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DePauw on display

175th anniversary exhibit showcases student involvement

By Alicia Tutini
On February 13, 2012

The "Toast to Old DePauw" 175th Anniversary Exhibit at the Putnam County Museum is an appropriate representation of the DePauw community: Quaint, yet filled with fascinating information.

The exhibit, which opens to the public this Thursday, Feb. 16, is comprised of historic items ranging from a replica of the beloved boulder (with an accompanying sign requesting no boulder runs) to old senior cords, from stories of student protests to a short history about dancing on campus.

Senior Sam Spahn, who helps gather information for the 175th Anniversary Exhibit, explained his personal experience with the exhibition as well as some interesting stories about DePauw's history.

Alicia Tutini: How did you become involved with the 175th Anniversary Exhibit?

Sam Spahn: A professor who asked if I would be interested in curating the museum for DePauw's 175th birthday approached me. After gathering some research, I had a grasp of what I needed to do. There was so much in there, I had to delve into so many things, and so I needed a few other students to help me out. They called me the head curator, but I was more of just trying to manage everything that was going on.

AT: What were the roles of each of the students involved?

SS: We broke up the exhibit into six different sections. [Junior] Annie Wake had between 1837 and the Civil War, [sophomore] Will Calderwood had between the Civil War up until about 1910, I had from 1910 through 1939, [senior] Luke Bretscher had World War II up until the Civil Rights Movement, [senior] Carolyn Latta had the Civil Rights Movement up until the 1980s and then [sophomore] Leah Freestone had the ‘80s to present day.

AT: How did you sort out what to include in the exhibit?

SS: That was the tough part. The theme of the museum was to be Student Life and Construction on Campus. We wanted to show how the campus had evolved over time and also how the students had evolved over time. We had to break down the information, so I told them that we needed to find something that was three-dimensional and that had a big impact on DePauw's history. On certain events we did just have to use photographs, but they were such important parts of DePauw's history that we had to include it. We included things that really revolutionized or impacted our campus.

AT: What was your favorite aspect of the time period you were responsible for?

SS: President Merlin, because as of Feb. 13, it is the 86th anniversary of lifting the social ban on dancing at DePauw, which he was responsible for doing. That is why I chose that time period. When DePauw was first founded as Indiana Asbury, we held the most Methodist members in the entire country. So for quite a long time, those Methodist roots had been manifested in DePauw's culture, but in the 1920's there was a shift in the types of students. From 1920 to 1928, DePauw increased its size by 1,000 students. There were a lot of students coming from the suburban area of Chicago, which is a trend that we still see today. But there were students coming back from war that were questioning why they weren't able to dance. Back in those days, any wiggle of the body to any music was grounds for expulsion. The students put a lot of pressure on President Merlin to lift the ban. They thought that dancing was natural and wanted to see a more progressive DePauw. This was the first real breakthrough as far as student life goes.

AT: What exactly were the senior cords all about?

SS: This was not exclusively at DePauw, but it was kind of compilation of what you had done for the four years. It was something different and unique — it was like a yearbook on your pants. They were very popular in the 1950s and ‘60s. It basically just denotes your four years at DePauw.

AT: Student protests have played a big role in DePauw's history. What is an example of the influence these protests have played?

SS: There was a lot to do with the sorority and fraternity life in the late 1800's that protested the administration. I'll go into the Black Friars incidence because I find it very fascinating. The Black Friars was a social drinking club on campus comprised of men from several fraternities. There was an initiation which ended at Moore's, a drinking song — or fight song…definitely a big social drinking club. There was a guy hired by the administration that dealt with investigations. He wanted to meet with the members of the Black Friars. Five of the 12 showed up and discussed what was going on in Asbury Hall. The next day, those five men were suspended immediately. This reached the student body very quickly. This was in 1959 — Cold War Era — and so the students figured out that this guy was hired in to oust this group. So, students protested: Skipped class, burned books right in front of the library, chanted around the administration building, ignored all social protocols. Because of this, DePauw created a strong student senate that actually rivaled the administration. That was actually one of the breakthroughs of that ordeal. The student body has always played a role in making sure that the administration did not get too big. Those students were very active in making sure that DePauw made the right decisions for the students. That seems to be the bloodline of DePauw students — what they see as just is followed through.  

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