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Some traditions, unspoken rules lost in online transition to campus life

While upperclassmen don’t even dare to walk near the university seals, underclassmen might step on it without knowing about the tradition surrounding it. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Coming into USF, there are certain unspoken rules and traditions some would often hear and learn from during their introduction to campus life that would leave an imprint in their college years.

The past year of online learning, tours and orientation, however, impacted the way new students learn and adopt old traditions into their college lives.

Dean of Students Danielle McDonald believes the transition to online events and instruction due to the pandemic has left students divided in two groups — those who benefited from in-person introductions versus those who didn’t.

“We have two cohorts of students that have missed out on things on campus,” McDonald said. “They’re still learning about what USF is about and what we expect, and especially when it’s unwritten rules or traditions, those are things that often are taught peer to peer.”

Orientation, for instance, welcomed students to campus through virtual sessions as a way to mitigate the risks of spreading COVID-19. The hours dedicated to each session would educate students on the explicit rules and procedures required by the university, but some believe they missed passing down on those that are “unspoken.”

Some new students are unaware of rules such as not stepping on the university seal and respecting the silent floors at the USF Libraries. McDonald said it should be up to the students as well as organizations, like Student Government, to help fill students in on the information they missed out on due to the pandemic.

“The challenge that all of our upperclassmen, and especially those in leadership roles, is creating new ways to teach those traditions and that culture to [new] students,” she said. “They didn’t get [in-person orientation and tours] the way that we’ve relied on in the past.”

The underclassmen’s lack of adherence to the unspoken expectations has even been noticed by upperclassmen, including senior biomedical sciences major Amy Pawlea. A bulk of the complaints surround noise grievances on the fifth floor of the library.

The Tampa library depends on users to know the volume etiquette, according to its website, and it has a form available for “excessive noise issues on the fifth floor.” The higher the floor a student is on, the quieter they can expect the area to be.

The constant break of silence in upper levels of the library is frustrating and distracting when some are looking for a quiet place to study, according to Pawlea.

“In any tour or orientation I attended for USF, it was stressed that the fifth floor is the quiet floor and the floor where people really come for no noise and to focus,” said Pawlea.

It is also an expectation past students have respected and preserved on their own. However, Pawlea said this dynamic hasn’t been regarded as of this year.

“From talking with their friends, blasting their music or having full-on phone conversations … even when the librarians come to quiet them down, they continue to be loud when they leave,” Pawlea said.

The courtesy of these traditions extends as far as not stepping on the university seals, located in the Marshall Student Center and John and Grace Allen building, when walking around campus. University tradition has always warned students that stepping on the school seal is a sign of disrespect and conspiracy claims it even has the potential to delay the student’s graduation.

Former Tampa Gov. and Orientation Leader Spencer McCloskey said walking on the seal is something that needs to be addressed, but their misunderstanding should not be confused for ignorance.

“It’s not the best to stand on the seal, it’s a sign of [disrespect] to the university,” McCloskey said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s an ignorance thing. They just don’t know.”

McCloskey believes the new students don’t want to disrupt the normal campus life and traditions. Instead, he thinks they are just as confused as the upperclassmen who feel frustrated, and should not hesitate to reach out for help.

“For the younger students, just lean on your fellow Bulls. Ask around if you need help, and we’ll be there for you,” he said.

Jake Windam, a freshman majoring in supply chain management, confirmed McCloskey’s suspicions. He said he was unfamiliar with the volume expectations of the library and was not aware of the lore of the school seal.

“I didn’t know about the whole ‘Don’t talk on higher floors of the library’ thing,” Windam said. “No one really mentioned the school seal either.”

Now that Windam knows about these traditions and the reasons behind it, he said he feels more involved in the community. He said he would follow them and doesn’t intend to walk on the seal again.

“I think the respect part is really important. I never meant to disrespect the school or even maybe delay my graduation, so it’s definitely something good and fun to know,” Windam said.

Former Student Body President Claire Mitchell believes that in order to make up for those experiences that new students have missed, all students need to participate more in campus events. Mitchell said contributions like this will give the campus a more lively presence that will help and encourage new students to adjust to the campus’ culture.

“Just being on campus, I think a lot of the activities itself change and the atmosphere of it,” Mitchell said. “Looking at Bull Market, from when I first joined, it used to be … very lively and full. And so [we need to look] at how we can get students back to that full experience.”

She said upperclassmen should lead by example instead of becoming frustrated. In this way, new students witness the implementation of traditions and are encouraged to follow suit.

“I think students can [model traditions] every single day,” Mitchell said. “All [the models of behavior] can be a good way for students to understand the importance of traditions and also taking part [in them].”

The preservation of USF traditions is a combined effort of the underclassmen being willing to learn and the upperclassmen having the patience to educate them, according to McDonald. She said that no matter what route the upperclassmen choose to educate the new students, the cooperative effort will take time.

“I would hope that our upperclassmen and especially our student leaders, take the time to figure out how they educate, and our students that are new to campus and not just complain,” she said.

“I also hope that the actions that they are complaining about are because of lack of knowledge, not because of willful disdain for them.”