FEATURE — Summer 2003
   

  Washington University Students: Active, Energetic, and Involved

To supplement their classroom experiences, Washington University students have always been involved with co-curricular activities. Take a glimpse at how these activities have changed, or stayed the same, over the years.

by Suzelle Tempero

As Washington University has developed over the past 150 years from a streetcar college into an international university, one thing has remained constant in this process of growth and change: the involvement of students in activities outside of the classroom. Up until the 1940s, students primarily focused on literary, dramatic, and athletic activities. Now they are also involved in community service, cultural groups, and special interest groups.
1907 The Hatchet, the student yearbook, began publishing in 1902; above is the 1907 staff.
2003 Football is one of 18 men's and women's varsity sports available at Washington University; intramural sports are popular, too.

A flowering of student activities accompanied the move of Washington University from its original location in downtown St. Louis to the Hilltop Campus in 1905. Before the move, not many groups were active, though the Irving Union, a debate club and literary group that published the forerunner to Student Life, and the Ugly Club, an early men's social group, left their mark on student involvement. The football team, called the Purities for their straight-laced academic code, played a one-game schedule from 1890 to 1905.
2002 Thurtene has evolved from an esoteric society of which virtually nothing was known early in the 20th century to a highly visible coed campus organization. Each spring, the honorary sponsors Thurtene Carnival, and proceeds go to an area charity.

On the new campus, the student community realized a sharp increase in literary, dramatic, and athletic opportunities. Thyrsus, a student-coordinated theatrical troupe, regularly performed classics of Western literature. Famous alumni of the group include the late Fannie Hurst, A.B. '09, writer; the late Mary Wickes, A.B. '30, actress; and A.E. Hotchner, A.B. '40, J.D. '40, playwright. Students established the Eliot Review, a publication of students' writings, and the Hatchet, the school yearbook. Honoraries such as Obelisk, Lock & Chain, Thurtene, and Pralma were formed. Greek life began to flourish as students founded new fraternities and sororities during this period, which include the still active Pi Beta Phi, Beta Theta Pi, Kappa Sigma, Sigma Nu, and Sigma Chi. Athletics focused on men's football (now called the Pikers and the first squad to play at Francis Field), basketball, track, and baseball. Women's club sports began later around 1909.
1948 Students ride a "Beat 'Em, Bust 'Em Bears" float during the football Homecoming parade.

One of the golden periods of sports occurred in the 1920s and 1930s prior to World War II. The Washington University Bears' swim team achieved greatness along with the men's tennis and basketball teams. The varsity tennis team won the 1930 Missouri Valley Championship but was defeated at the National Intercollegiate Tennis Meet. In 1934, men's basketball won 10 of its 18 games and defended the city championship title. Starting in 1907 and continuing for nearly four decades, the men's football team played in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) against schools such as Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.
1998 Students enjoy dancing at the Association of Black Students semiformal dance.

When many students left to serve their government as soldiers and nurses during World War II, many activities were curtailed, particularly student participation in Greek life and athletics. Some activities were canceled for the duration of the war. In 1943, Eliot Review discontinued publication; Thurtene Carnival and Spring Formals were not held; and Student Senate was disbanded. After the war, Chancellor Arthur Holly Compton made the decision that academics were the primary focus of the growing University. Athletics withdrew from the MVC, and the University adopted a new athletic policy that prohibited the awarding of scholarships on the basis of athletic ability alone.
1999 One element of the week-long celebration of the Chinese New Year is the variety show

Activities returned in full force in the 1950s, giving new energy to preprofessional organizations, Greek life, and athletics. The Bearskin Follies, which began during this period, were campus dramatic favorites. Sororities and fraternities performed original skits in a musical revue that drew crowds each spring.

The changing social ideologies and civil rights movements of the 1960s ended many traditional activities on campus and simultaneously founded new ones. The 1969 Hatchet was published as a "Book in a Bag," consisting of the usual collection of student portraits, as well as a Washington University-specific Time magazine and posters meant to provoke thought. Both Greek life and the campus literary publications suffered from lack of student involvement, while environmental action, political, and special interest groups began to draw attention, such as Cosmopolitan International, which worked toward creating understanding between people of diverse countries.

