The Value of Campus Traditions and Student Engagement

Campus Traditions and Student Engagement

On a foggy Thursday morning, Ricky K. of Casswell Drive stumbles out his front door with a coffee in one hand and a tiki torch in the other. Slowly, Ricky shuffles his feet towards the curb, soaking in the morning dew. Once at the curb, Ricky takes a deep breath in, while lifting his tiki torch high in the air, and then victoriously slams it firmly into the soft ground. As he walks back towards his house, a neighbor yells from across the street, “Oh, a tiki! See you tonight.” Ricky turns and smiles.

To you and I, the tiki tradition of Casswell Drive means nothing, but to the folks of Casswell Drive, it means an open invitation for anyone to come by after work and enjoy some food, drink, fun and friends in the backyard. The tiki rules are simple:

1) Anyone on Casswell Drive can host a tiki party
2) The party starts once the tiki on the curb is lit
3) The party ends once the tiki on the curb is extinguished

What started out as a fun idea to do between neighbors has turned into a full-blown tradition of Casswell Drive. The whole street looks forward to hosting and attending tiki parties each week. Ricky even admitted to me that he will drive the long way back to his house from work just to see if anyone is hosting a tiki party that night. The highly engaging tiki parties are so popular that now homeowners from nearby streets ask if they can attend and often inquire with Ricky about any houses for sale on the block.

The tiki party tradition highlights two truths about humans…

First, that we are social beings and have a strong desire to be a part of a something bigger than ourselves. When thinking about engagement on your campus, don’t think about how you can get someone to attend your event or be a part of your organization. Instead, think about how you can give them a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.

“We don’t invite students to events. We invite them to belong.” – Blake Williamson (Dir. of Student Engagement at Trinity Valley Community College)

Second, that community traditions matter because traditions drive the social habit of engagement and belonging.

Don’t have strong traditions within your community? Make some up!

While doing an orientation training in Boston, the Provost spoke first and mentioned to the first year students that it’s a tradition on campus that every time you see the mascot, you should rub his nose for good luck. When the mascot entered the room later in the day, every student ran up to rub his nose and get a selfie. Smiles all around.

In talking with the Provost afterwards, I asked him about the origins of the tradition. His response shocked me, “Oh, I just made it up because we didn’t have any traditions and knew we needed some.” Genius! All long-standing traditions started somewhere, so if you don’t have any, make some up now because no one will know the difference.

A properly functioning community provides security, support and opportunity to individuals. Traditions like the tiki torch and nose rubbing are great ways to build a sense of community belonging on your campus. What traditions on your campus do you love the most?

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