The ties that bind us: Dartmouth’s springtime traditions
From break trips to dance shows, the warming Hanover weather brings tradition to a variety of campus communities.
This article is featured in the 2022 Spring special issue.
Like many students here, one of the main reasons I chose Dartmouth was its traditions. Cherished activities spanning from pong (the Dartmouth version, obviously) to the Homecoming bonfire connected me to the College and the greater Dartmouth community. It is these traditions that alumni and upperclassmen excitedly discuss with nostalgia as they pass them along to current students.
As seniors prepare to graduate and freshmen prepare to close out their first year, traditions continue to remain an integral part of the College experience throughout spring term. While many people think of Green Key and other booze-adjacent activities as the events that will shape the spring, a wide variety of club and student traditions have also become an essential part of the season.
Some of the most well-known activities take place within the different subclubs of the Dartmouth Outing Club. The vice president of the Ledyard Canoe Club, Jordan Paff ’23, has experienced a variety of traditions throughout her time in the club, with one of the most important being the whitewater kayaking trip to North Carolina that Ledyard offers every spring break.
“It was spectacular to be able to go [on the trip] this year,” said Paff. “It was a huge bonding moment for people in Ledyard — it’s a time when people from all different classes [including alumni] come together and really spend some quality time as a group.”
This unique bonding experience is aided by the fact that during the trip, the group spends an extensive amount of time together, according to Paff. Other than kayaking together, they also live at a cabin together for around two weeks, cooking meals in the morning and hanging out around a campfire at night. She’s developed inside jokes and friendships that carried on beyond the trip.
Additionally, Ledyard conducts a jacketing ceremony, where especially dedicated club members get special recognition and receive Ledyard jackets. Paff describes the process as a careful selection, but also a tradition that is cherished by Ledyard members.
“We have a voting process where people that are jacketed can vote for new people, and if they get a certain amount of votes, they are able to be jacketed,” Paff said. “All the upperclassmen get on the roof of the clubhouse down by the river, and we say something nice about the new jacketed member and then throw their jacket down to them. They can then join us on the roof.”
While Paff believes that traditions offered by the DOC can be an alternative to Greek spaces, she also acknowledges that they can be exclusive.
“While I do believe that the traditions that Ledyard has are more inclusive … they definitely have their own forms of exclusivity,” she said. “I do believe in being a close community and part of that comes from spending time together — but it also makes me sad because creating these inside traditions means that there will be an out-group. I think that’s something that [we’re] trying to figure out how to best handle.”
Creating inclusive traditions outside of Greek spaces is on the minds of many club leaders, including dancer Roman Olavarria ’23. As the creative director of both Street Soul and Sheba — and a leader in many other dance-related organizations on campus — Olavarria kept inclusivity in mind when organizing Saussy, an annual dance showcase for Dartmouth’s student dance groups.
“The show was called Saussy because it used to be an acronym for Street Soul, Ujima, Sheba and Soyeya. Those used to be the four main dance groups for Saussy, and they wouldn’t usually invite any other dance groups to join,” he said. “I decided to break the tradition of only having those four dance groups before because I wanted to help build a community of dance here at Dartmouth in a stronger way.”
In the past, the showcase took place in Moore Theater in the Hopkins Center for the Arts or in Collis Common Ground. However, during the pandemic, the show was moved outside to the courtyard behind Kemeny Hall in order to comply with safety regulations. This year, Olavarria decided to keep the showcase outdoors.
“As the director of Saussy, I really liked doing it outside because it’s a really nice environment and is also COVID safe,” he said. “It also gives people a chance to comfortably join a performative space. I know it can sometimes be very threatening to go onto a theater stage and perform — and as an audience member, it can also be strange to walk into a place you’ve never been to before. But everyone always walks past [Kemeny], and the space is really open.”
Olavarria believes that the spring showcase tradition provides an outlet for both dancers and non-performers to appreciate dance — and it importantly offers a more inviting performance space outside of typical Greek houses.
“I think it gives people an opportunity to not be in a Greek space and still have the chance to perform, because a lot of dance groups do perform in Greek spaces,” he said.
Other than club traditions, students also participate in campus-wide challenges. Some of the most dedicated attempt the “Daily Dip,” a challenge where students attempt to jump into the Connecticut River every day for the entire spring term. June Dong ’22, a current participant in the challenge, has found the activity to be a way to connect with the campus community.
“I’ve definitely made a few acquaintances or friends through the dip,” Dong said. “People are so friendly when they’re down by the river, you’ll be there and people will walk down and ask, ‘Oh, are you dipping?’ And then we’ll dip together or talk about dipping. People will even offer me rides back. It’s a good community bonding activity.”
Despite the weather growing warmer, river temperatures can still be much colder than expected. However, that hasn’t stopped students like Dong from continuing to dip.
“I feel like Dartmouth students love a challenge,” Dong noted. “It’s cold, it’s tough and can be miserable. But I think there is something so satisfying about being able to say I did this all term. It’s a point of pride for a lot of people.”
Ultimately, participating in the tradition has helped link Dong to Dartmouth after a long period of being off campus due to COVID-19.
“It has definitely made me feel more connected to campus. And that has been really important, especially as a ’22, having missed sophomore summer and so many other traditions,” Dong said. “Personally, I really want to participate in as many traditions as I can before I leave here.”