Tear Night 2015
By Camille Hunt and Marshall Woodward “Tear Night” marks the end of sorority and fraternity recruitment each year. For each Greek organization, the night brings formal rush week to close, bonds new members into a pledge class, and brings closer each chapter as a whole. For each man and woman involved, Tear Night serves as a gateway to greener grass on the other side of a tumultuous semester-long rush process. To be blunt: Tear Night makes for a very fun Saturday night.
Traditionally, members of fraternities and sororities convene early in the night before migrating to Windfall Hill. There they join in on what, admittedly, can become a rowdy campus-wide celebration. This year, a joint decision by the Washington and Lee administration, Panhellenic Council, and the Interfraternity Council moved Tear Night on campus. Thus, the age-old battle of security versus tradition ensued.
When the decision was first announced, students received little to no explanation of the reasoning behind the change. Some were left under the impression that it was an effort to increase Greek inclusivity; some assumed it to be a risk-management move by the school. The half-hearted announcement that bordered on rumor of a new Tear Night “plan” left many students wondering whether the event would be hosted by the administration or by the Red Square fraternities. And furthermore - why is the administration even getting involved in what, all hype aside, is really just another college party night?
As it turns out, the initial fuel for the Tear Night change came from the national headquarters of W&L’s sorority chapters. Tear Night scrutiny began long before 2015; headquarters of one of W&L’s six sororities had already banned its members from partaking in festivities before any discussion of reform was initiated. The concern of Panhellenic nationals, it seems, was with the liability risks of sorority members consuming alcohol at what could be perceived as a sorority funded party. The presidents of W&L’s sororities met to discuss the current and potential threats posed by Panhellenic nationals and how to avoid punishment warranted by Tear Night. What developed from this conversation was the plan for this year’s Tear Night, carefully constructed to safeguard Greek organizations against liability, its main defense being the use of a third party alcohol vendor. The Red Square party became a big event, but was meant at its core to serve as a replacement for the fraternity and sorority pre-games.
The remodeling of Tear Night came from a good place and may very well have assuaged pressure from nationals, but some students this year felt a lack of what Tear Night stands for in the first place: the unification of a new generation of W&L Greek members. Students saw this both on a figurative and literal level. Many complained that students seemed spread out, despite a central location. One sophomore sorority member commented, “Tear night was so spread out that it made it seem even more dangerous,” while a freshman sorority member noted, “the change in location did not stop people from going to Windfall Hill, and it caused people to be separated from their friends.” On the same note, one sophomore sorority member said, “People still went to the parties out on Windfall Hill but some people stayed at Red Square, so it was the most divided Tear Night yet.”
At the core of the problem, lay the absence of the brother and sister bonding that Tear Night serves to foster. A sophomore sorority member summed up the most widely expressed student concern, saying, “I really missed being able to have individual sorority and fraternity pre-games because [Tear Night] is the first night the new freshmen can all be together with the actives,” noting that this year’s changes made Tear Night “seem less about being with your pledge class.”
Confusion over whether attendance at Red Square was mandatory for the entire night, part of the night, or completely optional left students feeling stuck in an awkward overlap of the academic and social scenes. The presence of the administration at the party may have overstepped boundaries; one senior fraternity member commented, “It felt like high school again with parents watching over us and making us uncomfortable,” while another junior fraternity member said that “the way it was handled by the school was invasive.” If this new Tear Night plan can better establish its purpose and system, it could work in the future. The student body might have better accepted it this year had it been made clear that, fundamentally, the Red Square party was to serve as an alternative to individual pre-games, a safety precaution against punishment from sorority national headquarters.