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Student organizers prioritize maintaining institutional memory


By Mira Diamond-Berman

As the second half of the semester wraps, many traditions that were canceled over the past two years due to COVID-19 have finally resumed. For some of the events, such as Relays, Tithead (formally known as Titular Head) and Block Party, only the graduating class has experienced these traditions in their entirety. With this in mind, student leaders of these events are focusing on making sure that the traditions continue despite a gap in institutional memory. Even with the setback of organizing an event that has not experienced by the majority of students, some traditions went better than expected.  

“Drag went really, really well. I think that this might have been the best that we’ve had since I’ve come to Grinnell,” said Shabana Gupta `22, an organizer and performer in the recent drag show on April 23.  

Gupta notes that, despite the loss of institutional memory at Grinnell, some adjustments to spring events have brought good changes. New traditions have also been brought to Grinnell such as live student bands.

The main issue right now is that not a lot of people really know what relays are, since I think it was my class, like class of 2022…the last people to actually have relays on campus. -Will Bebee ‘22

 “I know that like live bands have been scheduled to go to like Gardners and Harris,” said Gupta. “That’s not the thing that used to happen. Like we would have the tiny dorm concerts. But that was about it. And that’s a much smaller audience. So, it’s a good thing that we have like musicians being a bit more prompted and everyday parties.” 

These improvements in Grinnell’s events are not to say that the changes have not brought difficulties as well. COVID-19 has caused many problems in the organization of events, especially given the recent spike in cases. Some acts in drag had to be canceled because the performers had COVID-19. 

“I think that we had a total of 12 acts that were supposed to perform. And then that had to drop down to 10 because four people got COVID. … Many last-minute changes were happening. We weren’t sure if we would be allowed to because rise in cases,” said Gupta.  

Even without the rise of cases, traditional aspects of drag had to be changed due to COVID-19 safety. Typically, alumni and community members attend drag, but they were not invited this year since the maskless performers would put both the performers and outsiders at risk.  

“Normally there’s like an entire section for them just dedicated to people who are not students. … And like in the past, we’ve had like, alumni come in, we give them a front row seat and they do like a massive donation. I think there have been times like I think one time somebody gave us like, $2,000,” said Gupta.

As drag had to deal with a major cut in donations due to the lack of alumni at the event, Relays also had trouble with the organization of the event merely since many students are unaware they are happening. There is little institutional memory of Relays –– a spring event on Mac field with fun, silly field games.  

“The main issue right now is that not a lot of people really know what relays are, since I think it was like my class, like class of 2022. Like the last people to actually have relays here on campus,” said Will Bebee `22, a relays organizer.  

Bebee has noticed that there is less interest in relays as there was in past years. He’s had to recruit people to sign up when in previous years that was not necessary. “It’s something that like, literally, everyone would look forward to like, you didn’t really have to like table because people wanted to sign up. And so now it’s like it’s more difficult to get people,” he said.  

Other events of the spring semester, such as Tithead, are also new for most of the student body. 

Tithead was in-person last semester but without the presence of the whole school and it was online in 2020.  

“It’s crazy that I’m a third year and haven’t really experienced a ‘a real Tithead,’” said Annalise Rummelhart `23, a Tithead committee member.  

Similar to lack of interest for Relays, Rummelhart is also concerned that there will not be a lot of submissions this year since many students are of unaware the Tithead film festival in which students submit wacky films or perform live-sketches on May 6 at the commencement stage.  

“I hope first and second years submit films. My only worry is that maybe, you know, because they haven’t been to one or don’t know really how it works, there won’t be that many submissions,” said Rummelhart.  

Although some institutional memory surrounding Tithead has been lost, there are attempts to bring back old Tithead traditions. The video contest used to be judged by professors and community members in addition to students. 

“They used to have judges like professor judges, community member judges, just not students who would like vote in the best of. And we have different categories like everything so I just sent out an email today. I hope to get some professors interested that could be fun to bring that back,” she said.  

Editor’s note: Shabana Gupta is the visuals editor for the S&B

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