Initiation’s Evolution into Traditiation

by Ashlynn Phillips, ’15

At about the same time a Whitworth student got shot at during a dorm initiation gone wrong in the fall of 1991, Washington State’s legislature was shooting down the whole idea of hazing on college campuses.

Eventually, the Washington State hazing law was passed that says a school could lose its federal funding for student loans if a school is caught hazing. Because of this law, dorms put an end to their hazing traditions.

So it was that Whitworth had to turn to an alternative for its almost century long, deeply rooted initiation rites practiced in dorms across campus. The new, hazing-free approach was called “Traditiation,” and features activities that seek the same bonding and inclusion goals of Initiation, but without its excesses. So, memorizing chants, wearing outrageous clothes, and feeling embarrassed were all parts of Initiation that carried over and continue today to bring new faces at Whitworth together.

“We were embarrassed and being ridiculous together, and I think that’s what really bonded us,” Tracey Warren, ’91, says.

During Initiation, students had to “earn” their right into the dorm through hazing, which included the harassment that legislature subsequently banned. Assistant Dean of Student Activities, Dayna Coleman-Jones, who oversees Traditiation each fall, said that when she was in school there were certain things  that she did then that would be considered hazing now, but were all done in good humor.

It was the same at Whitworth, she said. “In Mac Hall, the freshmen had to stand in a bucket of ice and all of the current guys would stand around the bucket and you would have to tell a joke that would make them all laugh in order to get out,” Coleman-Jones says. “So, some boys would be in there for a very long time, which is hazing, but they thought it was hysterical. To this day, my husband, Jim Jones, ’80, says that was the best part of his Initiation.” 

Coleman-Jones also says, “Arend Hall used to take the guys out to the middle of Palouse Prairie, blindfolded in their boxers, and they were left there and had to figure out a way to get back. One time the boys were running through someone’s backyard and the woman who lived there was scared because all she saw were these half naked guys running by. She had a BB gun, so she went out there and started shooting at them, and one of the students got shot in the calf.”

She continues, “So the next day in The Spokesman Review it said ‘Half naked student gets hazed, then hurt.’ So we had to change that.”

John Edmondson, ’02, initiated in McMillan Hall. During his Initiation, the freshmen had to sing in front of the dorm while water was thrown at them from the third floor windows.

“Back then, it was definitely more like the RAs were trying to scare us, but I think it’s changed since then,” Edmondson says. “I remember one time we were taken to the Back 40 and someone drove up in a truck and just went on a rampage. The guys would act scary or like they were drunk. There was definitely nudity, too. One time a guy just had to stand there [without clothes but] with Christmas lights all over his body.”

Even though Initiation had some negative connotations to it, Dana Strait, ’03, said she found it to be a great way to get over the initial scare of being in a new environment with many new people.

Strait said that she met her two best friends during Traditiation and reflects that “It was a great way to build friendships, and I think that’s what matters most.”

One aspect of Traditiation that has carried over from Initiation is the embarrassment. Edmondson mentioned he had to woo Ballard Hall girls and sing to random women as they walked across campus. For Warren, embarrassment was the traditions related to her dorm. She says, “I initiated in Warren Hall and the whole time we had to wear these old, ugly ties. Every time we walked in or out of a doorway we had to kiss them and if we didn’t there was an embarrassing consequence.”

In the fall of 2012, a change was made to the much anticipated event known as “Wooing,” after feedback from some students said Wooing made them feel uncomfortable.

“Some people had never kissed before,” Coleman-Jones says. “And we have many students whose orientation is not heterosexual and that was really uncomfortable for them. So, it was just a matter of recognizing that we can’t do Wooing one week and then the next week do a program about gender roles and healthy relationships, and have those be side by side. It’s like we weren’t practicing what we were preaching.”

As a result, Wooing was changed to “Hallin’,” which continues the practice of singing songs and showing appreciation for each other, but students are not allowed to touch each other anymore.

Jaclyn Treat, ’14, says she was sad that Wooing changed. “I think the freshmen this year missed out because it was a neat experience – it was fun yet awkward. There aren’t many moments like that in life,” she says, adding, “But at the same time, it’s good that some things were changed to make people more comfortable.” 

About 450 out of 600 freshman reviews are returned at the end of the school year and almost all of them say that Traditiation was their favorite event at Whitworth, Coleman-Jones says. She added that as silly as Traditiation is, it brings a sense of belonging to each student.

“By the third day people are willing to perform really stupid things in front of the school without shame,” Coleman-Jones says. “It brings them together and gives them somebody to eat lunch with.”

She reflects, “But as time goes on, we’re a little bit savvier as to what’s appropriate, what actually makes people feel a sense of belonging, and what can alienate people. We’re growing up. We’re learning.”