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Wesleyan Class Traditions: Moving into the Future

As the world’s first college chartered to grant degrees to women (1836), Wesleyan College has a history that spans more than 180 years. In that time many things have changed: people, buildings, curriculum, and traditions. What has not changed is the College’s commitment to its primary mission: to be an exceptional, residential, liberal arts college for women.

One aspect of being a residential campus is having a robust student experience outside the classroom. That, too, has changed over the years. During the years 1851-1852, the first two sororities in the U.S. were established at Wesleyan, the Adelpheans and the Philomatheans. In subsequent years, they became Alpha Delta Pi and Phi Mu. Soon after, two more sororities were established: Zeta Tau Alpha and Delta Delta Delta. In 1914 the faculty and trustees voted to do away with the sororities, and by 1917 they were no longer active on campus.

In place of sororities for an elite few, class traditions for all students evolved. Many alumnae recall with fondness their student experience with its class structure, class names and colors, cheers and songs, and other traditions. For many students of the 20th century, class traditions served as important bonding experiences. For others, traditions such as RAT and LINKS were intimidating and hurtful. “Ratting” ended in 2000 and “LINKS” ended in 2011. In their place, Sisterhood Week is held in the fall, connecting “sister” classes through the Big/Little tradition. Some traditions have come and gone. Other traditions, such as the annual STUNT theatrical competition, remain an important student experience after 122 years.

The class names themselves have been embroiled in historical controversy. One name had clear connections to the South’s racist past, but the connection is less clear for the others. Nevertheless, activities related to class names and traditions have fostered some of the campus’s racial tension in recent years. While the class structure served as a bonding tradition for many years, the same is not as true today. Half of today’s graduates do not spend four continuous years at Wesleyan, but most expect their women’s college experience to be unique, and sisterhood traditions should be part of that uniqueness.

Over the last year, Wesleyan faculty, staff, students, and alumnae have worked together to address these issues, concluding that changing some of our student traditions will lead to a stronger student experience. In an effort to establish new traditions that help students bond with one another and with the College, Wesleyan will launch new sisterhood initiatives in the fall using the theme “One Wesleyan. Many Voices. Find Yours.” These initiatives have two purposes:

  • Promote activities that unite all Wesleyan undergraduate students whether they are full or part-time, residential or commuter, traditional or non-traditional.

  • Promote a well-organized class structure that focuses on leadership, service, and sisterhood.

Just as sororities were retired in 1917, class names will be retired for current and future students. Class colors of purple, green, red, and gold will continue to connect past, present, and future students.

For Wesleyan to grow, we must embrace change. This is critical to Wesleyan’s future, and we are grateful for support from current and former students, faculty and staff, trustees, and other friends of the College for developing an exciting, ambitious new mission statement and strategic plan that will strengthen the College’s future. One element of the strategic plan is to “create a new culture of community that embraces the diverse interests of our current students.” The One Wesleyan initiative will serve as a foundation for Wesleyan’s new culture of community with its commitment to sisterhood.

Sisterhood provides a sense of belonging - a feeling of being at home, even when away from home. Sisterhood at Wesleyan College consists of unique and lasting relationships created through empowering, affirming, and transformative interactions among students. As the deepest type of friendship, sisterhood is built through sustained connections and shared experiences among fellow students as they seek knowledge, grow into leaders, pursue common goals, and discover themselves. While the college strives to provide an environment conducive to this type of positive relationship-building, Wesleyannes themselves are also responsible for engaging with each other to create a sisterhood that is supportive, respectful, and loving. Wesleyannes promote these ideals of life-long sisterhood throughout their time at Wesleyan, and beyond. The bond of sisterhood endures for life.

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