Posted October 25, 2011 by Justin Rudisille 

A Collection of Campus Traditions

Buzz about homecoming events, family weekends, and other festivals are filling up news alerts and social media feeds! Learning about and experiencing campus traditions has always been one of my favorite things about the collegiate environment—especially seeing how they evolve over time, while honoring history. As we embarked on the ACUI Campus Tour: Welcome Week 2011, we heard dozens of stories about the impact these customs had on student life. Here is a sampling of some of these traditions, particularly those related to acclimating students to the culture of their campus at the start of the new year.

University of Georgia - The ArchChoosing your path
Originally commissioned in 1856, a visual symbol of the University of Georgia is the Arch, located at the north entrance to campus. Since the 1900s, legend has it that students may not pass under the Arch until receiving their diploma. While some stories from the early years claim that upperclassman would strictly enforce this tradition with new first-year students, it is evidenced today by the worn down paths on either side of the entrance. Many graduates also visit the Arch after commencement, finally being able to walk beneath it as a rite of passage.

In its recent renovation, the Tate Student Center honored this century-old tradition by including a seal with the Arch on the floor inside a main entrance, roped off to direct students away from walking over it.


Davidson College - Honor Code Building loyalty
The Honor Code at Davidson College demands a commitment to personal and community values and is taken seriously as a tradition there, perpetuating an open and trusting environment for living and learning. The tenets outlined by the Honor Code bring unique freedoms to campus life, such as self-scheduled final exams, open library stacks, and community bikes.

As ritual at the start of every academic year, incoming first-year students line up as a class at convocation to sign each of their names to the honor code in ink. Each of these signature banners are framed and on display in the Knobloch Campus Center as a reminder of the agreement.


University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill - Old WellBringing good luck
Located at the heart of campus, the Old Well is an iconic image representing the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. Originally serving as the sole water supply for student residents, its current pillars and dome covering were added in 1897 as a beautification project.

As a campus tradition, students make a stop on the first day of classes each term to drink water from the Old Well with hopes that it will bring them at 4.0 grade point average—or at least some sort of good luck in the classroom for the semester. And for those who succeed, getting a photo taken in front of the well after commencement is, of course, a popular custom.


Georgia Institute of Technology - Stealing the  T Collecting memories
Students new to navigating the campus of Georgia Institute of Technology might be confused by signs reading “S uden ,” “Cen er,” or “Georgia Ins i u e of echnology.” But no worries, this is just a sign that the campus tradition of stealing the “T” is still alive. Rooted in the history of scheming to remove “T” in “Tech” on the Tech Tower administrative building, students are known to take pride in collecting this letter around campus—from temporary event boards to permanent campus signage. Today, making an attempt to steal the letter from Tech Tower is grounds for immediate expulsion, and signage in the Georgia Tech Student Center is custom made to make it impossible to steal the “T.”


North Carolina State University - Free Expression TunnelMaking your mark
To help new students learn about campus traditions, the Student Government and Alumni Association at North Carolina State University publish “The Brick” to encourage every student to become an official “Tradition Keeper” by completing tasks in the book.

In addition to attending an event on “The Brickyard,” whispering to someone 40 feet away in the “Wolf Ears,” or climbing on one of the 1,200-pound bronze wolves in a plaza, one tradition at NC State is the Free Expression Tunnel. As one of the few thoroughfares connecting two parts of campus, this tunnel was painted with school colors for the first time in 1968. It evolved into a place for expression to reduce graffiti elsewhere on campus. Today, many use it to advertise their events or organizations.


Emory University - Dooley Honoring the legends
Through a series of sporadic articles in Emory University’s literary journal called The Phoenix starting in 1899, the legend of Dooley began as a biology lab skeleton reflecting on his experiences, alive and dead. Making his first recorded appearance on campus in the 1940s, the skeleton lives on today through a variety of traditions as the official safeguard of the “Spirit of Emory.” The university even produced a YouTube video telling his story. Tradition allows Dooley to enter into rooms and release students from classes, often escorted by peacekeepers wielding squirt guns.

So the skeletons seen painted on walls in the Dobbs University Center or on sale in bookstores around Emory’s campus are much more than a reference to the school of medicine.



There are thousands of campus traditions out there. This is just s sampling, but we would love to hear more. What is your favorite tradition on your campus? Have you seen any new traditions get started at your institution?  


This post is part of a series, sharing the information learned on the ACUI Campus Tour: Welcome Week 2011.

Justin Rudisille

Justin Rudisille is the Director of Volunteer & Member Engagement at ACUI.

Justin coordinates the recruitment, training, and recognition initiatives for volunteers at all levels, as well as oversees research initiatives. He liaises with ACUI’s regions, the Volunteer Development Team, the Research Program Team, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, the College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) evaluation program, and the awards and scholarships programs.


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