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Nightly Curfew, Parties with Professors and Pot in the Hall: Stories of Past Whitties

Alex Brockman and Alissa Antilla, Staff Reporters

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Change is central to any community. People come and go, buildings rise and fall, administrations take hold and are replaced, and norms are defined and redefined. Over its 135 year history, Whitman has been no different. The Whitman of the past was significantly different from the Whitman we know now.

In interviews conducted over the past several weeks, Thomas Henderson ‘83, Evan Jones ‘97, Debi Aucutt Toews ‘76 and Mary Ann Veazey Albee ‘64 shared their insights into the student life, on and off campus, that they experienced as Whitman students that shaped them into the people they are today.

Life On-Campus

Much like today, campus life was marked by bonding in the dorms as well as nights out at frat parties. While the structure of these activities remain the same, some generational nuances made alumni experiences different from our experiences.

For Mary Ann Veazey Albee ‘64, dorm life in the ‘60s proved to be more stringent than today, but not always in a bad way.

Residence halls were separated by gender: Lyman housed all men and Anderson housed all women. To get into Anderson as a man, you would have to go to the front desk and have special permission to go into a girl’s room.

Albee lived in Anderson Hall her first year, and then in Kappa Kappa Gamma section for the following three years. In Prentiss, girls would have to be in at 11 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends.

“It was great actually. Especially if you didn’t like your date: ‘Oh … would you look at the time,’” Albee said.

Having to be in at a certain time cultivated friendship, especially living in an all-girls residence hall.

“It was just a girl’s dorm and it gave the opportunity to just hang out with your friends and [make] life-long friendships … Your hair could be in rollers or whatever and you didn’t have to worry about being decent for guys … or anything like that,” Albee said.

In a much more proper generation, students had formal dinner twice a week, at which food was served and had to be eaten using proper manners. Girls wore skirts to class everyday.

“It really wasn’t a prudish place. It was just sort of a little more, formal way to appear. Everything is much more casual now. It’s not a judgement–it’s just a fact,” said Albee.

When the temperature got below a certain point, girls were allowed to pull out the pants.

“On cold mornings you would get an announcement throughout the dorms: ‘The temperature is such and such; it’s okay to wear your pants to school!” Albee laughed.

As Albee was about to leave Whitman, Whitman was asking students for input about dismantling the single-gendered residence halls and doing away with hours.

By the time Debi Aucutt Toews ‘76 arrived on campus in the early ‘70s, Whitman was shifting to a more relaxed residence hall policy and integrated dorms. The first year of co-ed dorms just happened to be Toews’ first year at Whitman. Prentiss was all girls, Jewett and Lyman were co-ed by section and floor, Douglas was co-ed by floor and Anderson continued to be single gender, but this time for freshman boys.

Strict rules seemed to dissipate as time went on. By the time Thomas Henderson ‘83 got to school in the late ‘70s, everyone was pretty relaxed in the residence halls.

“You could go up and down the hallways with an open container underage and no one would bat an eye. Really, you could smoke pot and smell it and no one would bat an eye,” Henderson said. “So long as you weren’t making anybody’s life miserable, it was live and let live.”

Residents and residence life did just that at that time: “Live and let live.” There were not any organized events, such as section dinners and study breaks, that characterize residential life today.

Of course, Whitties didn’t spend all their time cooped up in the dorm. Like today, students were a constant, active part of campus life as they attended classes, made daily treks to the Student Union Building and showed up at frat parties.

In a time before constant communication over cellphones and social media, mail was one of the students’ main connections to home. A daily visit to Reid’s predecessor, the Student Union Building (SUB), was a major method of staying connected to others on campus during people’s time at Whitman.

“After going to lunch at the dining hall, which was another social area, everyone would head to the SUB to get their mail,” Jones said.

In addition to social life, academics always have been important to the Whitman culture and many nights were spent studying fueled by coffee. Located where Olin’s west wing now stands was the Reynolds Building, which Henderson remembers as a popular place to study. Rooms in Reynolds could be reserved by upperclassmen and gave them a quiet respite from the social and distracting study areas of the library.

The trek to reach a study room in Reynolds was an intimidating task. Henderson described the rickety old building as having floors on the brink of falling through.

“It was pretty dilapidated. There were some pretty soft spots on the floor that you wanted to try to avoid out of fear that you might fall through. I never saw anybody fall through, nor did I ever hear of anybody falling through, but we knew that the building was going to be torn down in a year or two,” Henderson said.

For many students, a large source of social interaction and fun was Greek life.

Beta Theta Pi, Henderson’s fraternity, hosted widely attended parties drawing guests from all walks of life that operated in a similar way to functions today–a sorority and fraternity would pair up, and then after a certain time the party was opened up to the entire campus.

One hallmark of the ‘80s social scene was the Tuesday Night Club, a weekly gathering at a rotating frat house where members of the Whitman community, from Greek and non-Greek students to faculty, came together.

“It was kind of just an excuse to get together, drink beer and blow off steam,” said Henderson. “That was a kind of all-campus tradition and professors would come. Not a lot, usually the same ones. But they would come and we would drink beer and have fun.”

Henderson spent many nights with his frat brothers on the roof of the house. One especially memorable night was when some of his frat brothers flung food at Tau Kappa Epsilon using a catapult.

“Some enterprising brothers fashioned a catapult, like a medieval old fashioned catapult, like the kind you would see in Game of Thrones, on top of the roof … and sometimes we would bundle up leftovers and launch them at the TKE house,” Henderson laughed.

As a person actively involved in Greek life, especially Beta, Albee was crowned Beta Bag for two consecutive years at the formal White Quitallian dance. Beta Bag was a highly coveted honorary membership in Beta.

An especially memorable Beta event that Albee recalls was the two-yard party. Each Beta would bring a date whom they would dress in as little of two-yards of material as could be managed; whoever wore the least amount of material won.

Life Off-Campus

While many people could find enough to do on-campus and didn’t go off-campus much during their time at Whitman due to transportation, exploring Walla Walla was still worthwhile.

Not all Greek events happened on-campus. Many more dances were held off-campus–even some sorority dances were held in the Marcus Whitman.

“The Marcus Whitman was a very aged hotel that you could tell was nice at some time, but frankly was kind of a dump,” Henderson said.

Albee recalled that she and her peers would all board buses and go to dances in neighboring towns as well, reaching out into the greater community.

The Green Lantern, affectionately called “The Green,” was a student favorite. “The Green Lantern, where everybody loved to be,” recalled Albee.

When Henderson was at Whitman in the ‘80s, its main draw was its relaxed enforcement of the drinking age. People didn’t go to eat, but to drink.

“You could go there and if they recognized you, you would be served,” said Henderson. “The Green didn’t have much food when I was there. You could get probably some old rubbery hot dog and a bag of chips.”

The Whitman staple activity of going to the wheat fields is rooted in past generations, as alumni recalled going to hang out there as well.

“People spent a lot of time drinking beer in the wheat fields,” said Albee. “That’s probably always gonna be true.”

Although throughout the decades customs and traditions of Whitman have changed, some things remain the same: students will and have always enjoyed spending time with friends, having fun and interacting within a supportive community, both on- and off-campus.

With so much change constantly occurring in society and, by extension, at Whitman, it is no wonder that many former norms of Whitman life strike us as peculiar today. What current practices will future generations come to think of as odd? What about our Whitman lives will we reflect on as out of touch or outdated? Only time can tell.

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Whitman news since 1896
Nightly Curfew, Parties with Professors and Pot in the Hall: Stories of Past Whitties