Analysis: Homecoming not what it used to be

When I imagine homecoming, I picture parades, football games, bonfires, dances, laughter, fun and students’ apathetic faces.
Homecoming just doesn’t pack the punch anymore. The dazzling, splendorous celebrations of the 1950s and 1960s are all but gone, and students are lucky if they even realize it’s homecoming time. But it wasn’t always like this. At one time, the student body would unite together under a feel-good atmosphere for a week of fun and festivities.
Homecoming has been a part of University history for more than 80 years, with the purpose of gathering alumni together to raise support and enthusiasm for their old alma mater. It began when a man named Cyrus Kaufman rallied in 1914 to initiate a campus celebration similar to those in Eastern colleges. The ceremony, placed almost wholly in the hands of faculty members, turned out to be an utter flop with hardly any students attending. A whopping six people came to the homecoming dance.
The idea miserably died out but was reinstated in 1917, and this time, it was placed within the capable and imaginative hands of the student body. Under this new strategy, the annual celebration was filled with color and spectacle, exploding into the entourage of parades, music and banners that come to mind when we think of homecoming today. Past festivities included full-scale dramas for halftime, and Blackfoot Indian chiefs setting up teepees in front of the student union, beating an authentic Chippewa war drum while the Gophers rallied.
Although faculty members tried to curb Kaufman’s attempts to bring the homecoming celebration to Minnesota, they eventually found it to be a exhilarating and healthy atmosphere for the students. In 1953, University President J. L. Morrill stated, “Homecoming brings to the campus … a refreshing sense of tradition and continuity.”
However, this spirit did not stay with the University for long. In the wake of the Vietnam War and social revolution, the heart of homecoming was barely beating, while the festivities were canceled altogether. Although homecoming eventually made its way back into the University’s agenda, it has never bounced back to the enthusiasm of its younger years.
Today, there is an apparent and widespread apathy in the student body. One student thought that homecoming was already over with, while two more didn’t even know it existed at the University, thinking it was something that only high schools celebrated. While there is an obvious lack of advertisement and knowledge of homecoming around campus, the disinterest stems deeper yet.
One obvious reason for the diminished enthusiasm is the continuation of the social revolution that initially brought down involvement. Women’s lib has steered many students away from the pageantry and “sexism” of the royalty election. Academics are also becoming more difficult, resulting in less interest in extra-curricular activities and more focus on homework.
Another contribution to the deflating interest is the changing face of the student body. The University now houses students of all ages and social statuses. Many students have full-time jobs, while some are even married or have children. For them, going out to a football game or a pep rally just isn’t feasible.
Also, in today’s society, student support is generally lent to activities other than football. Instead, students are engaging in politics, preventing animal cruelty or stressing one’s ethnic, religious, gender or sexual identity. Homecoming co-chairman John Gustafson cited this issue after the re-instatement and subsequent apathy toward homecoming in 1970. “Today students have to have some kind of social relevance for doing things. Having a good time just isn’t enough.”
Many students agree. Rebecca Freeman, a junior at the University, explained, “Way too much emphasis is placed on football when people could be out doing more worthwhile things. It’s antiquated. I know that’s what tradition is about, but sometimes you have to move on.” She suggested that running a canned-food drive or speaking out against domestic abuse as more likely ways of nabbing students’ attention.
Despite all this, resurrecting school spirit, while difficult, is still possible. Although there are many students who still feel turned off by the idea of homecoming, Freeman concurred that “tradition can be important if it’s not perpetuating worthless activity.” This year, the homecoming committee will need to do more than put up a few banners and sing a few catchy fight songs to capture students’ enthusiasm. As society and interests change, so must tradition if it is to be kept alive.
Kelly Francis is a senior in English. She welcomes comments to [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]