By Natalie Kouba
As a beloved all-day celebration at the College and representation of school spirit, Homecoming has served to bring together students, alumni, faculty, staff and family with an institutional pride that is rooted deep.
“Homecoming is an opportunity for our campus community to come together, to grow, to learn about history and traditions and to develop the spirit of the institution,” said John Castaldo, executive director of Alumni Affairs.
Each year, Homecoming attracts people to the field and the parking lots for one of two activities — the football game or the tailgate. This year, the Homecoming Steering Committee has other activities in the works to prove that Homecoming is more than the tailgate, including a Rathskeller Beer Garden, Homecoming Festival and pancake breakfast, according to the Homecoming website. These added events are meant to provide more options for entertainment, as well as make Homecoming truly an all-day affair.
This year, Homecoming will begin earlier than usual with a breakfast in the Brower Student Center at 9 a.m. The morning meal will feature 1,000 free pancakes along with omelets, breakfast meats, juices and coffee for sale, as well. This leads into the tailgate’s inception at 10 a.m., which will run all day before concluding at the start of the fourth quarter of the game. The festival featuring a Cappella groups, dance performances, dollar hot-dogs, a rock-climbing wall and inflatables — is modeled after the popular spring event “Funival,” according to Amy Hecht, vice president for Student Affairs.
“It will be a nice alternative if you don’t want to go to tailgating, or if you just want to bounce back and forth,” Student Government Student Trustee Ryan Boyne said. “It will give people a nice little option to have.”
The Beer Garden will be open from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and is structured to provide an environment for those who wish to continue hanging out or drinking. Although it is a 21-and-over only event, each person will be limited to three drinks for the price of $15.
Homecoming is traditionally funded by the Office of Alumni Affairs and the College Alumni Association, which will contribute about $40,000 and $10,000, respectively. The cost of two of the newest events — the festival and free pancakes — is approximately $16,000, according to David Muha, associate vice president for Communications, Marketing and Brand Management.
But, perhaps the change which has mustered the biggest uproar among the College community — including current students as well as alumni — is the recent regulatory overhaul of the tailgate, the event students most look forward to in the fall semester.
Last year, the first changes to the tailgate took place in an attempt to bring the traditional, heavily-geared day-drink event under control, the College gave all attendees different colored wristbands to distinguish the underage from the of-age attendees. Campus Police Chief John Collins said one of the problems they discovered in this idea was that underage attendees were getting wristbands from those who were over 21; confusion quickly erupted, and it became increasingly difficult to distinguish who was in fact underage. Last year, Campus Police banded over 4,000 individuals under 21 and 5,500 over 21, according to Collins.
This year, however, the College will be pushing the wristband idea aside and rolling out the plastic fencing for a 21-and-over only area in Lot 4 — an alcohol-inclusive zone. Each partaker will be allowed to bring in no more than a six-pack of beer, 12 oz. each, or a four-pack of wine, 6 oz. each. Hard alcohol will not be permitted. Upon entering the lot and showing the proper I.D., hands will be stamped indicating the allowed limit of alcohol per person has been brought into the tailgate.
In spite of efforts made by the Homecoming Steering Committee to implement changes to the tailgate, it is clear that many attendees are critical, if not openly outraged.
A petition, similar to the one created for last year’s Homecoming, is already taking shape, garnering over 1,260 signatures as of Monday, Sept. 22. Hosted on change.org, the petition, “Repeal Changes to the Homecoming Tailgate,” calls the new regulations “unnecessary and oppressive,” referring to the separated areas for alcohol-permitted and alcohol-free tailgating zones. Comments on the site yield a wide breadth of criticism. Some parents say they would like to enjoy a drink with their friends while having their children closeby in the same lot, while others claim counting drinks for adults is “patronizing.” Many also contest that fewer students will attend and compare the College’s policies to other universities, which have much more lenient regulations.
Backlash against the groups that organized Homecoming was vocalized last year when it was revealed no student input was considered when planning the activities. But the implementation of the Homecoming Steering Committee in fact heard student voices every step of the way. Headed by Student Government, student leaders, Alumni Affairs, College Advancement, Student Affairs, Student Activities, athletics, Campus Police, Residential Education and Housing, and Alumni Association, the Committee began planning for Homecoming in the spring, meeting twice a month through the summer and up to the first few weeks of school, according to Boyne.
“I personally have been a student here for 3 years (and) have been to three Homecomings,” Boyne said. “(When) you are here on campus everyday, you know what students are saying. So when there is something that will not work, we have our expertise to address those concerns and say, ‘You know, that’s not going to work with students. There will be an uproar about that.’”
Coming from many different perspectives, the goal of the Committee is not to “dampen the spirit of Homecoming,” according to Collins. Last year, six students were transported to the hospital due to alcohol-related illnesses, he said. Ultimately, the balancing act of safety and fun has been a challenge for both the College and participants alike, but the Homecoming Steering Committee saw the most potential for compromise in the outline of this year’s Homecoming plan.