1905 The baseball team first trained in its new, splendidly equipped gymnasium and on its new athletic field.

During the early '70s, Washington University struggled to overcome the effects of accumulated debt, decreased federal funding, and a lessened endowment. Due to the budget problems, basketball was canceled for a period and other activities became dormant. Activism was still important to students, highlighted by Vietnam War protests and active dialogue regarding the military presence on campus in the form of the ROTC. Student Council became Student Union, a significant name change that reflected the increased diversity of interests and ethnicities of the University student body.
2000 Washington University students originated the St. Louis Area Dance Marathon to raise funds for the Children's Miracle Network. In 2002, Dance Marathon raised nearly $60,000 for the charity.

Student activities revived in the 1980s. A cappella groups such as the all-male Pikers and all-female Greenleafs began performing, and the co-ed Mosaic Whispers and Amateurs soon followed. Men's basketball was brought back in 1981; an extensive modernization and renovation of the Athletic Complex was completed in 1985; and Washington University helped found the University Athletic Association (UAA) in 1986, increasing the participation in student athletics enormously.
1908 Fannie Hurst (left), Class of 1909, performed in many Thyrsus productions while a student.

Throughout the 1990s, new student groups were added to the activity list, many focusing on special interests and activism such as the Emergency Service Team, a student-run medical response team; WashIapac, a pro-Israel group; and Alternative Spring Break, which coordinates service opportunities during break. Chimes and Thurtene, the junior honoraries, became coed in 1991, reflecting the changing opinions of the student body and administration regarding social justice policies.
2002 Greek games are always a campus favorite.

Today, Washington University students can choose from approximately 200 student organizations, including sororities and fraternities, preprofessional organizations, sports clubs, programming boards, special interest groups, varsity athletics, and student governments. Service to the surrounding St. Louis community has gained importance with programs such as Service First, which introduces freshmen to community outreach possibilities; Each One, Teach One, a volunteer tutoring program in the St. Louis school district; Into the Streets, a national program with volunteers helping organizations that focus on AIDS, children, hunger, the environment, and other issues; and Dance Marathon, an annual event of 12 hours of nonstop dancing, with proceeds benefiting the Children's Miracle Network. One of the University's biggest events, Thurtene Carnival—the nation's oldest student-sponsored fair—each April attracts thousands from the St. Louis community, and all proceeds go to a specified charity.
2001 In March 2001, the women's basketball team became the first women's team in NCAA Division III history to win four consecutive national championships; the Bears also hold the longest winning streak of any female team in all divisions, with 81 straight victories.

The University's athletic teams are on fire and the focus of the student spirit organization, Red Alert, which promotes student attendance at sporting events. Since 1989, the women's volleyball team has triumphed many times, winning seven national championship titles. In the 2002 season, the Lady Bears lost in the finals of the NCAA Division III, but had a stellar 41-2 record. The Bears football team won the UAA championship in 1999, 2000, and 2002, which marked its 10th-consecutive winning season. As NCAA Division III champions in 2001, women's basketball became the second team in tournament history to win four consecutive national championships. They also had a record-setting 81-game winning streak stretching from February 1998 until January 2001. Throughout the 2001-2002 season, men's basketball was ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division III standings. The team won the UAA title for the 6th time and advanced to the NCAA Championships. In 2003, both basketball teams continued their athletic dominance into the NCAA Division III tournaments, where women lost in the sectional championship and the men faced defeat in the second round.

A diverse student body reflects itself in the groups active on campus. Many cultural groups exist, providing both a social resource for their members and an educational function for all students. Among those are Black Anthology, a student-run production that celebrates African-American history and culture; the Chinese Student Association, which marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year Festival with a widely attended festival; and ASHOKA, an Indian student group that celebrates Diwali, India's Festival of Lights, each year with a giant cultural showcase.

Each group represents an important segment of the student population that helps to give Washington University its distinctive student atmosphere. And, perhaps, one only has to look at Activities Fair, where hundreds of students gather each fall and spring to learn of the ever-growing opportunities for involvement, to know the great level of student participation on campus and beyond.

Suzelle Tempero, A.B. '03, was a writing intern during the spring 2003 semester in the Washington University Publications Office.