“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems that James Madison University has no real traditions.”

Statue of James MadisonAfter spending four years at James Madison University, one comes to realize one important thing. And that thing is that the entire university is quite contrived. JMU started out as something like the State Teachers’ College for Women at Harrisonburg or thereabouts. So we have a couple hundred or so aspiring teachers going to college in a little town called Harrisonburg. Then in 1938, after a few variations on the teachers’ college name, they come up with Madison College. Cute. The idea, as I understand it, is to name it after James Madison, Dolley Madison, or that dirty son of his who sold all his furniture, or something like that. Nice, nonspecific Madison name, for a college that used to have a generic name. No connection to the Madisons whatsoever, except for the name. James Madison the person had been dead for about 102 years. Fast forward to the 1970s, when Madison College is about to become a university. I find it interesting that the school was almost named after Dolley Madison, which is further evidence that the whole Madison name scheme is contrived. Which makes the recently-installed James Madison statue, seen at right, kind of amusing, since the connection to James Madison is totally artificial. Another interesting thing is that JMU seems to have no “real” traditions, the little things that the students do that you do because it’s what you do. For instance, at Columbia University, in Hamilton Hall, there’s a tradition where you rub the head of a certain bust in that building for good luck. Now at JMU, the statue of James Madison has only been there for about six months, so I’m not surprised that a head-rubbing tradition, where you go up and rub James Madison’s head before a test or something (and with some professors’ tests, James Madison would really be rubbed to a shine!), hasn’t started yet. So the question is, does JMU have any traditions? Well, let’s see… we have James Madison Day, which is March 17. Anyone who knows what March 17 is besides James Madison Day knows that the students are celebrating, but not for James Madison’s birthday. Besides, it’s an “official” thing. What about a more student-oriented approach, like the homecoming Purple Out? That one is VERY contrived. You have an event where the University gives away purple t-shirts, and says from the outset, “We’re trying to start a new tradition here!” Something is just a tad wrong here. You don’t just go out and manufacture a tradition. Traditions happen. Traditions take time. Traditions get recognized later on as traditions, when you say, “Why are we doing this? No reason, but we’ve just always done it.” Then that follows with, “Well, how did it get started? Who knows!” Now last fall, I actually saw the roots of what I hope becomes a long-standing tradition, because it stems from students having fun, though it may not exactly be well-advised to do. This would be the infamous streaking on the quad for homecoming. And before you cringe, no, I did not participate, and no, I do not plan to ever participate in the future. Still, it’s something that the students came up with, and it’s something that I think raised more school spirit than the official homecoming activities. The way I see it, it brings people together, it’s fun, it breaks a few indecent exposure laws (not that I’m encouraging breaking the law, mind you), and it’s a student initiated activity. Sounds like the making of a tradition to me!

Date posted: February 3, 2003