Sunday, February 27, 2011

Traditions: Holding us Back

The Tradition: Avoiding the Arch
Here at Wabash we live in a culture that prides itself on traditions that have been passed down for decades. One of the most common traditions here on campus is not walking underneath the arch on the west side of the mall. There are many stories that accompany this tradition, some that are true and some that have been glorified over the years. The underlying meaning behind avoiding the arch is that if you walk under it before you graduate, you will be blanketed with bad luck (some say death) to the point that you won't graduate. No one wants to be plagued with such bad luck, even if nothing has ever happened and this tradition is completely made up. It has been instilled so deeply into the population here on campus that the college has put special walkways in place that go around the arch in order to accommodate the students.

A structuralist would look at this tradition by breaking it down into the signified and signifier which come together to form the sign, in this case the arch which represents the tradition here at Wabash. The signified in this case is the concept the words "the arch" refer to here on campus. Although it can be a wide range of things, the most common would be the avoidance of the arch, and the bad luck that is associated with walking under it. The signifier is the arch itself, or again the words "the arch." These come together to form the sign which would be the tradition I explained above, that it is bad luck to walk underneath the arch. This sign is something that is understood and accepted by Wabash students. It is rarely questioned or tried, but rather taken for what it is and left at that. However a post-structuralist would look at it a bit different. First, by accepting this notion of bad luck if we walk underneath the arch without questioning why or for what reason, we also accept a whole host of other principles on how we should walk around all arches for fear of bad luck. An arch is often seen as a sort of gateway to new possibilities. By passing under an arch you leave behind the past and are accepting whatever it is that lies ahead of you as a bright future. However, by twisting this usual portrayal of an arch around, we at Wabash have blindly taken this passage into new possibilities away from ourselves. Maybe that was the intent of starting such a tradition here at Wabash. After all we are a school that prides itself on tradition and not changing the way things are done. By eliminating students from walking under the arch we are taking away their metaphorical chance at leaving the past behind and looking ahead. We are forcing Wabash to stay true to its time old traditions.

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