By Dana Amihere
LINKS, in one form or another, has been a tradition at Wesleyan as long as anyone can remember. But where exactly did it come from and, why has it persisted through the years? The Willet Library student newspaper archives reveal a chronological history of LINKS through the eyes and ears of Wesleyannes past.
1910s and 1920s
According to the first printed edition of the Wesleyan student newspaper, The Watchtower, LINKS began in 1915. Then known as Sophomore Week, this tradition was still relatively new. Despite only six years in existence at the time of this first publication in 1923, the necessity of its continuation is already being examined: “Is it distinctly necessary to the welfare of the sophomore class? It has been reported that the second sophomore class who participated declared that their only reason was that they ‘just had to get it back on somebody.’”
By 1925, the so-called Sophomore Court awoke first year students in the middle of the night, and led them to the auditorium. Here, they were forced to perform tasks before an audience consisting of faculty members and upperclassmen. The Court dictated how the first years were to be judged and sentenced for their wrongdoings to the sophomore class: “The curtain rose upon the [Court and they] led the victims before the court and due punishment was given according to the seriousness of the offense. Fat girls were made to roll upon the floor…while the thin ones were served bread to fatten them. Three of the boldest offenders were hung by their hair to the wall…”
The first mention of RAT comes in 1934. The name RAT is derived from the sophomores’ accusations of the first years, offenses they committed as “rats”. Under a different name, the traditions involved seem a bit more benign. The first years were still brought before an audience of faculty and upperclassmen. However, the Court was more merciful and less humiliating in the tasks they assigned. They included performing the Charleston dance with no music and a fan dance with palmetto fronds.
In 1937, Rat Day replaces the previously week-long event. Each sophomore became a “lady for a day”, with a first year to serve as her personal servant for the day. A treasure hunt for hair pins strewn across the golf course proved to be even more difficult in bare feet. Finding one’s shoes proved to be equally as difficult because the sophomores mixed them up into a pile while the first years were searching for proverbial needles in a haystack. The day culminated in a dinner shared by the freshmen and sophomores to celebrate the newest Wesleyannes’ induction into sisterhood.
Through the 1940s, Rat Day remains in place. Although slight variances take hold the basic format is the same. However, it was reported in 1940 that the sophomore class was “campused”, or restricted to campus grounds, for “‘playing’ over in the Freshmen Dormitory in defiance of the longest taboos on any form of Freshmen ratting.” It is unclear exactly what is meant by “ratting”, but it can be inferred that this included anything comparable to the overt hazing of Sophomore Court 1925. Administration duly punished the sophomores for breaking the rules against ratting. Although their specific offenses are not discussed, their punishment and woeful remorse is: “The price of 50 new toothbrushes that had to be replaced did cut into the Sophomore budget…[after a work detail of scrubbing floors] a major portion of the class were just a wee bit sorry.”
By 1945, the sophomores were back to raiding the first year dorms: “The sophomore class, clad in black, candles and drums in hand, marched through Main and Georgia dormitories singing ‘we are the sophomores after the freshman rats’ to the tune of the Funeral march. They were greeted with wild shrieks as they entered the abode of each of the ‘rats’.”
The first years dressed in costumes as directed by the sophomores, everything from wearing one’s skirt upside down to adorning one’s face with dots of purple lipstick and knuckles with nail polish. “For once rats were to be dressed as such, wearing a toga of white towels, towels wrapped around their legs, a bandanna around their legs, a bandanna around their heads with pigtails for ears sticking out the top, calamine lotion on their faces, and whiskers painted on…On the back of the toga ‘Rat’ was to be written in buttons. They wore tails of braided scarves…”
The first years kept the tradition of serving their upper class sisters alive by carrying their books and those of their sisters in pillowcases for the day. “In the afternoon rats served as unpaid and unskilled labor in the sophomore dormitory.”
Comical requests of the first years by the sophomores also remained. The yelling of “flat rat” (also called being “caught in a trap”) by any sophomore brought any first year rat to lie flat on the ground wherever they were standing. “Cheesing it”, which meant dumping all the books out of their pillowcases, and “scurrying”, or running across campus on all fours, was also demanded of rats by their sophomore sisters. “Again in [Sophomore Court] freshmen were expected to behave like rats, and those expected to behave like rats, and those who displeased the mighty sophomores were sent to the Rat Trap, where they performed such feats as crawling blindfolded over macaroni, kissing a pan of flour, and others.”
Additionally, eating became an especially precarious task for rats when having to apologize to the river for the water she drank or to the cow for the milk she drank, sip by sip. “Who would have ever thought of carrying a toothbrush and toothpaste on a string so that there could always be a shine on her China Choppers, except a Rat (and with the sophomore’s suggestion)?”
