Honoring Traditions Builds Necessary Bonds

One of the major challenges for any institution of higher learning is how we foster a sense of belonging in our students, alumni, faculty, staff and other stakeholders. College is a time when young people form incredibly strong bonds between themselves, their friends and their alma mater. Those bonds become important to the individuals involved, but they're also essential for a college or university because they are the basis for building community.

At Wells College, we are fortunate that so many of our graduates continue to have strong ties to the college. This is especially important when you're a small school going through a monumental change, as we did a little more than a decade ago when Wells made the decision to admit male students. Had the college handled things differently, we might have lost some of our history, severing bonds with our alumnae and each future class of students.

But by holding on to our traditions--traditions that exemplify the character of our institution, our students and our alumni--we have confirmed our commitment to who we are, and we have signaled to our stakeholders that while some things have changed at Wells College, the things that have always mattered here still hold steady and true. Our traditions and rituals are the backbone of life at Wells.

Traditions are a critical piece of any culture, forming the structure, bonds and foundation of families and society. They reinforce our history, define our past, and offer a window into the kind of person we are likely to become in the future. Traditions and rituals in a college atmosphere can reinforce the values we deem important. And, of course, traditions create lasting memories of our friends, our teachers and our alma mater.

At Wells, our traditions offer comfort and belonging, binding together students from a variety of social and economic backgrounds and enabling them to connect as friends. One of our most enduring institutions is our honor code. The administration and faculty expect our students to adhere to the code, and even more importantly, students themselves embrace and uphold it.

As the Honor Code states, "Wells College students are under community obligation and pledge not to lie, cheat, steal, deceive, or conceal in the conduct of their collegiate life as defined or encompassed by the Collegiate Constitution."

Our incoming freshmen participate in a signing ceremony in which they pledge to uphold the honor code. The trust faculty, staff and students develop with one another is amazing to witness. You can visit the library and see laptops abandoned and when the owner returns, his or her materials are still there, undisturbed. That shows the kind of student--the kind of honesty--that our honor code demands.

If I were to list every ritual at Wells, we'd be here for days. But I do want to highlight some of the traditions we keep, as well as one that's been changed to fit the 21st century.

Upon entering the college, first-year students are assigned to one of two traditional "lines." In the Evenline, students will graduate in even-numbered years. The Oddline, fittingly enough, consists of students set to graduate in odd-numbered years. These lines compete against one another every year during an annual basketball game and sing-off. It's spirited, competitive, and Wells wouldn't be the same without it. I can tell you that the students look forward to it every year--and so does the faculty and administration.

But the Wells Families may well be the most important tradition we have when it comes to bonding our students to one another. Each first-year student is teamed up with a Wells student from each class to form a branch of the Wells tree. This provides each first-year the opportunity to know a unique group of students from each class year, who often do recreational activities together. Wells Families are revealed in the fall by the Traditions Committee. The Traditions Committee also then plans its annual Wells Families Day. During this time, each family is reunited and joined by its new members. In the spirit of the Sycamore tree, Wells alumnae/i form the base of the tree and current Wells students are the branches--each part of the Wells family.

And now for one of the traditions that's changed: teatime. Tea and coffee are served every Wednesday afternoon in Macmillan Hall's Art Exhibit Room. At one time, the college offered high tea every day. But--I'm not sure you've noticed--there's really very little call for high tea these days. Instead, students now enjoy a weekly break from afternoon seminars to get together with friends and professors. Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to participate in Wells Wednesdays while wearing red clothing and accessories or Wells College gear to show their school spirit.

Each of these traditions, as well as the many I haven't talked about, offers a unique way for students to immerse themselves into college life and create the lifelong connections that are becoming rarer across academia. And that's one of the great things about life at a small liberal arts school. We're able to support and nurture these students because of the bonds we offer and the ties they form.