By Kellie Cauley
Controversial? Yes. Misunderstood? Definitely. On its last leg? Let’s hope not.
We’ve all experienced the excitement and apprehension around one of Wesleyan’s defining traditions, but very few have been on the other side; the ones behind the drum and the voice by their side. I was able to interview a few women who, more than anyone, have had their lives changed by the LINKS experience. Though they are now in a position apart from the crowd, they all started out like the rest of us. I sat down with Autumn Encarnacion, Miriam Oakes, Tricia Velasco, and Francesca Landsman to ask about their own experiences with this Wesleyan tradition.
Do you remember interruption and what it was like to feel the energy of sisterhood dancing around you in the dining hall, before you even knew what sisterhood really was? Across the board, each woman interviewed felt a sense of confusion and intrigue, which we all share as first years; seeing sophomores march into the dining hall, faces blank, with those that have come before us cheering them on.
I asked Golden Hearts LINKS Council Head Autumn Encarnacion and fellow GH Miriam Oakes about their experience during the Golden Hearts’ LINKS weekend. A word that’s often thrown around when discussing this tradition is “hazing.” So, did either one feel hazed or under any pressure to participate? Encarnacion said, “Personally, I didn’t feel any pressure, more intrigue. I was excited because our class was going through this together. Hazing is demeaning… almost like victimizing. LINKS shouldn’t make anyone feel singled out.” Oakes agreed, “No, I wasn’t a ‘happy camper’; you can ask anyone there, I was a brat… [but] I knew there was a purpose to all of it.” How did the other classes feel about their weekend? Green Knight LINKS Council Head Tricia Velasco had nearly the same sentiments, “[The weekend] went well. I stayed because of curiosity. It never crossed my mind that this could be hazing.” Francesca Landsman, recently elected to the Pirates’ LINKS Council, never thought of her weekend as torturous, “I thought it was interesting; like nothing I ever experienced before, but in a good way.” Where is this fear of hazing coming from? Certainly not from the people who actually participate in LINKS. Search the term “hazing” on YouTube. You’ll find videos of beatings, dehumanizing tasks and near torture. Can that honestly be compared to an optional cheer session?
LINKS doesn’t end after your first year. Sophomores play a major role in the creation of the weekend and the events leading up to it. As Head, Encarnacion felt a sense of great responsibility. With generations of expectations upon her shoulders, Encarnacion’s goal for the Green Knights’ weekend was not to intimidate or frighten, it was to instill a respect for Wesleyan and its traditions while uniting the GK class. Encarnacion mentioned that the weekend wasn’t only for the GKs, “[The Golden Hearts] benefited even more. During that weekend our class became closer than we had ever been before.” Those Golden Hearts who participated in this weekend will remember the tension and the pressure surrounding our council, there were rumors LINKS would be gone forever. I asked Encarnacion if she felt any pressure from the administration for changes: “Of course.”
She wasn’t alone in receiving pushing from an outside source; Miriam and Tricia agreed that there was a non-student voice in their decisions, but neither was opposed to mild changes. Oakes said her council was willing to do whatever they needed to keep LINKS around. Velasco said she felt changes were necessary “to get back to the purpose of LINKS.” For these ladies, the experience and the mission of LINKS is more important than a few disgruntled voices calling for alterations.
I asked Encarnacion what role she thought administration should play in Wesleyan traditions. “Every club has a faculty adviser, why should this be any different?” Encarnacion also acknowledges her desire for administration’s role as a support system, not as another dissenting voice on Wesleyan traditions. Rather than condemning practices, why not take an empathetic role and allow students to make their own choices?
This year, the GKs were able to introduce a new class to sisterhood. Velasco’s goal, like many before her, was to get the Pirates to unite as a class and to understand sisterhood. As juniors, Encarnacion and Oakes’s role with LINKS was completely different. No longer behind the drum, Encarnacion took her place with her classmates holding the cheer books of her little sisters, acting like a “cushion” for what was going on around the first years. Oakes said she felt she took on a “cheerleader” and “supporting” role, and not for Pirates alone. Oakes expressed the importance of “maintaining respect for the GKs and cheering them on, too.” Everyone agreed this year’s weekend was a success, Pirates, whether garbed in red or not, can now appreciate what it is to be united to every woman who has stepped on Wesleyan’s campus.
One of the issues I find most disconcerting is that faculty have been speaking about their own issues with LINKS in class (before interruption), warning students of the “dangers” associated with this weekend. Most of these faculty members have never seen a LINKS event, so how can they name the dangers associated with learning a class cheer? It’s no secret the hand of administration has played a part in faculty prejudices and year to year changes. I tried to attain an administrative perspective because I wanted to include their voice in this piece, but Patty Gibbs, Vice President for Student Affairs, declined an interview, wanting no part in starting a discussion about what has undeniably caused a rift between students and administration. If we want to erase the stigma attached to LINKS, it only makes sense to verbalize the feelings towards it.
LINKS isn’t a malevolent thing. It’s not designed to make people feel as if they’re on the outside of some secret society. Miriam actually says it’s the opposite of all those things. “It’s about making freshmen frustrated with us [the sophomores] so that they have to rely on each other as a class and create a bond within themselves. [LINKS] doesn’t have to be the same every year, as long as it’s not gone forever.”
Three of my interviewees made the point to say that good things can come from the changes associated with LINKS, and I can’t help but agree. Post sororities, the first years of “Sophomore Week” saw freshmen hung to the walls by their hair and made to do tasks based on their weight. Changes have continued, catalyzed by the times and fears outside Wesleyan. From yelling “AIR RAID!” in the forties to hanging mascots in effigy during the fifties, what we experience now is no longer based in racial tension and cold-war apprehension. As Encarnacion said, how many successful transitions like this do we have as precedent in the real world?
I’ve met with many opinions saying LINKS is an incredibly exclusive event from a college that espouses unity in their brochures and first year seminars. The only thing I have to counter that with is the fact that I missed out on my LINKS weekend, because I went home with a friend after Spirit Feast. For me there was no 5 a.m. wake-up, badger dance, or Fun Day. But I have never been excluded from sisterhood events. Never.
Some people say sisterhood isn’t something they’re interested in and the fact that it goes on around them makes them feel excluded. I’ve been a member of WAVE and an orientation advisor, I know the pitches we use to sell this college to prospective students. Sisterhood is one of the main bullet points. It’s not something sprung on you the day you move in. In other words, you knew about sisterhood before you arrived, so why is it now someone else’s fault you feel excluded?
Among the interviewed, there was a consensus that Wesleyan without sisterhood would make it any other institution, just another place to get a degree and not a place hallowed by the its history. Encarnacion’s final thoughts seem the best to close the article: “To those who are anti-LINKS because they think it’s conformist, it’s not that. It’s a positive experience that brings unity and togetherness. Besides STUNT, besides seeing these old buildings everyday, what else reminds us of all the women who came before us and keeps the spirit of Wesleyan and its traditions alive?”
Maybe this piece is a little controversial for Wesleyan, right now. Maybe your opinions clash with my own. This is just my way of speaking to those who condemn something they know nothing about.
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Disclaimer: Although part of a serial news feature, A Stance on Tradition is an editorial and not to be considered fact.
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