Give Me Some Matches Or Get Punished By Kangaroo Court: Hudson Valley Fifty Years Ago

It’s 1964 and you’re a freshman at Hudson Valley. You are required to wear a beanie and a nametag. If a Senior asks you to recite a chant from the student handbook, you must do so. You must always have matches and gum for Seniors. You must know the alma mater. You can’t wear anything with your high school insignia. If you break any of these rules, you will be sent to a kangaroo court for “constructive and humorous” penalties.

In ‘64, it had been only a few years since Hudson Valley moved to the current campus. Total enrollment had only recently passed a thousand. Social activities and student life on campus were driven by numerous greek fraternities and sororities.

The year started with an orientation period known as “rivalry,” where the freshman would have to follow the aforementioned rules from the 1964-65 student handbook.

Willie Hammet graduated from Hudson Valley in 1965 and eventually worked at the college for about 30 years as the educational opportunity director, dean of students, and vice president for student services. He retired in 2003. According to him, this period at the beginning of the year was intended to raise school spirit. Because of the smaller enrollment, the campus community was tightly knit.

“It was like a family situation. Everyone knew everyone,” he said.

The Student Handbook states that the goals of rivalry were to stimulate interest and participation in college and class activities and to develop a feeling of pride in one’s class through inter-class competitions.

Rivalry would end after homecoming week, which included a series of competitions between the seniors and freshmen, with events such as tug-of-war, softball, and basketball.

Hammet does not have negative memories of the rivalry period. According to him, it was not mean spirited. “They would kind of get on you, so you would get embarrassed and put on the beanie. It was nothing out of hand. They didn’t take it too far. It was just little annoying things,” he said.

However, the rules stated in the student handbook are strict and would be considered unacceptable in the current time. Hudson Valley’s current code of conduct prohibits “any language that may prohibit psychological intimidation” and classifies this as harassment.

The college catalog also lists hazing first among all offenses that would result in expulsion. Institutionally forcing freshmen to chant, wear a ridiculous hat, and carry matches for seniors would likely be classified as mild hazing in our modern understanding.

Hudson Valley’s yearbook from 1963 reads, “When classes started the freshman were hazed by the seniors and many of the frosh received summons to the Kangaroo Court of ‘justice?’”

Hammet said that big part of the orientation period was recruitment into fraternities and sororities. “Frats and sororities were both big on campus. They had the frat houses and the beer parties on the weekends,” he said.

Fraternities and sororities have notoriously received scrutiny for hazing over the years. The culture of hazing that may have been mild in the 1960’s developed into numerous cases of severe abuses later on.

Older prints of The Hudsonian do not mention any abuses of the tradition during the period.

According to Hammet, there were many positives that came from the tradition. It served as a bonding mechanism in many cases, even if people were humiliated in the process.

“The school spirit was really, really high. It was a joyous time,” he said. Hammet recounted playing on the basketball team and nearly winning a national championship. “It was just an exciting time with all the fraternities. Teams would come and they would just hate to play us here,” he said, referring to the loud and wild Hudson Valley home crowd.

Hammet also said that it was very common for students to hang out at campus in their free time. “My last ten years or so before I retired [in 2003], I was trying to think of ways to get more students involved in campus life. I wish when I was in my position I could have come up with something magic to develop more school spirit,” he said.

Most freshman would probably oppose an attempt to bring back the rivalry in order to increase school spirit now. By the late ‘60s the term “rivalry” had disappeared from the handbooks and by 1972 there were no special rules mentioned for freshman at all.

The entire period and campus culture 50 years ago is a stark contrast to those of today. There was mild hazing but a tighter community. Seniors were allowed to force freshman to sing but not allowed to wear beards or shorts. Hudson Valley has really changed in 50 years.

 

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