Get ready, but we’re about to shatter your staid image of women’s colleges. The dean’s office at Bryn Mawr college released a statement regarding the college’s annual “Hell Week” hazing rituals. It seems one dorm in particular, Radnor, may have taken it a little too far.
What is Hell Week? Hell Week is an annual, and optional, Bryn Mawr tradition by which the sophomore class hazes the freshman class and whatnot. According to one current Bryn Mawr student and blogger, “it’s both fun (!) and meaningful. Most students cite their first Hell Week as one of the greatest moments of their undergraduate career. It certainly has its charms, debauchery aside … Each dorm has their own specific means of doing things, but a Radnor tradition is the debutante ball. During the festivities, our frosh “come out” to Radnor high society, complete with being escorted down the grand staircase by a member of their sister class. They then receive their dorm schedules filled with tasks to complete.”
Nevertheless, the dean’s letter outlined a litany of Hell Week offenses:
- “Requiring first-year students to swear alliance to Radnor over a keg”
- “Shouting at first-year students with and without bullhorn.”
- “Throwing items in common room (toilet paper, cardboard). Some items thrown into audience (may have been at first-year students).”
- “Creating potential for injury by playing wiffle beer (essentially baseball with beer cans and a wiffle bat).”
- “Requiring first-year students to go outside for a “class photo” but in reality dumping water on them. (Unclear if a photo was really taken.)”
- “Telling first-year students to stand outside, wet and some without shoes, and forcing them to listen to the Radnor goddess speech.” [A/N: According to our tipster, the "Radnor goddess" is a fictional deity who represents the spirit of the dorm's awesomeness]
- “Smoking indoors”
- “Being on the roof”
- Violating the party policy by holding an unregistered party”
- “Underage drinking (most sophomores and juniors are not 21) and excessive drinking during trials.
Read the dean’s letter: “It’s clear from the long list of violations…that imediate steps must be taken to foster significant culture change in Radnor.” As a result, the dean has banned all “wet” parties for the rest of the year, whatever that means. Several dorm presidents have resigned. And three seniors are going to face disciplinary action.
But is Bryn Mawr really a den of iniquity and frat-boy style social pressures? I spoke to several Bryn Mawr alums who felt the hazing rituals had been taken out of context. “I think thats the consensus among Bryn Mawr-ers,” said Jonitha Keymore, a 2003 alum. “Whenever there is an issue you take it to the honor board first and there is a peer vote. The hazing is always very good-natured,” she added. “When I did it, there were portions of stuff, I told my hazers I was passing on simply because I was lazy or didn’t have a wig for the crazy costumes or whatever.”
“The hazing that happens during Hell Week is pretty tame. It’s also totally voluntary to participate and they make that very clear there’s minimal pressure,” said Sarah Giovanello, also class of 2003. “Part of the tradition is that senior’s read bedtime stories to the freshmen, its really kind of sweet and super PG-13 rated. I never heard anyone getting hurt or harassed in any way, that’s just kind of extreme.” Giovanello lived in Radnor, the dorm in question, her senior year and admits that it “had the reputation for being the bad dorm on campus.” But why was it given that label? Because smoking was permitted inside the building.
Caroline Drucker, a 2003 alum now living in Germany, also lived in Radnor, and concurs with Giovanello’s assessment. “Hell Week in Radnor was a self-effacing version of the overall college tradition. I think the theme of my Hell Week was chopper chicks in Zombie town. We had fun and we supported each other.”
“My experience as a freshman involved like wearing my pajamas to class and a stupid hat or cat ears for a day. I think we had to walk blind-folded to class one day too, or maybe backwards,” continued Giovanello. “Bryn Mawr has preserved a lot of their traditions, unlike other Ivy league olleges/women’s colleges, and I guess this sort of campus wide collegiality sounds weird, but eh I wasn’t even much of a joiner, and you do sort of end of waxing nostalgically about it still even now.”
As someone who attended Mount Holyoke College (another Seven Sisters school) for a year, I can attest to to women’s colleges having their own rituals and traditions. Most of MHC’s were oriented around building trust and community among students and between students and faculty (my first day on campus there was a ceremony to sign the MHC honor code). I mean, have you ever heard of another college having a nightly “milk and cookies” break? Or Friday afternoon teas?
It is certainly good to see that the Bryn Mawr administration is taking these accusations seriously — and hopefully they’ll set an example for other schools where the hazing rituals take on a decidedly more serious and sadistic tone. I wonder, too, if part of the brou-ha-ha around hazing at the school has to do with the cultural connotations of being a women’s college woman. So many of the Seven Sisters schools, for way too long, were saddled with the outdated image of being nothing more than “lady finishing schools.” The truth is, today’s women’s college students are just as diverse as any co-ed school. Yes, there were girls who were at Mount Holyoke for the dressage program and so they could board their horses (this Lewis Black joke comes to mind), but there were also plenty of mega-progressive, independent women who were primed to take over the world.
So is this a sign of an impending less-ladylike image for women’s colleges (and is that a bad thing?)? Or is it a fun college tradition taken out of context? Women’s college alums, weigh in!
Contact the author of this post at Julie@thefrisky.com or follow her on Twitter @havethehabit.