Opinion: We should keep throwing people in the Mill Stream - with care
Out of the nine Willamette University traditions listed on the Willamette University website, one that stands out is regarding the Mill Stream. It is accompanied by the note: “Students usually stay away on their birthdays, or else their friends might throw them in.” To a potential WU student, looking through the university website and deciding if they should apply, a tradition of this sort promises community and friendship. However, it may be worth asking ourselves, “Do the benefits outweigh the risks?”
Managing Editor Emma Innes being gently dunked in the Millstream on her birthday. Video by Chrissy Ewald
One day into life on campus, and the infamous WU tradition of throwing people in the Mill Stream was revealed to me. Alarm bells went off in my mind as I reflected on how my birthday falls in late October when the weather was definitely going to be colder. Coming from a tropical country and having spent very little time in the winter season in Japan two years ago, I was convinced I would likely freeze to death. However, some of my friends were overly enthusiastic about this idea and even showed me videos of how they had been thrown into the Mill Stream themselves. One of them eagerly ran to the Mill Stream and allowed himself to be dunked in with the help of his friends. The excitement that comes with being dunked in the Mill Stream is wholesome, and, having watched a few of these take place, I’ve found myself laughing along with everybody else, and feeling like I really belonged to this university. The sense of community is evident. Chloe Terrace (‘24) commented that dunking people in the Mill Stream on their birthdays is “sentimental because it connects you to Willamette’s history and traditions.” Suum Mang (‘24) commented that dunking people in the Mill Stream and even the Hatfield Fountain, more commonly called the Chicken Fountain, on their birthday provides a chance for everyone to “gather around and create friendship.” Referencing a day when everyone had gathered for a friend’s dunking at the Chicken Fountain, he noted that “we had fun, took pictures, bonded. It’s a good chance to get together.”
As I spoke to more and more people, I saw that dunking students in the Chicken Fountain had now become an essential campus tradition. I spoke with Marcos Maza (‘22),whose birthday dunking I had been a part of as well. There were at least fifteen people gathered to celebrate with him, and not only did we cheer him on as he jumped into the Chicken Fountain, but about five other students also jumped in after him. When I asked him about his opinion and his experience, he responded that “I think it’s okay for students to get dunked. This year was actually my first year to get dunked…It’s a nice and harmless tradition. My favorite part was when my friends also jumped in with me. All in all, it was a memorable experience and I cherish it a lot.” Given this enthusiastic feedback and appreciation for the dunking tradition, especially with the sense of community it fosters at Willamette, it seems clear to me that as long as it’s consensual, this practice of dunking people into the Mill Stream and/or Chicken Fountain is a venerable tradition that should definitely be continued.
The aftermath of being dunked in the Chicken Fountain or the Mill Stream, however, can be a little messy. Not only did I hear a few complaints from friends who were dunked in about sudden itching all over their bodies, but some also suffered from fevers. There were concerns of the Mill Stream potentially being unclean, and that the Chicken Fountain doesn’t have a steady enough flow of water to cycle out bacteria. When I asked her about the safety surrounding this tradition , Oshadhi Jayaweera (‘23) stated that “I think it should be one’s personal choice because I have friends who had allergic reactions after being dumped in the Mill Stream/Chicken Fountain. So I think it’s risky to dump someone in the Mill Stream without their consent.” This bit of evidence, which was also supported by a few other interviewees, makes me wonder how we as students who wish to keep up the tradition but are still vulnerable to contracting itches or fever, might go forward. The possible consequences of being dunked is absolutely something to keep in mind, given that we need to prioritize our health and wellbeing as students. If you are determined to keep up the tradition, I suggest taking all the precautions that you can, knowing your limits, and also understanding that there are other traditions with less severe consequences that you still can partake in to feel the Willamette spirit.
Keeping all this in mind, I would say that being dunked in the Mill Stream or the Chicken Fountain is a great experience that provides students with a feeling of connection to the others within our campus community. Having said all that, students would be wise to make sure that they are considering the potential aftermath of being dunked and preparing to bear the itching. Ultimately, it’s your choice. You can choose to be the one dunked in, or be the one cheering as someone else is willingly being dunked. Either way, you are actively participating in one of Willamette University’s most infamous traditions.