Staff Editorial: COVID cost campus its storied traditions. What do we do now?

This past week, the Social Programming Board (SPB) announced a rebranded WILD called Night At the Pageant (NAP) to be held on Nov. 9, with Saint Motel slated to perform. While WILD is perhaps our most known campus tradition, there have only been two in the past six semesters. Based on SPB Concerts Director Ruby Cover’s email, it seems like Fall WILD as we know it might be a thing of the past.

Sure, NAP is still a free concert with a (relatively) popular artist. But given capacity constraints, an unattractive time, and an off-campus venue, it doesn’t take a genius to realize this event will not feel the same as WILD. WILD’s beauty is that it is one of, if not the only, event that brings everyone together. So while NAP has the music, it will not have nearly the same effect on campus culture as WILD does. 

While the most visible, WILD hasn’t been the only campus tradition to be significantly curtailed or cut altogether since the COVID-19 pandemic. Residential college traditions such as Liggett-Koenig’s Knight Pass or Brookings Ball have disappeared. Combined with an underwhelming Midnight Breakfast and lackluster gameday culture, school spirit is lower than it used to be. 

However, by all accounts, campus was not always this inactive. This past May, as an editorial board, we recommended bringing back The Rat and creating a variety of other traditions to help fill this void. Also, WashU is not the only institution struggling to rebuild campus life; Stanford students, for example, have been publicly fighting to bring back old campus traditions.

In any case, campus is not as spirited as it once was. With Fall WILD gone and residential college spirit at an all-time low, what has to happen to restore campus spirit? In short, a collaboration between the administration and student organizations.

On one hand, the administration has been more than willing to let traditions fall by the wayside since the pandemic. Staging WILD costs money and reportedly poses significant liability to the University. So, what incentive does the administration have to ensure fall WILD occurs annually? No current undergraduate students know what campus was like prior to COVID. Nobody knows first hand what campus spirit is supposed to look like. There is no one to tell the administration “this is what it is supposed to be like.”  

This is not to say that SPB is enabling this process; no student group is looking to actively make the student experience worse. In fact, SPB has gone out of its way to be transparent about their efforts to work with the administration. Likewise, the University has put effort into some student programming, such as Dr. G’s Fun House. However, these less-advertised events that don’t cater to student desires will not be enough to compensate for the traditions lost to COVID. The University doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel; they just need to support what has worked for decades on end.

Likewise, students and clubs cannot sit idly by waiting for University institutions to restore what once was. There is a pernicious cycle where a lack of institutional support fuels student apathy, pushing past traditions further into the history books. This apathy can be combated by buying into the events and opportunities that already exist. For instance, despite a loss this week the women’s soccer team remains one of the best in the nation, yet attendance has been meager. As playoffs approach, students should show up and help foster a stronger gameday culture.

Similarly, students ought to apply pressure and simultaneously work with the University’s administration to prevent a wholesale loss of campus culture. For instance, taking SPB and Campus Life surveys, as monotonous as they may be, can help inform campus leaders’ spending habits and programing. Similarly, electing SU and College Council representatives who commit to restoring traditions and then attending the events they sponsor helps counteract apathetic attitudes. While alone they are not enough to bring back what COVID took away, these are steps in the right direction. 

Lastly, students should support ground-up initiatives that have the potential to be the next great tradition. Road Rally, the senior scavenger hunt, is a quintessential example of a fad that became a beloved campus tradition. Nobody knows whether someone will start a 24-hour running challenge, a nomadic party that moves across campus, or an Austrian-style ball that will become the next big thing. That is exactly why it is worth giving these outside-of-the-box ideas a shot. While not every option will catch on, there is no harm in supporting those who are actively looking to shape campus traditions.

Put simply, if we don’t bring traditions back now, we’re in danger of losing them indefinitely. The WashU “community” is only a community if there are events that bind us together to form a shared history. While COVID necessitated important safety measures that restricted campus activity, the lionshare of the pandemic is behind us. Now, it is time for a serious conversation about what we, as students, want campus traditions to look like and what steps need to be taken to get us back to what once was. 

Staff editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of our editorial board members. The editorial board operates independently of our newsroom and includes members of the junior and senior staff. 

Alice Gottesman, Senior Scene Editor 

Jared Adelman, Managing Multimedia Editor 

Amelia Raden, Junior Forum Editor 

Cathay Poulsen, Chief of Copy

Via Poolos, Editor-in-Chief 

Hussein Amuri, Managing Sports Editor 

Jasmine Stone, Senior Forum Editor 

Reilly Brady, Managing Forum Editor 

Sylvie Richards, Senior Forum Editor 

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