Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Higher Education

Committee Director

Chris Glass

Committee Member

Felecia Commodore

Committee Member

Kim Sibson


Campus traditions are powerful vehicles that can shape college life (Cowley & Waller, 1979). Students foster smaller identities through their involvement in traditions on campus, and these traditions often ritualize coming-of-age or the start of American adulthood (Bronner, 2012). However, the climate of higher education today may be putting campus traditions and the purposes they achieve at risk. Often mistaken as frivolous and unnecessary parts of campus life (Manning 1994), these critical meaning-shaping events could fall prey to cost-cutting and downsizing as college campuses continue to evolve.

Guided by narrative analysis methods described by Patton (2002) and the Standard Life Story Interview (McAdams & Guo, 2014), this study investigated the developmental journeys of 16 full-time, undergraduate campus tradition builders. Participants were asked to complete a brief story map reflection exercise to guide reflection on their experiences as a tradition builder. This reflection was used to guide a narrative interview which explored the student's developmental journey. Data were collected through story map submissions, interview transcripts, and extensive researcher field notes.

Themes were drawn from examination of three key pillars of developmental journeys. These pillars included initiations, flashbulb memories, and graduations. Interesting counter narratives are also shared to help illustrate the diverse experiences of tradition builders.

Initiation themes suggest that tradition builders both randomly fell into opportunities or intentionally sought them out. Participants often experienced traditions as an outsider first or were inspired by a “gatekeeper” to get further involved. Flashbulb memories surrounded three areas, including relationships, identity, and challenges. Graduation themes surrounded future career plans, craving the comforts that come from being a part of a community, and increasing leadership experience. The documented journeys all lead to traditions builders either wanting to maintain a connection to their organization/institution or needing a break. Experiences were typically framed by pressures that may be unique to the tradition builder experience. Implications for policy, practice, and future research are also discussed.