Groundhog 2022 sparks conversations about UD culture

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The Party in the Park saw two arrests and at least two hospital visits. Photo courtesy of Peter Burleigh.

After a year’s hiatus, Groundhog 2022 returned to the University of Dallas the first weekend of February. Students and faculty alike refused to let the ice, snow and mud bog down the festivities. Yet for some in and around UD, this year’s celebration in particular led to the question being raised: What is Groundhog, truly?

According to “6 Things You May Not Know About Groundhog,” an article archived in 2016 from The University News, Groundhog Day has been a hallmark of UD student life for 57 years, ever since former UD president Donald Cowan iconically enjoined students to establish traditions unique to UD and to UD alone. Cowan’s “fateful injunction” was to “think of something to celebrate — celebrate Groundhog Day, for instance — but whatever you do, do it with style.” 

Transformed over the decades from a strictly student-led, midnight-to-midnight Groundhog Day event into a boisterous week of both school- and student-sponsored festivities, Groundhog is seen by many as the quintessential celebration of UD identity, community and legacy. Alumni return year after year to their old stomping grounds, students invite siblings and friends, and under and upperclassmen get to mingle and bond in ways that would be impossible otherwise. 

Almost universally across the current UD student body, it seems to be regarded as the UD event. But was it always so?

Dr. Gregory Roper, dean of students and associate professor of English, recalled that to him, the “myth” of Groundhog was always whimsical and playful, nothing too serious. 

Roper said: “The students just wanted to have a good time, and in true UD fashion, do it in a silly and self-mocking way. I think there was always a sense that the students were deliberately celebrating the goofiest and most meaningless of American holidays. Without question that is the myth I inherited in 1981 at my first Groundhog.” 

When asked if he thought Groundhog was truly a hallmark of UD, he wrote: “It was never meant to be serious; it was never meant to be this kind of symbol for everything UD… It’s supposed to be whimsical. Now, in that whimsy and self-mockery and playfulness are hallmarks of UD, I guess you could call it a hallmark. But that’s too important a word for so silly an event.”

However, to some, Groundhog has started to fall away from merrily philosophizing in the woods over a beer and has entered a more ominous trajectory towards a culture of branded, structured partying. 

On Jan. 28, Roper wrote an email to undergraduates and graduates in anticipation of Groundhog 2022 and the upcoming revelry. “Enjoy the week, but don’t be stupid,” he wrote. “Don’t use your rational nature to make yourself stupid.” 

However, his words went underappreciated, and not just by current students. This year’s Groundhog brought with it a number of incidents. 

Russell Greene, Chief of Police at UDPD, reported: “Two people were arrested by the Irving Police Department for Criminal Trespass. This happened at [Party in the Park’s] front gate.” Both persons were identified as alumni. In addition, at least two people were taken to the emergency room with minor injuries.

Roper sent another email to juniors and seniors on Feb. 1. He wrote that, “You can’t find another example, another context, where drinking for seven straight days is a good idea. So what makes it a good idea here and now?”

Roper also pushed back against the idea of an entire week devoted to celebrating Groundhog.

“I’m not sure where that came from,” he wrote in a Feb. 18 response to the News, “but I have asked alums, including relatively recent alums, and have discovered that Groundhog extending for a whole week is a very recent phenomenon. So all of those who have said that this is ‘just what Groundhog is’ are suffering from historical recency bias.”

Roper specifically wanted to undermine the “branding” of Groundhog.

When asked for his thoughts on potentially reformatting or rebranding Groundhog, he responded, “Ugh  — ‘rebranding’? Is Groundhog a ‘brand’? Sweet beard of Moses, I hope not … I don’t think it’s a brand. It’s a day — a day of fun and revelry. Nothing less, nothing more. Those who try to make it into something more are missing the point.”

Kolbe Costello, a senior politics major, gave insight on Groundhog Week. When asked about the recent discussions about the nature of Groundhog, he said: “It’s always been about culture, but not just any culture; it’s UD’s unique culture. Groundhog is the one time where all the classes are together; it always exemplifies a huge sense of class identity, but even bigger than that, it’s the school’s identity.”

Costello recognized the pressure that students face today to maintain discipline and avoid hypocrisy in light of modern society’s glorification of excessive carousing, especially considering the UD environment that is fundamentally and predominantly oriented towards religion and good education.

When asked about UD’s “party” culture, he said, “UD has always had an ironclad commitment to faith and schoolwork, but we know how to have fun as well. To do so responsibly and in moderation is the challenge we face, and although we all have certainly fallen at one time or another, it’s never been something that is glorified or prioritized, as it sometimes is at other institutions.”

He defended Groundhog 2022 as a roaring success, and despite the muddy and cold conditions, cited Party in the Park as the highlight of the week. 

Costello is a part of the traditional folk band The Broken Strings, who were the opening performance at the Party. Composed strictly of UD students, the band is popular among the student body, and they received a raucous reception from the crowd. Costello recalled that while playing their characteristic Irish/bluegrass classics, he could feel the true spirit of Groundhog at work. 

“Standing there, looking out, and seeing 150 of your closest friends all packed together and singing along, man, that’s what Groundhog is about. Drinking and partying aside, that’s it right there; it’s about community, and I don’t think I could’ve asked for anything else. It was the best Groundhog I’ve ever been to.”

Angelina Lucchetti, sophomore French and art history major, affirmed the success of the Party in the Park. 

“Despite the freezing temperatures and muddy shoes, it was a blast and a half,” said Lucchetti, “it was everything I expected and more from Groundhog.”

The university put on an array of events throughout the week, including talks from the Groundhog Symposium, a Dante vs. Shakespeare debate, a well-attended rugby game and a school-sponsored taco truck.

Roper emphasized the goodness of the week’s events, especially the time spent with students, and encouraged people to meet, to talk and to reflect.

“I had a lot of wonderful interactions with students, many of whom thanked me for starting a discussion about important things … I hope in true UD fashion we can keep talking, keep discussing, keep thinking about ways to move towards eudaimonia, which we might translate as ‘the Good Life,’ and how Groundhog fits into that.  And like a true UDer, I invite people to discuss, debate, argue, and disagree — with each other and with me. Come see me; find me on the Mall, at the Cap Bar. Let’s talk. I’d love it.”

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