How One College Uses Poetry and a Tree to Build Community

Photo via randolphcollege.edu
Photo via randolphcollege.edu
The legend of the Poetry Tree at Randolph College dates back to the 1960’s, its protagonist an English professor named Margaret Raynal. Every Spring, Margaret would write out the poem, ‘Loveliest of Trees’ by A.E. Housman, and hang it on a cherry blossom tree near the front of the school as an homage to both the cherry blossom and springtime.
LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now  
Is hung with bloom along the bough,  
And stands about the woodland ride  
Wearing white for Eastertide.
 
Margaret’s annual springtime poetry hanging has since taken on a life of its own for the entire campus community at Randolph College. Faculty, staff, administration, and students usher in the excitement and youthfulness of springtime by hanging their favorite or original poems with ribbon on the same tree. For many campuses, cherry blossoms are pretty to look at, but for Randolph college, they are the center of an engaging springtime campus tradition.

This blender event is both beautiful and engaging. A tree, at the entrance to campus, covered with poetry is a splendid image, and a hard experience for a student to walk by without noticing. Students, administrators, and faculty gather at the tree between classes, reading the poems and sharing the moment together. Suddenly, engagement on campus has increased with the rising temperature.

In Dance Floor Theory, we talk about using unexpected surfaces to create this effect.

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This type of event has a very low gradient to get involved with, and might even be less scary than other ways of getting involved, if a student isn’t quite yet a level “5” of engagement yet. It doesn’t take a speech or presentation – no one has to notice you put your favorite poem up. In this way, anyone can participate in the tradition, and then reap the benefits of adding something to the conversation. That’s an x+1 moment – a student easily going up one level of engagement, without feeling overwhelmed.

Want to do something similar on your campus? Here’s some things to consider during your brainstorm:

  • What are the “hubs” on your campus? Where do students gather?
  • What would make students on your campus stop and linger? (Like reading poetry?)
  • What small action can someone take to participate in your blender event?
  • What would cause positive buzz on your campus?

The tradition of hanging poems on a cherry tree during springtime can’t help by make someone smile. What objects on your campus could you use to create a new campus tradition, with a low level of engagement, just like the poetry tree?

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