouth community initiates idealistic, wide-eyed freshmen by way of a frenzied, ritualistic pyre. The century-old Homecoming tradition exudes school spirit as the community gathers together for a parade through town and a culminating ceremony on the Green. For freshmen, this climax of Homecoming builds character and a sense of belonging.

This past weekend, in the effort to complete their hundred and nine laps, the freshmen screamed, pushed, and trampled each other in a chaotic green vortex. Students ran faster to keep moving between the torrid flames and torments of upperclassmen. "TOUCH THE FIRE, FRESHMEN!" "RUN THE OTHER WAY!" As the intensity roared to a fever pitch, the weak, injured and off-balanced got thrown to the ground. Many departed with bumps, bruises, and cold compresses. So why, one might ask, should such a ritual continue?

For more than simply tradition. To perpetuate dangerous events for the sake of preserving custom is hazardous to a school's reputation and student body. The Bonfire is a rowdy yet controlled freshman initiation that has developed with Dartmouth itself.

Rites of passage are integral parts of joining new organizations, teams, and societies. In addition, ritualized inductions often form tight-knit communities among its members.

The Bonfire unifies Dartmouth students by having freshmen perform the same act as previous upperclassmen and alumni. Eliminating the enduring tradition would remove a common bond between Dartmouth classes.

Yet certain logistical aspects of the Bonfire warrant change to better ensure the safety of all participants. An open exit passageway should be maintained for freshmen who wish to leave in the middle of the revelry. Such a path would increase running space by relieving congestion within the circle. It would also be prudent to expand the protected space around the fire for the sake of onlookers, freshmen and police officers. Even the surrounding spectators shy away and shield their faces from surging flames.

Such modifications would ideally make the Homecoming night more enjoyable for those not thrilled by this year's proceedings. Roughness stemming from genuine student enthusiasm, however, should not be a reason to eliminate an event so important to the freshman class and Dartmouth community as a whole. The tradition should perhaps be modified, but must not change drastically lest it lose its place as a rite of passage into Dartmouth College.

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