I enjoy traditions. They provide consistency and familiarity in otherwise ever-changing lives. I’m sure that the very first lovers to kiss on campus here at UVU, sparking the “True Wolverine” tradition, were two perfectly nice people. Unfortunately, sometimes traditions are upheld simply for the sake of tradition without giving much thought to what the tradition represents and why it is maintained.
At 11:30 on Wednesday night, I started the meandering walk across campus from the library to the courtyard. I watched from the sidelines as students arrived predominantly in chatty groups of threes and fours, not in couples as I had expected. It seemed that the majority of the Wolverines in search of initiation would be kissed by strangers. This was my first shock of the evening. Hundreds of students were gathering on a dimly lit fountain to lock lips with complete strangers in exchange for certificates. Of course, the courtyard held its fair share of couples, identifiable by their unabashed displays of affection; apparently the wait for midnight was too agonizing.
As the hour hastened toward 12 a.m., I entered the fray to try and pick up a few bits and pieces of conversation to get a feel for how my peers were feeling. What I heard between blasts of Katy Perry and Owl City was a nervous sort of buzz. It took me a solid five minutes of focus to hear coherent speech among the constant shrieks of laughter and giggling exclamations that echoed off of the surrounding buildings. What I could catch was embarrassing and immature. Rape jokes, discussions on pick-up methods, rejected advances, even “let’s find some blondies and suck face.” I physically cringed at the sight of a flush-faced freshman boy trying to entreat a girl surrounded by her glaring pack of friends. I wasn’t the only one who was clearly uncomfortable. Most of the participants huddled tight against their friends, arms folded, cell phones out, avoiding eye contact with anyone that may think them a potential partner.
At five minutes till midnight, the shadowy herd of teenagers became more frantic. UVU campus had transformed into a watering hole. Some students kept their heads lowered nervously into conversations, the more bold stalked the perimeter, scoping out prey or calling mates to them with sporadic dance moves.
As the clock struck—or in this case, the DJ announced—midnight, the single-use couples lined up along the fountain steps in a sort of reverse Cinderella story. I watched, alarmed, as the hundreds of men and women marched two-by-two onto a central step and in varying degrees of tastelessness kissed in front of a massive squealing audience. They united awkwardly and ironically over sappy love songs blended with pop and hip-hop. The highlights of the hundreds of kisses involved acrobatics, faux proposals, straddling, groping, fist-pumps, too many visible tongues and one girl even ripped the shirt off of her partner. Even the couples announced as “first timers” were going at each other with fearsome intensity, cheered on by the crowd. Call me old fashioned, but in theory, a kiss should be an intimate token of affection to be shared between two people who are fond of one another or at least familiar with one another. I’m not sure what I had expected of “True Wolverine” night, but it was not the raucous mass of adolescent voyeurism that spewed over the fountains.
I am concerned about what the “True Wolverine” rite is saying about our university. I wonder why this is the test that freshman have to pass to be included in our ranks. We allow open enrollment, we don’t discriminate by academic standing, but a student isn’t a “real” Wolverine until they slobber on a stranger in our courtyard. Every event we endorse speaks to the goals and standards of our school. I believe that “True Wolverine” night needs to be reevaluated as an appropriate tradition for a house of higher learning.
For now, I’ll happily remain an unofficial Wolverine.