Throwback Jack: A history of Hoya hazing

October 6, 2011

For Hoyas today, the first week of October is marked by increasingly frigid weather and the imminent onset of midterms. But back in the 1950s and early 1960s, it was marked by an important tradition, the Rat Race. The event, which usually fell on the first Sunday in October, was essentially a school dance that served as the culmination of a week-long hazing process for the freshmen.
It was a well-deserved reward for the newcomers since, according to yearbooks, the hazing process included performing menial tasks such as car-washing and shoe-shining for their upperclassman tormentors. A 1951 yearbook also mentioned that “all freshman were required to have their hair cut to a scant half-inch” (the school had not yet gone co-ed) and had to wear “the traditional ‘Beanie’ at all times.”
According to that yearbook, the sophomores had quite a bit of fun yanking freshmen “out of bed at odd hours during the night in order to hurl them into the swimming pool.” Even though the sophomores had the most fun at the expense of the incoming class, organizing the Rat Race fell on the shoulders of the senior class.
The seniors took great pride in decorating McDonough Gymnasium, where the event was traditionally held. According to an article in The Hoya, the 1960 Rat Race’s decorations consisted of “balloons filled with gift certificates donated by the local merchants.” This was a slightly less elaborate rendition of the décor from 1959, which featured “a huge fish-shaped balloon suspended aloft from the gym’s ceiling.”
While the fish may have looked like nothing more than a bizarre ornament, the real surprise came at the end of evening, when the fish exploded and many smaller balloons showered the new couples. Tied to some balloons were gift cards to restaurants, the movies, and even the gas station to assist the young men in financing their future dates. The organizers appear to have been significantly less interested in keeping everyone well-fed. According to a 1960 article in The Hoya, “the only refreshments [were] the usual punch. There [were] water fountains and coke machines in the halls.” On several occasions, entertainment included performances by the Chimes.
In these early years, the gentlemen of Georgetown had not yet been blessed with their own Jane Hoyas on campus. A highlight of the Rat Race, then, was the opportunity for female companionship, provided by neighboring women’s schools. Girls from Holy Trinity and the Visitation School were staples. Each school’s girls seemed to have carved out reputations for themselves, at least in the eyes of a 1963 Hoya writer who, in describing the event, said “there were Trinity girls trying to look intellectual, Immaculata girls trying to look innocent, and Visi girls trying everything.”
According to a 1963 article in The Hoya, girls from Georgetown Nursing School also attended, and could be “easily identified by the brown mud of their shoes, gained while crossing the Lower Field.” Meanwhile, girls from Trinity “[came] by cab and [could] be recognized by money…”
Though the Rat Race was a school-wide affair, freshmen and seniors had the privilege of being the first ones to arrive, with the event kicking off at 2 p.m. each year. According to a 1960 article in the Hoya, it was arranged this way so that “the freshman may have an hour to watch the masters at work … those whose hair has grown out sufficiently will be educated in the intricacies of the two-man pick up, the two-man drop, the lost wallet trick, and the planning of the meeting-an-old-friend-by-chance technique … and, eventually, how to discern freshman girls from senior girls.”
This last one appears to have been a delicate art, as freshman boys had to learn how to politely bow out upon learning that the girl they had been courting was older than they were.  Sophomores and juniors were finally allowed to join in on the fun after 3 p.m., and the Rat Race tended to die out by around 5 p.m.
It is not entirely clear when or why the tradition itself died out, but now freshman hazing has evolved into the infinitely kinder and more welcoming New Student Orientation week. As for the Rat Race, it has seemingly devolved into the infamous Club Lau.

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