Saturday, October 22, 2011

Alumnae Elfing: It's a Women's College Thing

Recently, Vicky Chu of Wesleyan College came under fire after writing a rather scathing summation of women's colleges in her school paper (she transferred from Bryn Mawr), including the statement, "It really isn't normal."

As I sit with a cup of hot coffee in my Mount Holyoke hoodie in my London apartment, five years after graduation, mulling over Chu's comments (I have a few favorites - check out the Jezebel article I linked above and you'll know what I mean), I'm smirking.  Sorry it didn't work out for you, honey.  I hope you found "normal" real quick as soon as you transferred.

But I'm not normal, so I suppose MHC and I were a perfect fit.

And best of all, it's totally not normal to receive this amazing package on a Monday morning from a fellow MHC alum, two class years above me:

I was elfed.  You wouldn't get it, Vicky.  It's a women's college thing.

It ain't normal.

My elf was Le Petit Elephant AKA Anna.  Why the Peeps? You see, good elves know what their recipients like: Anna picked up on clues via Twitter, and knew to send me these amazing Halloween Peeps all the way from Cambridge, Massachusetts to my office desk, accompanied by an equally fantastic Halloween card.  It was a little too much kindness for a Monday morning and I must admit, I got a little teary (read: NOT NORMAL).

WARNING: Vicky, you might want to stop reading at this point, as I'm going to explain the elfing tradition and you might vomit at all the utterances of abnormality I'm about to make.

Elfing is a tradition that began in the Mount Holyoke residence halls sometime in the mid-60s.  Around this time each year, when the leaves on campus begin to turn a vibrant red, orange, and yellow and carloads of students flock to Atkins Farm for cider apple donuts, two sophomore roommates will quietly sneak down to the room of their two assigned first-year "elfees" - preferably when they're already asleep. As any elf can relate, this often means a) not sleeping, EVER b) setting an alarm for some bizarre time, like 3:17 a.m. or c) waking up very, very early.  They'll be armed with gifts, candy, cards, and magazine cutouts of celebrities whose thought bubbles contain compliments about the elfee, which are then taped to the walls of communal bathrooms (not quite what Chu might expect to find - see article for explanation).  Elves cover and decorate the dorm room door with streamers, newspaper, and banners.  Elfees awake in the morning to confusion, surprise, amusement, and then happiness.  This goes on, oh, every day for about a week, until the elves reveal their identities to their elfees at another MHC tradition called - wait for it - Milk & Cookies (or M&Cs, as true Mount Holyoke students refer to them).  I can't even fathom explaining that now because I can actually sense the disgust seething from Chu's person, even though we've never met (if we ever do, I suggest it be over a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of ice cold milk).

IT'S NOT NORMAL.  But it sure is fun.

By the way ... have you heard about Mountain Day?


  1. 1. That is an amazing surprise to receive.

    2. The women's college critique is so strange. I've never screamed "Death to the patriarchy" in the middle of going about my day. Maybe I should try it! Also, bathroom hygiene issues are something you complain about to the residential life staff, not years later in a publication.

    3. I read your blog in Google Reader, so it took me until now to notice your (new?) background. Very nice!

  2. 1. And they're still coming!

    2. You mean you never did that, Marjorie? I still do, at a set time, at a set place.

    3. Thank you for being a regular reader! I really appreciate it. I want a more original design (this was just a template in Blogger) but haven't gotten around to it yet ...

  3. How thrilling to know the elfing doesn't stop after graduation! We freaks at MHC sure are pretty damn lucky. You might also be interested in Vicky Chu's apology letter, which was posted on the Wesleyan website pretty soon after her editorial was published due to her scathing commentary on the women's college experiences:

  4. Ms. Chu's apology is annoying on many fronts, but for me the worst is that we graduates of women's colleges are NOT alumni, we're alumnae! Come on. <3 You JT xx

  5. Non-apology. She only used it as a platform to rephrase - not retract - her previous statements, coupled with a lot of additional passive-aggression. Whatevs!

  6. This is FABULOUS! It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that people continue the wonderful Mount Holyoke traditions beyond the gates. As a soon-to-graduate senior, I've been wondering how I'll be keeping the Mount Holyoke spirit alive once I've left this beautiful place - now I've got some ideas! :)

  7. Hi ladyadventurer26! Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment. Don't worry - I can assure you that you'll find plenty of opportunities to reconnect with MHC post-graduation. Although you might have a little trouble re-enacting Canoe Sing ... ;)

  8. Greetings from a fellow MHC alum! I'm writing a piece on our elfing tradition for an education publication in China and came across the article through Google. It's making me miss MHC so much!

    1. Hi Duan! Thanks for reading! Glad you found this post on Google. I always miss MHC the most around this time of the year. Must be the thought of the leaves turning on campus, Atkins cider donuts, and all the lovely traditions we used to have around now. Good luck with your piece!


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