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Backstory: They doff their beanies to tradition

Is there a good side of hazing? A mild – and ancient – form of humiliation makes a popular comeback at Wabash College.

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My college experience was like yours, except my homecoming queen probably had a lot more stubble. And, at my alma mater, if you didn't know the school song – one of the longest in the nation – someone gave you a friendly reminder by shaving a scarlet letter into your head. And, finally, there's this distinction: I wore a freshman beanie.

Recently the club got a little more inclusive at all-male Wabash College. This fall, the beanie reappeared on freshman heads here, breathing life into a tradition dead for almost 40 years.

Whether the evolution of a mild form of hazing drawn from centuries-old rites can survive in today's politically correct climate remains a question, but what better proving ground? Wabash, one of the handful of men's colleges left in the nation, has always been ahead of the curve by keeping behind the times.

"Students here have this powerful sense of connection to the past of our college," explained Tom Bambree, dean of students and a 1968 Wabash graduate who doesn't think the pressure to wear beanies is hazing. "This is a manifestation of that – a way for students to do something as a whole class and take part in the richness of a school tradition."

Wabash, 45 miles northwest of Indianapolis, was founded in 1832. The liberal arts college sits on a wooded 60 acres, anchored by red-brick Georgian halls. The school wears its old-school charm like a letterman sweater on a crisp, autumn afternoon, making the freshman beanie appropriate attire.

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