The thing that’s so irksome about freshmen — or “first-years,” if you’re a Gender Studies concentrator — is that they are having more fun than you. The rest of us are weary from their loud bursts of ecstatic liberty; freshman are newly free, yet safely cooped up beneath the big Brown shelter — and they want the world to know.
Then it’s over and bam!: you’re an upperclassmen and you abruptly inherit the solemn duty of mocking them, the fun-havers. Lucky for us, it turns out that teasing the newcomers is a lot of fun.
But our Brown impulse to deride the Young and Gradeless used to be much crueler. For this Blog edition of Ra Ra Brunonia we turn to the aptly called Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell. According to Mitchell, since 1907, Brown’s Cammarian Club, a selective and elite cabal (and early student government), mandated that all first year students don a special brand of beanie called Eton caps. These things were fucking awful. They were, essentially, small brown-colored skullcaps. These harsh hats were unflattering, unfashionable, and, most crucially, marked you as a fun-haver — which meant your smug freshman head belonged in a toilet.
But the official word from EB says that the hats were “an attempt to strengthen class spirit.”
The Cammarian Club knew that if you forced someone to do something awful — like wear a stupid hat — in order to belong to some organization, then you foster a sense of belonging to that group. Hazing works because of something psychologists call the self-justification effect, whereby if you engage in behavior that clashes with your beliefs, then you tend to both rationalize those behaviors and deny any negative consequences.
It’s like in Animal House when they borrow Flounder’s car, wreck it, and then he still goes to the toga party. Well, sort of. It’s more like here at Brown when they make people run around naked on Wriston. I assume these disrobed dashers don’t necessarily believe in running around naked, in public, at night, but that they justify it by saying they get to have a giant wooden swing and live close to the Ratty.
But I digress.
These Eton caps were so abominably designed that in 1908 (one year after they were introduced) they had to be redesigned so as to be warm enough for those charming New England winters. And that means two things: One, these hats were small and thin. Two, people really wore them, even in cold weather, which also means that the consequences for not wearing them were severe. The cap rule must have been oppressively enforced because every “May 30 was marked by a parade of the freshmen through the principal downtown streets and their return to Lincoln Field for the burning of the caps in a bonfire.”
In the interest of advocating for the Devil, it’s entirely possible that the Brown beanies were a good faith effort to encourage camaraderie with silly skullcaps.
But let’s get one thing straightened out, dear reader. Apparently, in 1915 the Brown Daily Herald criticized the Cammarian Club for temporarily abolishing the beanies. I’d like the record for BlogDailyHerald to state that I’d rather wear nothing just the once than have to rock these hats on the daily. They were fucking hideous.
*Beanie shown is not an actual Brown University Eton cap; I couldn’t find an image, so I assume they all burned.