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Maine Day’s history should influence its future

When we talk about the history of Maine Day on campus, we are told of a vision to reunite and bond the different classes at UMaine in service and volunteering. However, we do not talk about why the classes were in need of building a community in the first place. The precursors to what we now know as Maine Day are much darker than discussed.

The nightshirt “parade” was a tradition at the university that consisted of an academic class war between the freshmen and the sophomores on campus. I dug through old editions of The Maine Campus from the 1920s and 1930s to get an unfiltered student account of what occurred on those nights.

These parades usually consisted of the kidnapping of freshmen from their campus dorms. I mean that literally, as stories describe students “being removed from bed” to forcefully attend the nightshirt riots. Over the course of a decade, the nightshirt parade evolved from humiliating acts in front of women-only dormitories to students being stripped of their clothes and hair, chased into the woods, paddled and thrown into the Stillwater.

How do you repair the relationship between these two student groups? Community service, apparently, because the Maine Day tradition of service was born. Maine Day had remained a stable tradition until last year when safety concerns arose out of the extreme partying and drug use associated with the events after the volunteer work was done. 

I was on the Maine Day task force in a room full of students, staff and community members who worked to balance the tradition of Maine Day with student safety. Out of the task force came Maine Week. While not the task force’s intention, this only hurt the student experience. Now, a week before finals, students and staff were expected to create an entire week’s worth of programming for students. The students who used the day off to study and work no longer had that opportunity as classes were held. The task force discussed a longer period off of class to spread out and limit binge drinking, such as two mornings off class, and the university administration morphed it into an infuriating Maine Week that did not accomplish the end goal of student safety or any volunteer work.

Maine Day is all about community. Making sure students are safe starts in the community. It starts with having water, first aid services, and dumpsters readily available at the Ave. If we want to build and uplift the UMaine community, we must start with safe rides and transportation on Maine Day, emphasizing bystander intervention. Maine Day began as a day to build bonds, and the future of Maine Day is reliant on the promotion of building a community that takes care of one another.

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