By RACHEL COOPER
Last year I left homecoming frustrated and confused. It was my freshman year, and I had some expectations for what my first college homecoming would be like. But in reality, I ended up having no idea what events I was allowed to attend and where I would be welcomed at my first homecoming. I expected social events, costume contests, a fun tailgate to enjoy while watching the soccer game, and campus-wide spirit. Instead, I experienced a couple of over-hyped evening events during the week and an overwhelming tailgate where I felt out of place because I was not drinking.
Because of my first-year experience, I didn’t participate in many of last week’s events or attend the tailgate, but I don’t want that to be everyone’s experience. The University of Mary Washington should create more events during homecoming week to encourage underclassmen, freshmen specifically, to be involved in homecoming and express their school spirit.
Initially, I was shocked that there were so few advertisements in general for homecoming my freshman year. Homecoming seemed like it was a big enough deal that I expected gray and navy banners and streamers, large “Welcome Home Alumni” and “Beat CNU” signs, but instead I only received a few emails telling me what what to expect.
The first night of homecoming week last year was on a Wednesday, when UMW hosted its annual Big Ash Bonfire on Jefferson Square. It was nice, but really it was just a lot of people standing around a big bonfire with some funnel cakes and fried oreos and music. I wish there had been some kind of interactive games or costume contests to encourage students to get to know one another.
I went to Class Council’s Lip-Sync on Thursday last year. Lip-Sync is arguably the most popular event during homecoming week. It was fun and very entertaining, but it just felt like a show, not part of homecoming. And since it was just a show I didn’t really get to talk to other students who were there.
This year UMW hosted its first “Mary Rock” on Ball Circle with a live band playing on Friday night. Apparently there was food and a beer garden along with the music which is definitely a step in the right direction for homecoming events. I would have enjoyed it very much, but it was poorly advertised so I didn’t know it was happening.
Other students also had issues with event awareness. “They had an email explaining events but I can’t remember seeing anything in person to be honest. I just went to the soccer game with a group of people,” said freshman Kate Gilmore.
I either wasn’t aware of the events during the week, or they didn’t appeal to me. After speaking with sophomores who attended last year, I wanted to find ways that everyone could feel included in the homecoming spirit. One way could simply be having a blue and gray day. While we have homecoming shirts, it would’ve been cool to have a day designated that faculty and students could wear blue and gray clothing, or even facepaint, to get into the spirit.
The campus-wide spirit day could be hosted by clubs and teams on Ball Circle, and feature food, prizes and coupons. The event would be a great opportunity for clubs to spread awareness, while additionally promoting inclusiveness amongst students of all interests and backgrounds.
All of the events at UMW lead up to the infamous tailgate on Saturday. My freshman year, I expected hotdogs and hamburgers, cornhole games, and lots of cheering and screaming for UMW teams. However, I was disappointed to find that was not the case. The tailgate at UMW was not about watching the soccer game. The tailgate was a drunken mess. I felt judged and excluded from the crowds for not drinking, and I wasn’t alone.
One student said that because of her freshman experience last year, she did not want to attend this year. “I went to homecoming last year and didn’t have fun because there’s really nothing to do unless you’re drinking and so I made other plans this year and didn’t go to homecoming,” said sophomore and math major Emily Howard.
It’s what happens during the tailgate, the games and lively competition, that the majority of the students I spoke to seem to enjoy the most. “Going to all of the games is more appealing to me,” said junior and biology major Rachel Summers. “I don’t think the tailgate is what homecoming should be all about. If I can see all my friends and alumni by not having to go into a crowd of sweaty, drunk people surrounded by the smell of alcohol, I’d rather not attend.”
Personally, watching the sports games was my favorite part of homecoming last year, and the only events I attended this year. It was exciting to sit in the stands with my friends and cheer on soccer, rugby and field hockey without the pressure of the tailgate atmosphere.
Expanding the tailgate to include an environment for underage students decreases the separation between freshmen and the upperclassmen/alum. The tailgate could feature a variety of food trucks, and more non-alcoholic drink options. Small inclusions like face-painting or cornhole games may seem silly, but can be really fun, too.
Live music from a local band would have added to the mood, and students who came in small groups or pairs could join the crowd of music-listeners instead of the drinking tailgaters. For students who want to continue the festivities after homecoming, but avoid the pressure of drinking and partying, a homecoming dance could be offered in Chandler Ballroom or the Anderson Center.
Providing more options for students who aren’t into the partying scene would encourage more students at UMW to get involved in homecoming, while also helping them feel included and accepted.