A Consideration of College Traditions in Higher Education Research

College traditions serve as a way in which new members learn about cultural norms in their respective college or university settings. Traditions are cultivated, tended to and strengthened (intentionally or unintentionally) with the ideal of fostering a sense of belonging for members of their communities. They are rich with rituals, customs, symbols, sagas, and heroes. There are also well-established hierarchies, inherent power structures (and struggles), and cultures that feel oppressive for some yet empowering to others. Further, many of these aspects are steeped in institutional history, reinforced by cultural norms to which not all are privy to their true meaning, nor are they invited to participate in the “mainstream” college environment. Do college traditions promote a culture of insiders and outsiders? What about those who do not participate because they do not want to, were not invited to participate, or simply do not feel comfortable participating? The purpose of this abstract is to discuss how and why educational researchers should use college traditions as sources of data to understand how college students are exposed to and experience institutional culture in postsecondary settings. The focused discussion will include an overview of ways in which college traditions have been studied as well as a discussion of how they should be studied, including an overview of applicable frameworks. Potential barriers to the process of considering college traditions in a scholarly way will also be considered.

Institutions, Culture, Traditions

Learning in Higher Education

Focused Discussion