Those seeking a spectacle will always find one underneath the Saybrook flag at the end of the third quarter of the Yale-Harvard game. Responding to the rallying cry, “shoeessss!” the students remove their boots and derbies and wave them around in preparation for the Saybrook Strip.
This year, shoeless and counting down with the scoreboard, we watched Harvard intercept the ball and run it back 90 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute to go, widening their lead to 24–7. A few seconds later, I leaned over to a friend and said, “Let’s moon the hell out of ‘em and show exactly what we think of that last play.” And so, with a little bit of liquid courage and a lot of spirit, we did. Feet shivering on the cold concrete, we didn’t conceal our stripping among the huddled mass of Saybrook students or leave on our undergarments. We stood on the ledge and bared our butts to the other side, cameras flashing from all directions. We waved the Saybrook flag. People cheered.
One could call us a number of things, but “pioneers” is certainly not one of them. Rather, our actions were a nod to the origins of the Strip. According to an article in the News (“We like getting naked,” Dec. 11, 2002) the Saybrook Strip dates back to the 1970s when a single student mooned the opposing fans at The Game. After some friends joined this brazen individual the following year, a tradition was born. However, as the Strip progressed through the decades, Saybrook-themed undergarments replaced people’s bare bums, and a tempered, yet fun, tradition continued.
I must admit that the laughs and pats on my back assuaged any fears that my parents had seen my antics on television. I would be lying, however, if I didn’t relay that a number of surprised students commented, “But you’re a FroCo! Aren’t you supposed to set an example for your freshmen?” I would also be lying if I said that thought hadn’t crossed my mind as well.
I could use this space to write about the need for more school spirit or the importance of developing relationships in one’s own residential college. But I’d rather use this space to talk about a speed bump many experience in their journey as freshman counselors: a frequently hyperextended sense of professionalism that comes with the title. When managing relationships with 15 or so freshmen, a phrase repeated during training — “You all are representatives of the Dean’s Office” — serves as a check on what we communicate to the most malleable students on campus.
When one thinks of a freshman counselor, perhaps one thinks of a student who exemplifies perfect conduct or academic success. In reality, the vast majority of us find ourselves in our positions precisely because we have failed and struggled in our personal and academic lives. But we have rebounded from those failures. I do not mean to glorify the freshman counselor but rather to point to a flaw in the system. Too often a nagging preoccupation with maintaining professionalism creates a “chilling effect” on the conduct of FroCos. The result is a muting of the personalities that were awarded the role in the first place.
Freshmen observe their counselors in restricted settings: the dining hall, their dorm and perhaps the lecture hall. They do not observe us in situations that prove testing or social venues that are just as critical to success in college as the classroom. They will not find us in the places where they are most likely to abuse alcohol or require bystander intervention. They will not find us in section when they didn’t do the reading.
They will generally only find us when they are in need of life-concerning attention, when they summon the courage to bring their problems to us or when their issues have progressed to the point that they are physically noticeable.
To return to the comments made to me at the Game, the short answer is: Yes, the role of the freshman counselor is, in part, to serve as an example for freshmen. And as far as I am concerned, I set the best example I could. I stood alongside my best friends, celebrated my residential college’s tradition and stuck it to Harvard the only way I could as a spectator. Even more, I practiced what I preached: The first thing I told my freshmen was, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” I pushed the boundary of what it means to be a FroCo, but also left my freshmen with a lesson on what it means to be a Saybrugian.
In all probability, a large number of Saybrook freshmen saw a whole lot of me that day. In the process, though, I hope they learned that my and many others’ conception of the freshman counselor’s role extends beyond schedule arrangement and roommate drama. Freshman counselors should challenge the conduct they think the Dean’s Office deems acceptable. Of course, there are limits. Sometimes though, a message is best sent not by hiding behind a cloak of professionalism but rather baring it all for everyone to see.
Kyle Tramonte is a senior in Saybrook College. His columns run on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.