4 College Culture: Ritual & Tradition In Campus Life

Aynur Sari, Jenna Bill, John Dorotik

When asked “What comes to mind when you think of traditions on campus”, you would likely receive a variety of responses. This largely depends on the University, as certain schools have distinguishing or long-lasting traditions. But it also depends on your role inside of the university, and how involved you are in the college culture. Getting involved can come in a multitude of ways, and tradition has a very broad definition depending on who you ask. Therefore, traditions and rituals in universities are so unique and special. They can take a thin institution and make it a thick one. A thick institution is described as one that leaves a mark on you, one that becomes part of a person’s identity and it is not used instrumentally to get a degree or earn a salary. The main characteristics of a thick institution are a physical location, shared tasks, collective rituals, stories/storytelling, idiosyncratic culture (unique), and moral ecology (better version of oneself through participation)


Fans in Hec Ed at a UW men’s basketball game | Photo Credit: Jenna Bill CC BY-NC-ND

This image was taken in Hec Edmundson Pavilion at a UW men’s college basketball game, and it can illustrate the characteristics of thick institutions, showing a physical place and collective rituals of watching the game amongst fellow UW students, alumni, community members and fans.


There’s a quote from this article that can help to understand the topic of college culture:

‘Going to college—even if you are not far from home—is a cultural experience. It comes with its own language and customs, some of which can be confusing or confounding at first. Just like traveling to a foreign country, it is best if you prepare by learning what words mean and what you are expected to say and do in certain situations.’ -Baldwin


Most students grasp the college culture eventually. However, each student has their own journey with a different timetable. Some students find it so easy while others find it painful. If you move into a foreign country, you will go through similar phases. College culture sounds like what are the commonalities we all do as a college student, but we should not minimize that. We should really see it as another culture such that Chinese culture or Russian culture. After spending some time with people in this culture we start having another perspective, such that you evolve with the ritual of this college community. After that, we can now appreciate our college culture and home culture.


One thing that stood out in the interviews was that everyone has a different meaning of what the role of sport is to them. Not everyone has the same experiences, but they can still all have a sense of having these rituals and traditions in campus life. For many, this may come through athletic events where people are united to cheer on the school, while others may not participate. Others may participate in traditions like the pillars here at UW. Part of what makes college traditions special is that not everyone has to fall under this category.  So, while in one interview we heard about how sports are important in this aspect, this does not mean it was the same for the other interviews, everyone has unique experiences that defines their idea of traditions and rituals in the college culture.


There are way too many traditions that happen on college campuses worldwide to list right now, which can go to show how important they are to students. In one of our interviews with a student named Devereaux, we asked what the first thing they thought of when asked about rituals at UW, their response was “The first thing that comes to mind is more sports related”. However, not everyone has to participate in this specific way in order to contribute to the college culture. These rituals and traditions can be found in the place of sports, through players, students, alumni, and fans. But, they can also come in a variety of other ways, without being sports related. Rituals in college can even highlight the main points of a thick institution, which are a physical location, collective rituals, and origin stories. Thinking of sports in the university specifically, they have the power to bring people together to meet in a physical location, participate in a ritual like throwing your ‘Dubs up’ at a UW game, or to share stories that are passed down from generation to generation about pregame tailgating, rivalry games, or anything that contributes to the game-day hype! All these things that are a result of sports can separate a thick institution to a thin one.


Baldwin, A. (2020, March 27). 1.3 college culture and expectations – college success. OpenStax. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/1-3-college-culture-and-expectations

Brooks, D. (2017, April 18). How to Leave a Mark on People. The New York Times. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/opinion/how-to-leave-a-mark-on-people.html




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Stories From The Place of Sports in The University, 2022 Edition Copyright © 2022 by Students in The Place of Sports In The University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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