A Hat-Wearing Tradition Once Central To the American University Experience Would Now Be Considered Hazing

By Hugo Vaca

By the time college students are done with their educational careers, they do more than simply obtain a degree. Students receive a plethora of knowledge ranging from academics and life skills to the traditions and values of their university. All of those serve to create a notion of groupness which also works to keep students in line.

In the 1940s, incoming college freshmen went from having senior status in high school to receiving the dreaded “frosh” status in college. This meant that a student had to endure tasks often viewed as rituals and rites of passage. These tasks were meant to shape each student as they reached the coveted upperclassmen status. These traditions, pranks, and rituals, did more than establish social hierarchies; they oriented students through the different values of their new institutions. According to Simon Bronner, the “frosh” label carried along identifiers designated by each university. Typically, frosh were instructed to wear a green garment to cover their heads similar to the ones seen in this 1972 photograph. This garment was referred to as a “dink,”, “pot,” or just “beanie.” (Bronner, p. 118)

These hats allowed the frosh to become targets for the upperclassmen. At times, frosh were challenged to athletic competitions to prove their worth. More commonly, they received some form of humiliation such as constant name calling. These names served to provide a clear way for the newbies to be set apart from their superiors. They reiterated to the frosh that they were low in the evolutionary line. Some of the common names used included: greenies, plebes, scrubs, babes, and rats. (Bronner, p. 114)

These first-year students were also often commanded to carry out errands for their superior upperclassmen. The frosh had to refer to the upperclassmen as “Sir.” (“Morley to Haverford”) If they dared refuse, they would face some form of punishment. An example of a physical punishment was having to dig holes on the dirt. Some colleges, such as the University of Wisconsin, had certain rules where the frosh were prohibited from wearing high school garbs or from stepping on the green grass. (Bronner, p. 115) A similar rule was once upheld here at the University of Utah; it prohibited frosh from setting foot on the steps of the Park Building. (Hammond)

Hammond_CartoonThis king of hazing was depicted in the insightful illustration by Roger Hammond that was published on September 26, 1940, in The Utah Chronicle. It provided the opportunity for those looking back at the university’ss history in order to gain a better understanding of something that would now be considered hazing and perhaps unethical. Yet, this hazing was once a staple tradition in many American colleges. Hammond’s illustration consists of a young man, wearing a dink, looking down as he is being heckled by his sponsor upperclassmen. Often times sponsors were older students who were there to orient the incoming students. Some of the phrases that appear to fly out of the sponsor’s mouth include: rules and typical things one even nowadays tells a freshman, such pointing out the locations of buildings on campus. A statement that stands out as oppressive is “Wear your green cap all year!”

Arrow_Shirts_AdMessages like these were seen all across the nation; these hazing acts were nothing out of the ordinary. The rules became something that freshmen had to know by heart if they wanted to avoid the repercussions. They became like a rule book to follow. Knowledge of these rules was so common that companies used them to their advantage, as seen by this advertisement for Arrow shirts that was published in the Chronicle on September 26, 1940.

According to “The Freshman ‘Dink,’” distributed by the States News Service, punishments dating back to the 1940s at Penn State included: being quizzed about the school and singing the Alma Mater in public. Though those punishments may seem humiliating, they served a greater purpose – to teach institutional values. They ensured that students understood their school’s history and purpose.

Despite backlash from professors, a fraternity at Wabash College has recently decided to revive this hat tradition. As they once did more than 40 years ago, they want to require pledging students to tip their hats to their upperclassmen out of respect. With this, they are hoping to promote chivalry and unity. (Woo) This has started a debate between what should be considered hazing and what can serve as a teaching tradition for incoming students.

Some of the iconic traditions of American colleges, beloved by many, would nowadays be more than frowned upon — they would be considered hazing. Dinks, typically worn by frosh, are reviving the way that ritualistic traditions were historically implemented at universities across the nation. Though some people have complained, colleges are now trying to implement “good-natured” rituals that should not be considered hazing. They are meant to provide a better bonding experience without the humiliating punishment. (Woo) Similarly to how frosh gained traditions in the past, freshmen now receive similar values by being involved in things such as orientations, sports events, or by being involved in extracurricular activities that implement life skills and morals without facing ridicule and hazing.

Hugo Vaca has returned to The University of Utah seeking a second bachelor’s degree. He is majoring in communication with a minor in documentary studies. His first degree was in film and media arts.


Advertisement, Arrow Shirts, Utah Chronicle, September 26, 1940, 2.

Roger Hammond, Cartoon, Utah Chronicle, September 26, 1940, 4.

“Morley to Haverford,” Time, April 15, 1940, 63.

Bronner, Simon J. Campus Traditions: Folklore from the Old-Time College to the Modern Mega-University. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012.

The Freshman ‘Dink,'” States News Service, August 26, 2015.

Woo, Stu. “Beanie Revival.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 1, 2006.