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Campus Traditions

Folklore from the Old-Time College to the Modern Mega-University

Simon J. Bronner

Publication Year: 2012

From their beginnings, campuses emerged as hotbeds of traditions and folklore. American college students inhabit a culture with its own slang, stories, humor, beliefs, rituals, and pranks. Simon J. Bronner takes a long, engaging look at American campus life and how it is shaped by students and at the same time shapes the values of all who pass through it. The archetypes of absent-minded profs, fumbling jocks, and curve-setting dweebs are the stuff of legend and humor, along with the all-nighters, tailgating parties, and initiations that mark campus tradition--and student identities. Undergraduates in their hallowed halls embrace distinctive traditions because the experience of higher education precariously spans childhood and adulthood, parental and societal authority, home and corporation, play and work.

Bronner traces historical changes in these traditions. The predominant context has shifted from what he calls the "old-time college," small in size and strong in its sense of community, to mass society's "mega-university," a behemoth that extends beyond any campus to multiple branches and offshoots throughout a state, region, and sometimes the globe. One might assume that the mega-university has dissolved collegiate traditions and displaced the old-time college, but Bronner finds the opposite. Student needs for social belonging in large universities and a fear of losing personal control have given rise to distinctive forms of lore and a striving for retaining the pastoral "campus feel" of the old-time college. The folkloric material students spout, and sprout, in response to these needs is varied but it is tied together by its invocation of tradition and social purpose. Beneath the veil of play, students work through tough issues of their age and environment. They use their lore to suggest ramifications, if not resolution, of these issues for themselves and for their institutions. In the process, campus traditions are keys to the development of American culture.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-xii

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Prologue: “Here’s the Syllabus”

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pp. xiii-xx

By the time students graduate from college, they accumulate plenty of courses but are not given enough credit for the traditions they bear. Sure, students are usually in college only a few years, and the locations of their education vary widely, but I argue that undergraduates in their hallowed halls, ...

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1. Getting In: Orientation

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pp. 3-29

“Welcome to campus, scholars,” the resident assistant barked with some sarcasm as I joined the other wide-eyed freshmen during campus orientation in my first dormitory meeting, far from home. Back a few months we celebrated “getting in,” but now that we had arrived, uncertainty could be felt about the path ahead. ...

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2. The Stress of Grades: Tests and Papers

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pp. 30-70

The first day of class, the avuncular professor cheerily welcomes the students to the course. He describes his interest in the subject and begins to tell something about himself. Suddenly, a hand shoots up. Taken aback by a questioner at such an early stage of the class, the prof calls upon the anxious student. ...

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3. Professors, Coaches, Jocks, Geeks, and Other Strange Characters

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pp. 71-113

If campus is an unusual liminal locale with imposing buildings and a landscape intended to inspire great ideas, then it follows that it is populated by characters who are probably out of place elsewhere. Humor and legend work hand in hand to reveal the idiosyncrasies of figures who draw suspicion because they appear strangely and singularly obsessed with their task. ...

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4. Rushes, Pranks, and Dinks: The Rough-and-Tumble Campus

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pp. 114-162

The college campus can be a rude awakening for students who enjoyed their senior status in high school. They probably heard about their ascent into maturity with graduation, but once on the college campus they are probably made to feel like mere babes. ...

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5. College Spirit: Expressing Loyalty and Rivalry

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pp. 163-191

Even though students’ time on campus is short, they expect to be infected while there with a strange sort of exuberance known as “college spirit.” Brought back to campus, alumni typically complain that the current crop of enrollees lack the spirit their class exhibited. ...

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6. Campus Events: Holidays, Games, and Sports

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pp. 192-241

Beneath the jests about going to college being a wildly “good time” and delaying “real work” (and responsibility) is anxiety about getting away from the safe haven of home or embarking on a daunting new endeavor. With reference to their dormitories and distractions, institutions of higher education present themselves ...

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7. Greek Life

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pp. 242-276

Fraternities and sororities often view themselves as upholders of tradition and collegiate spirit leaders. Many fraternity and sorority members declare Greek letter societies as a traditional place in the college where “me” becomes “us.” ...

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8. Legendary Locations, Laughs, and Horrors

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pp. 277-342

Passing through the elaborate gates positioned at the college’s border with its neighbors typically creates the impression of entering a mythical kingdom. Past the bustle of streets and stores one finds on almost every campus a winding path through nature and around proud edifices often showing medieval faces. ...

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9. Sex and the Single Student

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pp. 343-376

Put young men and women into close quarters of the college campus and inevitably the question of sexual behavior comes up. Although sexual issues have increasingly come out into the open since the twentieth century, the topic still presents anxieties that are apparent in numerous stories, songs, and practices. ...

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10. Getting Out: Graduation

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pp. 377-406

Graduation, after four long years, is the moment students have been working, waiting, and suffering for. To freshmen, graduation seems impossibly far away. Adding to this feeling is the timing of completion after four years, rather than three. The length of time in college is not based on an assessment of how long it takes to be learned. ...


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pp. 407-454


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pp. 455-475

E-ISBN-13: 9781621036173
E-ISBN-10: 1617036161
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617036163

Page Count: 496
Illustrations: 43 b&w photographs
Publication Year: 2012