The past two VSA meetings have involved sometimes heated discussion about Serenading, an event scheduled for this coming Sunday, September 20. Serenading has traditionally been based around first years from each house performing a song or dance routine before the current senior class. This has morphed into a more frenzied iteration in which Seniors throw various projectiles at the performers while they sing. Since then, Serenading has developed into a seemingly more equalized two-way water balloon fight between upper and underclassmen.
After shifting the event aorund the calendar multiple time, administrators have been clear that they want to distance Serenading from first year orientation in part to indicate that the event is not mandatory. They perceive a legacy of hazing in Serenading’s storied past and are thus less interested in providing support for it now.
This year, the performance/water fight is being organized by Traditions Committee, which was created by the VSA last year. Its goal is to help lessen the workload on the Senior Class Council, which used to run Serenading as well as other all-campus events. Thi is the first year that Traditions Committee is an independent group. They receive money from the Senior Class and the VSA to plan events, including but not limited to Halloweekend, Serenading and Founders Day. Adit Vaddi ’16 and Audrey Aller ’17 serve as committee co-chairs. Their colleagues include other student representatives from each class, all appointed by the VSA. Vaddi is serving his second year as a chair of the committee in order to promote institutional memory from when the committee served as a branch of the VSA.
As in years past, Serenading has caused contentious discussion among most of those involved. The Traditions Committee briefly considered tossing colored powder instead of water ballons but this proposal was shut down with calls of cultural appropriation. As always, concerns of hazing also hang heavy over the conversation. Regardless of what the critique of Serenading is, the fact that it is some frequently criticized tells us something is wrong.
What is being left out of VSA Serenading discussions is a genuine perspective on what Vassar students, especially freshmen, are actually interested in. We at the Miscellany News question the nature of traditions at Vassar, how and why they are upheld, and how as a community, Vassar can move forward with events based on what current students want.
In years past, Serenading would take place on a Saturday morning soon after freshman orientation. The event is generally thought to be a bonding experience between seniors and freshmen, with a special emphasis on house pride. Seniors were encouraged to revisit their old dorms, meet the new freshmen and reminisce about their old memories.
This year’s Serenading has been scheduled for a Sunday during All-Families Weekend, forcing many students on campus to decide between participating in an event that historically has involved drinking and embarrassment, or spending time with family members.
Students who already had little interest in singing songs to people they do not know are unlikely to want to go when their families are visiting. Additionally, Sunday is a time when students are often doing homework work, and many will choose that over an event with mixed reviews from their peers.
The Administration changed the date and time of Serendaing during the summer, without any input from students. We feel that such changes to student programming without student input is a problem. Alterations to events as large as this should come from student input, not behind closed doors over the summer.
Traditions Committee managed to squeeze an event into this difficult schedule, but they also added several activities that have not been present in previous years. This time, they are including a fireworks show and food trucks. These efforts by Traditions committee to make a more fun event are laudable, but the whole thing seems to be out of touch with student wants and needs.
This leaves us to wonder, if Serenading has been so constrained by Administration and needs additional non-traditional programming to encourage interest, is it the right event for Vassar College? If the only reason to keep it going is because of tradition, and this tradition has been so watered down and lacks genuine interest, maybe we should think critically about the event’s existence.
House teams this year have begun this critical thinking in their own meetings. Many houses are questioning whether Serenading is something they will support and condone this year or in the future. Noyes and Josselyn house presidents said at the latest VSA meeting that they and their houses plan to abstain from the event.
This means that the attendance problems that have plagued it recently will persist. House teams serve as a vehicle to get their houses excited about an event and encourage their participation in it, so if house teams are not invested, their respective houses, especially freshmen, will not be either.
Traditions like Serenading do serve a purpose: to connect and unite students over many different time periods to one common experience. At their best they can offer fun and unify the community and context for Vassar in the bigger picture.
On the other hand, they can feel forced, out of date and pointless. How can we at Vassar avoid the latter and strive for the former? We hope that Traditions Committee can help us reach these goals.
Beyond just Serenading, it is important for Vassar as an entire community to think about the structure and function of traditions. This would require a better connection between the Administration, Traditions Committee and students of all class years. When an event begins to lose its appeal and support, we need to understand what is going on. What’s more, we need to better understand why students have lost interest and whether or not it is time to put an old tradition to rest to make room to start a new one. Through contact with the students, we can look to understand not only what rendered an old tradition obsolete, but also what new events are students looking for.
The role that the newly autonomous Traditions Committee will play in this has yet to come into focus, but we at the Miscellany News see it as essential to gain better cohesion between the committee and the student body. After all, every tradition started at some point, so synthesizing events and traditions that are more relevant and interesting to students is achievable.