Traditions exist on our campuses for a reason. Even those whose history or reason for starting has been lost through time, most traditional events evoke fun memories and all the feels for the campus community. The trick comes with modernizing traditions.
Whether you are new to a position, responsibilities within you area moved around, or it is just time for change, perhaps you have an event on your plate that is bursting with institutional tradition. But you or someone around you thinks it’s time for an upgrade. This situation should come with a giant neon sign proclaiming “proceed with caution.” Before turning your great, fresh ideas into reality, there are some important things to consider.
When did this tradition start? Knowing the how long the tradition has stood can explain a lot about the “why” and “what” of the event. This will help you decide how to approach any changes.
Why did this tradition start? The “why” goes along with the “when.” It will help you understand the context of the event, even if it seems silly, weird, etc. Some traditions date back to the founding of the institution. If that is the case, it might be better to plan the event the same as it’s always been.
Who started it? This is a key question, because if that person is still on campus, it would be wise to meet with them. You do not want to start an institutional rift just by skipping out on important conversations. The person(s) responsible for beginning a tradition can provide great insight into the history of the tradition and also the institution. If the person/group who started it is no longer on campus, see if you can find folks who knew them for insight.
How open is the campus to change? Many traditions are closely linked to campus culture. If the culture is one of rich tradition as a whole, it might be better to steer clear of change. If your campus has a deep traditional aspect, but shows signs of progress and innovation, the odds may be more in your favor to implement some minor shake-ups.
Who are the key stakeholders in the event? This can mean anything from who participates (probably students) to who pays for it. It is important to find key folks around campus who can provide insight to how, why, and by whom decisions regarding the tradition/event are made. Sometimes, money talks. Other times, students’ opinions win out. Also consider a meeting with your campus security office before implementing any new ideas to make sure you are within rules, regulations, and expectations.
What is the real reason for change? If you are new to a position or an event is new to you, it can be easy to think your idea is the best. It may very well be, but sometimes institutional and personal reputations are more valuable than doing things your way. Is the change warranted by a better use of resources? Are students requesting a certain adjustment? Is there a modern twist that could revive a dwindling but cool experience? As long as you can articulate the reason behind proposed changes, you are more likely to gain support for your initiative.
Being able to answer these questions will help put you on the right track to deciding what, and if, to adjust about campus traditions. These can also help you decide if it is time to make the tough call of ending a tradition or perhaps starting a new one. Happy planning!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Dr. Brian Bourke on Reframing “Nontraditional” Students