Every year, the freshmen sing for the seniors, and in repayment for all their hard work, get splattered with water–and in the past, food—by their fellow classmates. And then we call this water-based bloodbath “Serenading,” a nearly century-old tradition that has become a central part of orientation activities for incoming students.
Serenading has always been a tradition in flux—what Serenading was in 1933 is, obviously, not what Serenading is now. But even within the past few years, Serenading has seen even more changes in an effort to make the event more inclusive.
Terrace Apartments President Estello-Cisdre Raganit ’14 described some of the changes that occurred during this year’s Serenading, and reflected the theme of inclusivity that the Senior Class Council attempted to foster.
“This year, Senior Class Council made a few changes that we hoped would make a lasting impact on how students view Serenading,” wrote Raganit in an emailed statement. “First, because we saw that very few seniors took advantage of the pizza party (which was usually held the night before in the residential houses) as an opportunity to meet first years, we wanted to incorporate this aspect with the actual Serenading event.
According to Vassar Student Association President Deborah Steinberg ’14, while Serenading used to be a more community building event in past years, efforts have been made to make Serenading even more inclusive. Some of the changes include having seniors chant back at the freshmen when they finished performing, and incorporating Brewer Cup points.
“It is so much better than in years past. Much less alcohol, fewer condiments being thrown, the lyrics of the songs were more appropriate,” wrote Steinberg in an emailed statement. “In the future, there should be more of an effort on the seniors’ part to bond with the freshmen and show more appreciation for the effort that they and the house teams put in.”
She also described bond between houses and their seniors as an important part of Serenading this year, all the while focusing on the theme of community.
Steinberg said, “The event encouraged us to do more than just throw water balloons—it was about building a community.”
She continued, “Beyond anything else, it definitely creates a bond between the current house and the seniors who used to live there, because they’re always cheering the loudest for the dorm with whom they identify the most.”
Raganit had complicated feelings about the tradition. While he said that his past experiences with Serenading were enjoyable, he also understood why some people would have concerns related to it.
“Serenading is a weird tradition; and after participating in the event as a first year, a Student Fellow, a House President, and then as a senior, I am still unsure about the event’s fostering a relationship between the first years and seniors, let alone to campus as a whole,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
Raganit noted the discomfort of others. He wrote, “I, personally, have had generally positive experiences with Serenading, but I think that hearing from my classmates and peers about how Serenading continues to be a negative and isolating experience that does little to foster a sense of community and pride both within and between the four classes time and time again makes me consider the validity of an event that is, in essence, re-branded hazing.”
Senior Class President Connor Martini ‘14 also commented about the potential culture of hazing that occurred with past Serenadings.
“These changes were made to try and eliminate the aspects of Serenading that have, in the past, encouraged the seniors to look down on the freshmen and made the freshmen uncomfortable interacting with the seniors,” Martini wrote in an emailed statement.
He continued, Historically, Serenading has sent a message to the freshmen that, almost immediately after their arrival on campus, there is a social pecking order in which they come last. This year, we wanted to make certain changes that would help alleviate this problem of class superiority while remaining true to the traditions we have come to know.”
Though there have been issues with Serenading in the past, both Steinberg and Raganit emphasized the chance for bonding that the event offers. According to Steinberg, this year’s Serenading was particularly good for the senior class. She wrote, “They [the seniors] definitely noticed a change in the tone from when we were freshmen. It definitely unites the senior class though—this was the first time I had seen this many of us in one space since freshman year.”
But that does not mean that Serenading is done changing and improving; Raganit took time to compare Serenading to its roots in a tradition called Step-Singing, and critique the complacency of seniors regarding the tradition.
“I think that students, myself included, blindly accept what Serenading has become and forget that it started as a tradition called “Step-Singing” where all classes would participate and students would sing original songs given to them by previous classes on the steps of Strong to seniors situated on the steps of Rocky,” wrote Raganit.
Steinberg also commented on the change from the older tradition, and how it had become less inclusive in recent years.“I think it used to be much more of a community-building event than it is now. I’d like to see it go back in that direction though,” she said.
But there is hope for a better future of Serenading, and the changes made this year reflect the desire for better community building. Raganit had some specific ideas for improving Serenading as an event that can strive to bring the entirety of the Vassar community together.
“For Serenading to truly become an event that fosters a fruitful relationship between the classes, I think Vassar must see a cultural shift that stems from us students,” he said. “Rather than blindly accepting this “tradition” as such, we should ask ourselves that if our goal is to form bonds between and within the classes, is Serenading succeeding?”
Serenading, from its roots as Step-Singing to its current reality as a watery festival with many different aspects, is a tradition that is unlikely to ever lose its place as an important part of Vassar culture, but that does not mean that it has to be a stagnant entity. With a clear push for improved inclusivity, Serenading continues to evolve in new ways, and has the potential to either continue to improve, or it could go back to some of the less impressive days of the past.
Ultimately, it comes down to the work of the students if this culture of change and community building is going to become a reality.