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  • Sage Lamott, Staff Writer

The wacky wonders of Willamette University

Art by Eli Fukuji.

A common observation among Willamette’s student body is that the Salem campus is a weird place. Reasons for its oddness range from the intricate overlap of Smullin and Walton to the mysterious and elusive Goudy celebration loaf. Lillian Hubbell (‘26) calls this phenomenon “Willamette weirdness.” The oldest school west of the Mississippi has a lot of history — traditions are upheld, stories are told and objects from the past are exchanged in a legacy that adds up to a whole lot of weirdness. Here are some quirks Willamette students find particularly strange.  


Many students are familiar with the concept known as the “Willamette weather machine.” Alexa Decrinis (‘26) explained, “The weather always tends to get nice when the school is having big events or when it’s Bearcat Day, things like that. You see all these prospective students taking off their jackets when they realize Willamette actually has springtime. The Quad is always stacked full of students out having picnics and throwing the frisbee. It’s a good look for prospective students.” Indeed, the campus  comes alive when it’s warmer outside. The Mill Stream looks inviting and a lounge in the Adirondack chairs sounds delightful. When looking at Willamette’s promotional material, the beauty of the spring semester is emphasized by images of people enjoying the sunshine and walking downtown in shorts and tank tops. It’s as if the weather machine got to work for the photographer as well. 


Integral to Willamette’s uniqueness is its theater department, according to some students. “Our theater program is kind of renowned by itself,” Hubbell stated. “It’s not only successful in the scope of having talented students, but people from all over Salem come to watch our students perform. That’s not necessarily weird, but I think it’s interesting to note.” With musicals premiering from theater students dedicated to creating new art, the university boasts a department similar to the talent and acclaim of more esteemed premiere theaters. Ticket prices are affordable, so the Salem community can attend quality artistic performances at a reasonable price. 


As a fairly old school, Willamette is also home to many relics of past students' shenanigans. Nick Cottrill (‘26) said, “There’s all of the old Greek life relics scattered around campus — [a] weird room in Cascadia House, that one underground section in Baxter, simply the fact that people don’t live in the sorority and fraternity houses. Just scattered pieces of WU Greek life history.”


Another on-campus spot that students are curious about is the campus Zen garden. “We have a space designated for a Zen garden, but the upkeep of it hasn’t happened so it goes mostly unused,” Rori Wenger (‘26) said. The space is located in between the art building and Olin, and it goes unnoticed by a majority of students. With some renovation and well-deserved love, the Zen garden could be a good space for students to relax and connect with nature, but for now, it remains a uniquely odd spot on campus. 


An additional element of particular intrigue for undergraduate students is the functioning of the graduate programs, namely the business school. “The business program during undergrad is completely separate from the MBA school," Gregory Douglas (‘26) noted. “Like, business classes aren’t always held at the business school. [It's] just the way there are almost two separate programs when one is setting you up for the other.” As far as Willamette goes, undergraduate students make up a majority of the student population, yet the structuring and culture of the graduate programs can still seem vague and unclear to students not involved with those studies.


Willamette’s charm can be found partially in its eclecticness. What makes this place a home for many students are its wacky qualities — its unexplained mysteries and marvels, from strange tunnels to empty gardens to distant graduate programs.

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mparsonskf
04. Mai

nice story about things I have missed while visiting your school! Thank you for the information will check out the Zen garden on my next visit.

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