What are Illinois State’s traditions?
That’s a big, complicated question. Sure, there are some easy ones like Homecoming and Founders Day. But every Redbird knows the Illinois State experience is more than just a few events.
A cross-campus team of Redbird experts recently finished our most extensive exploration of Illinois State’s traditions. They just launched a new website, called Traditions.IllinoisState.edu, that uses quick facts, photos, videos, and stories to cement 15 core traditions of Illinois State culture.
The website is just the first step toward a larger plan to increase the “visibility and value” of traditions at Illinois State, said Doris Groves ’81, executive director of alumni engagement and the project’s co-leader. The team debunked the notion that Illinois State doesn’t have traditions like other historic campuses.
“What we discovered is that there are a whole lot of traditions at Illinois State,” Groves said. “We just haven’t been intentional in talking about them or promoting them.”
Traditions.IllinoisState.edu shares the origins of Homecoming, the Redbirds, the ISU Fight Song, and other easy choices. But Groves and the rest of the traditions team also faced more difficult decisions on what to include. Can a tradition be a place? Can it exist off campus? Can a tradition just be on Fridays?
“A tradition is hard to define,” Groves said.
For example, the Quad made the Top 15. The Quad means something different to you depending on when you attended. For some, it’s where Rites of Spring took place. For others, it’s where they walked at commencement. For today’s students, the Quad is a social hub where Frisbees fly and hammocks hang.
“The Quad was more difficult to define because it’s a place, but it becomes a tradition to a lot of people because of the variety of activities that take place there,” said Groves.
One of the goals of the project is to help establish or bolster younger traditions, said Lora Wey, executive director of Annual Giving and another team leader.
The newest tradition on the list is Wear Red on Fridays, which dates back to 2002. That’s a tradition that could grow beyond campus, such as alumni adopting a “red on Fridays” rule in their workplaces. The mobile-friendly website also calls for alumni and students to submit their own tradition ideas.
Now that the traditions are defined, work can begin on introducing them to today’s students and future Redbirds. A printed traditions book is planned for this year, and students are now likely to hear more about traditions at future Preview orientations and Welcome Week convocations. Students might even see a “traditions room” pop up on campus someday.
Why is it important to understand our own traditions? If today’s students have a stronger sense of pride and ownership in ISU, they’re more likely to be engaged alumni—maybe even financial supporters too.
“That all starts with tradition,” said Wey. “We all seem to win on a campus that has very entrenched traditions.”
The traditions team also includes staff members from University Marketing and Communications, the Division of Student Affairs, Web and Interactive Communications, the Office of the Provost, Athletics, University Advancement, the Office of Admissions, University College, the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives at Milner Library, School of Communication, College of Education, and Facilities Management.
“For me, I’d feel like we succeeded if five years from now, we stopped a student on the Quad and asked them, ‘What are the traditions at Illinois State?’ And they rattled them off, and they were the same traditions that our team identified back in 2015,” said Wey. “I think that would be success.”
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.