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On a typical Thursday night, the boisterous chants of Lowrey men can be heard as they parade around campus in boxers and shaving cream. Other nights, Howard women can be found singing their house song. The puzzled response from outsiders remains.
While these activities may look like simple shenanigans, they are actually rooted in house tradition. Every house has its own tradition, but how far back do these traditions go? Some houses, like Howard and Buck, haven’t seen much change. Other houses, such as Sylvester, Anderson and Rackham, have changed from single gender houses to co-ed. In the past, freshman housing didn’t even exist. So, with all this change, can there really be tradition?
In the 1980s, the structure of the houses was much different. At that time, Lowrey was one of the women’s houses; and yet today’s Lowrey is a rambunctious men’s house: a reincarnation of Rackham West. The Rackham West New Student Handbook of 1986 states, “We like to be radical, ridiculous, crazy, outrageous, or to put it simply, have fun.”
Junior Igor Souza, Lowrey’s house president, recalled graduation day, when Westies past and present come together to sing their house song. This song fosters a sense of brotherhood between current students and alumni that Lowrey has continued to express though the original Rackham has changed to freshman housing.
Houses like Howard and Buck may appear to have undergone little change but have seen internal change. Traditions that stood in the 80s have changed or faded, though some remain. The Buck New Student Handbook of 1986 states, “Buck is the house of gentlemen.” A similar sentiment still remains on campus. Senior Austin Romo, a Buck resident, stated, “We’ve been consistent with keeping up the gentlemanly aspect of the house.” The annual pig roast is also a tradition that is still going strong, but the handbook also laid out a long list of traditions that have been lost over time, including the Buck Bunny, the Buck Schmuck Duck, and Godots, an annual gala.
In Howard’s case, traditions such as singing the house song and night time gatherings to celebrate a newly-engaged house member remain. Other activities have been altered. “Even though nicknaming had been a tradition before I came in, it had become this tradition that people didn’t really like because there wasn’t really any ceremony to it. It was just new students would come in and the current house board would just make something up,” Howard resident counselor Heather Barron said. “So, we started doing something where the girls share a part of their lives with the rest of the house, and then they have a nickname that is based off of that.” Howard’s own house color is also something that has been altered. In 1954 an official crest was made, but was later changed to red in 1985, which you can see on every Howard sweatshirt today.
Brooks House has annual initiation ceremonies, which are still somewhat shrouded in secrecy. However, senior Becky Skala revealed one: “It’s usually after hymn sing on a Sunday evening, and we’ll take candles in the chapel and we’ll say something about ourselves … Then we walk back singing ‘Shepherd Show Me.’” Along with that tradition, Skala added, “In the spring, when all of the new students get placed in houses, all of the new women will wear silly dresses around campus for a day.” For Brooks, tradition is not dependent on loud chants or flashy tricks; it is deeply personal.
Sylvester, Joe McNabb and Ferguson Houses have retained laid-back cultures. Events such as the Homegrown Festival and the Syl Festival of Lights are recent additions to Sylvester, but aspire to become traditions. In Joe, there are freshman initiation traditions, but aside from that the house is more independent. Senior Lisa Lewis, Joe’s house president, explained, “Joe values independence and uniqueness … For us, that’s a tradition of itself.” Joe is also starting new traditions, such as Campus United, a way for the campus to come together. Ferguson has a similar sentiment and chooses not to cling too tightly to traditions. Dan Schneider, the house’s resident counselor. said, “I think that Ferg has benefitted from … not being steeped in tradition; to then be free to morph and adapt and be whatever it wants to be, every cycle of students.”
All houses on campus demonstrate their traditions differently. Even with the changes that each house has seen, there is an obvious need to become closer and celebrate each other. House traditions are meant to create lifelong bonds, not to cause rifts between the houses. Events like Starbrooks, Rumpus, and Campus United are a testament to that. House traditions, while not always understood by outsiders, serve an important role on campus.