Olivet College is home to 11 Greek societies, some of which are among Olivet’s oldest clubs and organizations. Each has its own rich history, mission and goals, but, the societies as a whole also share many traditions together. While the custom of pledging is standard to Greek organizations across the nation, Olivet College has one unique custom that you won’t find anywhere else: Running Night.
Some believe the event dates back to the 1920s; however, early documents show Running Night as a solid tradition by the 1950s. While it has evolved over the years, Running Night is the Greek way to kick off pledging, the period of time in which students wishing to join Greek societies have to prove themselves worthy of entry. The length of pledging has varied over the years, but Running Night has remained consistently as the night to introduce and honor the new “pledges.”
Olivet Greeks from the 50s, 60s and 70s cheerfully remember Running Night for the sororities in Dole Hall. At the time Alpha E, officially titled Alpha Lambda Epsilon and founded in 1947, only admitted women. Soronian, formally known as Iota Kappa Omicron, was founded in 1847 as the oldest all-female collegiate society not only at Olivet College, but in the entire continental U.S. These two organizations, along with Sigma Beta founded in 1907, lined the stairway in the main entrance of Dole. Pledges’ names were called one by one to run down the center of the staircase, cheered on by their future brothers, sisters and fellow Greeks.
A foot race would then ensue to the Olivet Congregational Church. The first organization to have a member ring the bell in the lobby of the church was bestowed a special honor, although that wasn’t much more than bragging rights.
From there, members of the fraternities on campus – Adelphic Alpha Pi, founded in 1862, Kappa Sigma Alpha, founded in 1922, and Phi Alpha Pi, founded in 1847 as the oldest society on the Olivet College campus, – would gather in front of Blair Hall. After an introduction, pledges would run to their individual houses while holding hands with their pledge “dads.”
“My memories are filled with heightened emotion, overwhelming joy and the comfort of sisterhood when I think of Running Night,” said Marty Mason Jennings ’67, sister of Soronian and director of alumni engagement. “Regardless of the weather in mid-January, we always had a blast welcoming our new brothers and sisters. We were truly growing our family which continues today.”
Now held in Mott Auditorium, Running Night has expanded to accommodate all 11 societies in one place but still encompasses many of the original traditions. Each sorority and fraternity sits in a designated area of seats. Then, each house takes a turn welcoming their new pledges to run down the stairs and join the active members on the stage area. After, a bell ringing ceremony in the Square takes place.
“Joining Soronian has helped me become a more confident leader and overall person,” said senior Ashlee Roussey and vice president of Soronian. “I really can’t express how happy I am with the choice I made to be involved with Greek life and the opportunities that I have experienced because of that choice. Most importantly, I have deep and everlasting bonds with my sisters, and I know I will be able to count on them well beyond graduation.”