By 1950, traditions remain the same but with more sinister overtones. Rat Day of 1950, as reported in the weekly edition of The Watchtower, has the first mention of nooses as a part of the event. “Out of the night that covered October 4, black as the pit from head to toe, crept the Tri-K sophomores, screaming with the beat of the tom-tom that pounded out the doom of 134 helpless rats. Up the court and around the fountain, twice, thrice, in a long eerie line, they made their way cloaked in somber black and twirling small, white ropes, tied in a noose…These rats who, such a short time before were normal people, regained the sanctity of their dorm [after the sophomores left the fountain and returned to their dorms] with the knowledge that dawn must find them decked in red as ‘Rat Knights’, loyal to the Tri-K Order.” Oct 6, 1950
The succeeding years brought more menacing signs and symbols to RAT. “Goaded by the slash of whips and threatening nooses, the frosh were marched to the dim, candle-lighted gym where they took their places to answer the roll…”
By 1951, the event had also been extended to two full days. By 1956, the event was extended to an entire Rat Week. By 1957, the 1940s moratorium on “ratting” had been lifted, or the definition of it has changed from denoting hazing rituals to sisterhood. The Town and Country (the campus newspaper was re-named in 1956) reports, “The Green Knights are beginning to realize that ratting not only draws the freshmen together…but the sophomores also…”
During RAT 1957, the noose and effigy play a central role, as a dummy fashioned from a white sheet hangs from a noose as the symbol of RAT Week. Similarly, the sophomores carried torches and nooses as they processed around the fountain in what was known as the Grand Black March.
According to The Times and Challenge (the campus newspaper was re-named again), Rat Week 1960 created the “usual controversial comments among the student body, faculty and administration”. As a result, RAT was again shortened to “reduce the “amount of time taken away from academic work”. First year students in support of RAT wondered, “Will we get our chance?” The rationale behind the tradition was questioned and possibly threatened.
RATS first became a voluntary event in 1980 with the Green Knights and their Golden Heart ratters. Prior to this date, first year students were required to participate in the events. Increasingly skeptical attitudes towards the worth of RAT prompted the first years and sophomores whom wanted to sustain the tradition to take action. “Throughout RAT, the student body realized that there was controversy concerning the worth of initiation on the Wesleyan campus. After discussions with the upperclassmen concerning their feelings toward RAT, the majority of the Freshman class had no reservations about participating in an event which inspired so much of a feeling towards sisterhood among the Wesleyannes as a whole. All the upperclassmen were concerned for the class’s welfare throughout RAT. Many Green Knights realized that this not only brought their own class together but also brought their own class together but also brought them closer to the Juniors (their Big Sisters), and the Sophomores (their ratters), and the Seniors (their secret pals).” A first year who wanted to keep the tradition alive drafted a petition to then college president, Fred Hicks; ninety-six of her classmates signed it, arguing that initiation through RAT served a purpose.
Over the years, the use of nooses and other symbols of violence seem to dissipate, as they are no longer mentioned. However, traditions we recognize today as part of LINKS begin to emerge. The Big Sister/Little Sister pep rally was interrupted by the sophomores with the sound of the drum. However, rather than besieging the pep rally as is now their traditional “raid”, the first year students’ dorm was trashed by upperclassmen. “The halls had been rolled with toilet tissue and the door handles and toilet seats had been smeared with Vaseline.”
The early 1990s brought many changes to RAT, in name and tone. The Rat Court was changed to the Spirit Court, and the Death March became the Life March in 1990.
In 1991, the long-standing tradition of the Krystal pep rally was no more (it is unclear as to how long this pep rally had been a tradition as it is only mentioned in print in 1991). As a part of RATs passed, Wesleyannes packed the Vineville Krystal’s (now closed), stood on the tables, and cheered for one another. The students had always received prior permission from the manager. However, an anonymous caller reported the traditional cheering as a disturbance, and the police and fire chief arrived on the scene. Nothing happened that day, but the fire chief returned the following week to the restaurant and set the maximum capacity for the building at ninety-nine occupants.
In 1992, RAT was officially changed to Rites and Traditions. Additionally, references could no longer be made to rats, ratters, or “lowlies”. Additionally, RAT was handled with kid-gloves in lieu of several severe incidents of hazing at several Georgia colleges and universities (including the University of Georgia), as well as the hazing-related death of a student in Missouri which received national coverage. RAT 1993 marked the first time that first years were informed of all RAT events beforehand so that students “do not feel pressured [to participate] or get caught unawares” (previously, the tradition itself and the specific events it entailed had been kept a secret from first year students until it was over). Upperclassmen were upset by the low attendance of RAT and incoming first year students who did participate were disappointed in their experience. Several first years (by 1993, the Tri-K class had been renamed the Pirates) lamented that they wanted the sophomores to “be mean to them”.
However, the Pirate sophomores of 1994 came together to revise the RAT tradition. The Pioneer reports that, “[The sophomore RAT Court] worked around Christmas to plan activities. Shortly before [the actual RAT event] ideas were presented to the entire sophomore class.” According to the Pirate class president, “The prevailing theme of [our] RAT was to welcome the PKs [first years] into the sisterhood of the class system at Wesleyan, which was evident in the new traditions of the games, scavenger hunt, and lip sync as opposed to the…scare tactics of years past, The themes of respect and loyalty were not abandoned [as in years past], but elements of acceptance and friendship were added… This was the first time all of us have come together to work as one.”
For current Wesleyan students, RAT is a thing of the past. Known today as LINKS (the origin of which is never referenced in the newspaper archives), traditional activities from RAT do continue to persist. To read about how, LINKS has evolved in recent years, see A Stance on Tradition.