Hell Week* at the Mawr
Last week, Bryn Mawrtyrs celebrated the school’s (arguably) most precious tradition. That Tuesday, one of my friends from Swarthmore asked me what exactly was Hell Week. I’m not sure my answer was adequate, because explaining Hell Week is difficult. It is so many wonderful things all bundled together—laughing with friends, dancing in front of professors, running across campus late at night on scavenger hunts, waking up early for the duck pond run, listening to bedtime stories read by the seniors . . . and the list goes on.
When I visited Bryn Mawr as a senior in high school, I was surprised by the amount of traditions it had. From Parade Night to Lantern Night and May Day, the celebrations seemed thrilling and mysterious. At the time, I asked my tour guide what her favorite tradition was, and I remember how she replied without hesitation “Hell Week!” Now I know why.
Hell Week started at 5:37 on the dot. You could tell just from the excited screams across campus.
From then on, a whirlwind of activities and crazy behavior takes over. Each freshman has already chosen her “Hellers,” usually one or two upperclassmen she has grown close to. Last year, my two wonderful Hellers devised a Hell Schedule for me full of Hell Tasks. The Hell Tasks are usually a combination of creative and silly. I had to hand out chocolate kisses while asking people about their first loves, danced in Pem Arch with friends, and made omelet deliveries to my Hell Moms. (Of course, all the activities are optional, and there is no pressure. Hellees who don’t feel comfortable with an activity in their Hell schedule can opt out of it.)
This year I was so lucky to have my own lovely Hellee, Claire, who also had one other Heller, M. M and I concocted a schedule and chortled while envisioning Hell Tasks. Each Hell Schedule is unique, based on the tastes of the Hellee.
Claire is a bubbly K-pop enthusiast with a zeal for life. Her schedule involved a multitude of silly K-pop-related activities: teach a professor a K-pop dance move; dress up like a K-pop star. She also wrote a poem to one Hell Grandmother and decorated the door of another.
No one gets much sleep during Hell Week. Throughout the week there are performances in Thomas Great Hall and Goodhart Theater. Any freshman can get up and dance with a group of friends in front of hundreds of onlookers to raucous applause and ear-splitting music.
Bryn Mawr students take their traditions seriously and always have. I think the reason Hell Week is so loved stems from the enthusiasm and affection Mawrtyrs have for their traditions. Hell Week is a final welcome gesture to the freshmen class, but the upperclassmen play a vital role as well, enforcing the sense of community and love that we all share for the Mawr.
Of course, there is more to Hell Week than I have written here. For those prospective students reading, you’ll just have to become a Mawrtyr to find out!
“Your body makes you human, your mind makes you a scholar, but the duck pond run makes you a Mawrtyr.”
* Last year the name was changed to “Welcome the First-Year’s Week,” with Hellers changed to “Roses” and Hellees becoming “Buds.” But it is difficult to eradicate a name beloved by Mawrtyrs that has stuck for decades.