Initiating new freshmen changes with the decades

When Joe Provence first stepped onto the campus of Wayland Baptist University in 1957, the freshman from Arlington knew being a new student would not be totally painless.

"Freshmen then were called slime, and we had about two weeks of initiation," recalled Provence, now the Director of Alumni Services at Wayland. "We had blue and yellow beanies we had to wear with the bill turned up and 'Slime Joe' on it so everyone knew my name. They gave you a list of folks to get signatures from, like the President, the Dean of Students and so on."

Just like the campus, faculty, and administrators have changed over the years, so have the freshman initiation rituals that former students like Provence remember fondly.

These days, orientating new students to college life is part of a four-day long event called Koinonia, the Greek word for fellowship. Freshmen and transfer students who sign up for the orientation arrive on campus early, move in and begin with various games. From that point on, the students are exposed to a plethora of information, from the area churches available to attend to university traditions.

"Koinonia is designed to help incoming freshmen make that transition from high school and life at home to being independent," explained Leslie Boyd, coordinator of student activities. "It introduces them to upperclassmen and also to the campus before the first day of class."

A committee of upperclassmen and the student activities office coordinate the long weekend of activities. Other returning students - called K Leaders - help lead groups during game times and other events. Students are divided into "families" of 15-20 students and meet several times as a group.

"That's an opportunity to get close to their group and do orientation activities," Boyd said. "Then they get together and just have fun and work together."

Activities like a scavenger hunt around Plainview based on the painted cows, cookouts, movies in the dorm lobbies, karaoke and an organizational expo are all designed to help students get acquainted with each other as well as the opportunities of college life and their community.

During part of Koinonia, students load a bus for a short retreat to Plains Baptist Assembly in Floydada. There, they participate in a campfire and the initial installment of Torch and Mantle, a symbolic ceremony in which upperclassmen "charge" the students to take up the torch of learning and leadership. Boyd said this time of testimony proves beneficial to the new students as they hear current students speak of responsibility, loyalty and involvement in campus life.

Instead of serving upperclassmen or being made to wear funny clothes, this year's freshmen play relay races where they are smeared with shaving cream, doused with water or digging through kiddie pools filled with such tasty mixtures as dog food and mustard, grape jelly and baked beans, and mayonnaise and wet dog food.

"A lot of this is a 'humbling' experience. The K-Leaders are part of it too. It's one of those things they had to do as freshmen so the new students have to do it too," Boyd said.

While the students are playing games and getting acquainted, activities are designed for parents to do the same. A "parents' rest station," mixer and orientation session are planned to ease parent's natural apprehension about leaving their student for college.

"Our goal is to let students and parents know that Wayland really is a family. We're glad they chose us and we're going to do everything we can to make the transition as easy as possible," Boyd said.

Koinonia in its present format has been occurring at Wayland only since the early 1990s. The name was added in 1997 and though some activities change each year, the basic premise remains the same.

But initiating freshmen at Wayland has been nearly a constant, much like any other university. The days of slime beanies and endless rules ended in about the 1970s, Provence said. From then, initiation-type activities were kept to a minimum while the nation dealt with hazing incidents across the country and legislation began to crack down on what schools could and could not do.

But in the 1950s and 60s, freshmen were slime who could only hope that their big brother or sister (an upperclassmen assigned to them) was merciful. Rules of the day included not brushing or combing hair, wearing different shoes on each foot, carrying books in a suitcase, being prepared to sing all verses of the alma mater on command, standing when upperclassmen entered the room, not dating without written permission of 20 upperclassmen, carrying lunch trays for upperclassmen and not preceding an upperclassmen in the dining hall line.

Today, those "rules" might seem harsh and cruel, but Provence said it was all part of the game and was all done in good fun. Even "air raids," which now would seem to fall under harassment, were normal.

"If an upperclassman saw a freshman across campus, they'd call out 'air raid' and the freshman would have to fall prostrate on the ground," he recalled. "Freshmen would also gather at supper and sing the alma mater and the fight song."

On the final day of Slime initiation, Provence said, the big brothers and sisters would dress their slime and then upperclassmen and freshmen would have one final tug-of-war across the watering ditches outside Gates Hall. Though the freshmen ended up soaked and muddy, Provence said those memories are still precious to those who endured the two weeks.

"It was really geared as a learning thing and an indoctrination program to the traditions of the school," he said. "That was one of the things that kept us a family. It made the freshmen feel like more of the family since they knew lots of people and could call them by name."