‘Rip Day’ turns into ‘Burn Day’ as Norwich shakes up an old familiar tradition

Senior Thomas Banyacski Jr. burns his winter B uniform as part of the new tradition, “Senior Burn Day,” which has replaced “Senior Rip Day.”

Senior Thomas Banyacski Jr. burns his winter B uniform as part of the new tradition, “Senior Burn Day,” which has replaced “Senior Rip Day.”

This past August, senior Norwich cadet Brian Rudd began his final year with the hopes of participating in the many rituals that mark the final year. “I was excited to be a part of the many traditions that seniors get to do,” Rudd said.

However, for the senior class of 2014, some of those expected traditions would not be celebrated. Rudd, a 22-year-old criminal justice major from Ocean, N.J., soon find out that the commandant’s office would put an end to “senior rip” day.

“I was surprised,” Rudd said.

Over the last two years, the Office of the Commandant, the section of the university immediately in charge of the corps, has been investigating and establishing new policies that have had a direct impact on students in the Corps of Cadets and their “traditions”.

These changes can be seen in cadet special units, uniform wear and appearance, and Corps of Cadet activities, most recently including
outlawing the “senior rip” tradition.

According to Rudd, senior rip day was a celebrated tradition for the corps that occurred every year on the last day of wearing the winter B uniforms before the corps would switch to the white summer B uniform for the remainder of the spring. On this particular day, participating seniors would corral on one end of the upper parade ground while underclassmen would chase them attempting to rip off their no longer needed winter B uniform.

Senior George Seiferth, a 21-year-old international studies major from Germany, said that he suspected that the tradition would not last. “I’m not surprised that we didn’t have senior rip day this year.”

Seiferth said that he always enjoyed watching senior rip day until last year when the commandant’s office took action to stop it. “My junior year was the last straw because running around the UP ripping shirts off of cadets, didn’t look good in the eyes of the commandants,” said Seiferth.

On the last day of winter uniforms in the spring of 2013, several members of the commandant’s office patrolled the Upper Parade ground to prevent anyone from taking part in the activity.

Only a handful of seniors successfully had their uniforms ripped off, one of them being 2013 graduate, Jake Girard. “It was disappointing to be part of the last senior rip day. Plus, barely anyone was able to participate because of the commandants,” said Girard.

While some current seniors enjoyed watching senior rip day over their last three years and wanted to participate, others question its overall purpose.

Joseph Hart, a 21-year-old senior and civil engineering major from Langdon, N.H., didn’t think there was a clear rationale to hold senior rip day. “I think it’s great that Norwich has traditions, but I think that this is one of those odd traditions to keep,” Hart said.

Some current seniors who participated as underclassmen understand the commandant’s office’s decision, though they don’t necessarily agree. Donald Gray, a 22-year-old senior and criminal justice major from Richmond, Maine, participated in senior rip day by ripping his senior friend’s shirts in both his sophomore and junior year. “I wasn’t surprised that they took it away, but I was disappointed,” Gray said.

Bill Passalacqua, an assistant commandant and Norwich alumni class of 1988, said that the commandant staff views the practice of senior rip day as unprofessional, noting it could potentially hurt students as well as the image of the university.

“People grabbing each other (and) ripping clothes off,” Passalacqua said, “(is) not quite the deportment that we would expect at a military college. How do you explain that to a visiting party?”

Another issue, according to Passalacqua, is the fact that someone has the potential of getting hurt.“What if someone is on a commissioning track or wanted to be a police officer and gets hurt? We’ve just ended a potential career, or at least delayed it,” he said. While no injuries have been reported,, the risk is still present. “Whether someone did get a scrape or an injury that never got reported is possible.”

Although Gray acknowledges that there is a potential for injury, he still believes that it is a tradition that should be kept at the university. “There is a potential for injury in anything that we do. They still do the Dog River Run,” Gray said. “There is a huge potential for injury there but it’s a tradition so they keep it around.”

Gray believes that the method the university uses to pick and choose traditions to keep is wrong. “You’re ripping someone’s sleeves off with their consent. I don’t think that there is any more potential for injury than most of the things that we do here” said Gray.

But Passalacqua believes that the risk of someone getting hurt is there. He has witnessed seniors who have been tackled and subsequently dog piled by underclassmen attempting to strip the seniors of their uniforms.

Senior Louis Geller sees the removal of senior rip day as an “innocent” tradition that should not have been outlawed. “It’s a Norwich tradition. I don’t think there should be any changes to an innocent, coming-of-spring tradition by getting rid of your winter uniform” said Geller.

Geller, a 23-year-old criminal justice major from Newburgh, N.Y., said that he always looked forward to senior rip day as an underclassman. “It was kind of like a bonding moment. You get to mess around on the UP (Upper Parade Ground) with your upperclassmen friends and rip their uniforms” said Geller. He said that he looked forward to being part of the tradition as a senior, but unfortunately for Geller, he would never get the chance.

In response to the disapproval voiced by many seniors and in order to dissuade a potential rogue attempt to celebrate senior rip day, the commandant’s office approved an alternative. Instead of completely eliminating the act of destroying senior winter uniforms, they created senior burn day.

This new, or rather reinstated,tradition is a supervised event in which seniors are allowed to throw their winter uniform into a fire on the WCC green. “That makes sense to me, because that’s what I did,” said Passalacqua, referring to his own senior year at NU.

According to Passalacqua, the act of burning old winter uniforms goes back to not only his time at Norwich in the 1980s, but beyond that into what many might consider the “old corps” days.

However, the burning tradition itself was eventually outlawed sometime in the early 1990s. “Even during my time, it got ugly,” Passalacqua said. “Unfortunately, our cadets and our students have a tendency to take everything a little bit too far.”

Passalacqua said that he can remember when his classmates would throw items other than uniforms into the fire, which eventually led to the end of the burning tradition. Some time later, seniors created a new tradition of ripping uniforms. “I was not familiar with senior rip day in my time. It came along sometime after 1988. I think it started happening after we stopped burning uniforms on the UP,” said Passalacqua.

Passalacqua began working in the Commandant’s office in 1994, and recalls that senior rip day began sometime after his arrival.

The new tradition, while a good idea to some, has not garnered much support. “I think senior burn day was a suitable alternative, even though I didn’t participate,” said Hart. He noticed that many of his peers did not participate either.

Hart believes that if senior burn day were to get more participation, it would be a more worthwhile and enjoyable event. “With most things that go on at Norwich now, participation is really struggling no matter what it is,” he said.

While some students wish to destroy their unneeded uniform, Trung Nguyen, a 20-year-old sophomore and political science and Chinese major from Chester, Va., has no intention of partaking in any future burning event. “When I’m a senior I’ll probably just donate my uniform back. I wouldn’t want to rip or burn it,” Nugyen said.

Nguyen said that he believes that his old uniform will be a lot more useful to a future cadet who needs an extra uniform item. However, the class of 2014 is the next to last class to have been issued the cavalry blue winter B uniform shirts, so the phased-out uniform is of no use to the underclassmen.

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