Fall Fest and Homecoming games: Social, athletic and intellectual fun for all

Through the years, the organizers have kept up with the times

Photos/Mike Lovett
Photos/Mike Lovett

Fall Fest, a four-day celebration in which the campus welcomes the family and friends of its students, begins this Thursday, October 14.  Dubbed “Destination: Brandeis,” with a travel theme, students and visitors can look forward to a fun-filled schedule of activities, tours, lectures, games, discussions and homecoming athletic events.

While the annual event is always colorful, participants may not be aware that Fall Fest has a long history on campus. Director of Student Activities Stephanie Grimes is not entirely sure how long, but she's sure it's at least since 1973.  “That’s the earliest we have,” Grimes said, pointing to the oldest document in a binder full of “survival guides."

The survival guides are Fall Fest event books from past years used for reference. That early guide -- actually a pamphlet --- is in coarse black and white and dated 1973. The most recent guide in the binder, from 2009, is in sleek full color. The contrast paints a vivid picture of how technology has changed since the 1970s.

This year, Fall Fest runs from October 14 through October 18. It is a widely anticipated happening that students can count on each autumn like clockwork as they move up through the Brandeis ranks.

The survival guides are not the only things that have changed with the passage of time. This celebration of all things Brandeis has also adapted as American society, the concept of family, and the Brandeis campus itself, have changed through the decades.

The event that is today known as “Fall Fest” began as “Parents Weekend” -- a time when parents could visit and have a look at the campus. It kept that moniker throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.

“There was still a focus on the traditional family structure,” Grimes said. “We were making an assumption that there is always a student and there are parents.”

But divorce was on the rise, and the notion of what constituted a "typical" American family was in flux. Society became increasingly accustomed to blended families, step-parents, single parents, same-sex parents, and other configurations.  The idea that a family was always a mother and a father and their biological children became dated, and in 1996 the Student Core Committee decided it was time for a change.

Parents Weekend became “Family Weekend.”  That name stuck for more than five years.

In 2002, Family Weekend was re-christened “Fall Fest.”  The change of name resulted from a collaboration of sorts. Since Brandeis has no designated day for alumni to visit, the Alumni Relations office was worried that Brandeis alumni were not getting a chance to return to see and experience the present-day campus.  Working together, Alumni Relations and Student Activities decided to include alumni on the guest list for the fall celebration.

According to Grimes, the planning process for the inaugural Fall Fest was fueled by optimism, with Alumni Relations focusing on five-year alumni and those living in the Boston area. But the response from alumni was lukewarm, she says. After 2003, Alumni Relations and Student Activities decided to eliminate the alumni component of Fall Fest, and changed the name back to “Family Weekend.”

This name stuck for only one year. Brandeis was becoming increasingly populated by students from around the world, creating a problem with the name "Family Weekend" because many of the international students' families were unable to come. “There was an attitude that, ‘if my family isn’t coming, I’m not invited,’” Grimes said.

In 2005, in an effort to welcome as much of the community as possible in the celebration, Student Activities and the Fall Fest Core Committee, which is made up of students, changed the name back to “Fall Fest,” and this name does not seem to be going anywhere soon.

Despite many other changes, one thing has remained constant over Fall Fest’s 40 or so years -- the passion of the organizers.  The Fall Fest Core Committee is a group of students who all made it through a competitive application process for a chance to plan the festival. Their work begins in February and continues long after Fall Fest ends, as they evaluate the successes and failures of the event and add their latest “survival guide” to the binder.

According to Yuliya Mints ’11, the chief coordinator of the core committee and a three-year veteran of Fall Fest, all the work is worth it.

“I think my favorite part of Fall Fest," she says, "is being at one of the events… with all the coordinators there, and the students and their families, and thinking, ‘Oh my God. We made this happen. We put this together!’”

Categories: General, Student Life

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