Hope Iyiewuare is thoughtful. He knows small, personal gestures are often the most effective. This is true in love – and in war.
“Usually, I just take time out of my day, stop by Willard, maybe turn one of their banners upside down, reverse all of their flyers on their bulletin board,” said Iyiewuare, a Weinberg sophomore. He’s also vice-president of Shepard Residential College and thus a commander in the rivalry between Willard Residential College and Shepard.
The Woo-Shep war is just one of the many perpetual skirmishes being waged across Northwestern.
The beginnings of many of the residential colleges rivalries are forgotten. Some make sense. The two Fairchild halls, the Communications Residential College and the International Studies Residential College, are almost obligated to compete because they’re located less than 30 feet away from each other. The antagonism between the Slivka College of Science and Engineering and the Thomas G. Ayers College of Commerce and Industry is rooted in their frequent skirmishes on the intramural sports courts. Oh, and one musn’t forget that the CCI building also blocks Slivka’s view of the lakefill. (Now, thanks to construction, both buildings’ views are now blocked.)
But the reasoning behind other rivalries is somewhat less clear. According to Iyiewuare, the Woo-Shep rivalry goes back to the days when the colleges’ founders, Margaret Bowen Shepard and Frances Willard, were apparently friends.
“Suddenly Willard decided to get up in our business, and Margaret Bowen, being the fantastic human that she was, did not retaliate until Willard took it too far,” Iyiewuare said. “And that was the beginning of the rivalry that lasted throughout the ages.”
Willard President C.J. Hansen, a Weinberg sophomore, tells a simpler tale. “Willard and Shepard are the only two non-thematic res colleges, so we’re just naturally pitted against each other,” he explained.
But the rivalries’ origins don’t matter. In the world of res college rivalries, each generation of res collegians sees it as their duty to pass on their friendly, irrational hatred.
Many members still remember the very first time they heard about their college’s rivalry. It often was during their first few weeks in their new home. Executive board members talked up the competition, trying to build community, and the new students dove right in.
Nick Palumbo, a Weinberg junior from Slivka, said he heard about Slivka’s rivalry with CCI before he had even entered Slivka itself. Exec members helped him unload his car on the first day of his freshman year and then immediately pointed out the CCI building across the parking lot.
“‘This is CCI. We don’t like them,’” Palumbo, who is now Slivka’s Social Chair, remembers them saying. “‘But we sort of do. But we also sort of really, really don’t.’”
The rivalries are perhaps more constructive than destructive. When a res college has a rivalry, fellow Slivkans aren’t merely the people who live across the hall – they’re comrades.
“I definitely think it’s a bonding tool early on. If you have someone to make fun of together, it’s a good away to make jokes, a good way to get to know each other,” said Slivkan Max Gillet, a McCormick sophomore.
“It gets freshmen right up into the Willard activities,” agreed Hansen, a Weinberg sophomore. “If you both have a common enemy, it’s easy for a freshman to come up to a sophomore and say, ‘Shepard sucks.’ ‘Oh yeah, Shepard does suck.’”
There are wars of lesser intensity as well. Members of Wayne V. and Elizabeth R. Jones Fine and Performing Arts College (Jones), for example, sometimes call Willard their rival, but this appears to be one-sided, as Willard remains firmly focused on their own war with Shepard (and sometimes the Evans Scholars).
Even when two colleges acknowledge each other as rivals – such as in the case of CRC and ISRC – that doesn’t necessarily guarantee both colleges want to fight, said Jonas Carlsson, the ISRC Social Chair and a McCormick sophomore.
“They [CRC] do pranks on us, but I don’t think we ever retaliate,” Carlsson said, adding that last year, someone from CRC played vuvuzelas outside ISRC during finals week. “We don’t want to be a part of it. We wanna pretend that we’re so much better that it’s not worth our time to prank them.”
For many res colleges, especially smaller ones, competitions with other colleges are much less important than building community within their own building. Some colleges said they didn’t need a rivalry to spark unity between members, because their college’s theme already brought them together. Others, like Women’s Residential College (Hobart) and the College of Cultural and Community Studies (CCS), believed their small space essentially forces members to spend time together and bond.
In fact, Weinberg junior and former Hobart president Prathyusha Chenji said she doesn’t like the idea of rivalries at all. When she served on last year’s Residential College Board, she wanted to be able to sit down with other college presidents and not worry about meaningless tiffs over who locked all the bathroom stall doors from the inside, or who hacked the listserv to post endless cat pictures. (Both were pranks in the 2012-2013 Woo-Shep war.)
“I think not having rivalries would bridge communities more. No one was against doing anything with Hobart because there were no rivalries,” said Chenji. “If you’re all rooting for your own res college, it definitely builds community within the res college. But really strong rivalries between res colleges can limit exposure to other people.”
From an outsider’s perspective, Chenji might be right. Weinberg sophomore AJ Greenway lived in Bobb his freshman year, and said while he didn’t feel a strong community there, he still doesn’t want the residential hall to have a rivalry.
“At Northwestern, we’re trying to promote an inclusive community, so this doesn’t really seem to go with that idea,” Greenway said.
Some members of other res colleges say the rivalries are primarily friendly and actually help foster relationships between communities that might otherwise never meet.
“I dislike CCI, but I like a lot of the people in it. You don’t wanna beat Kyle, but you want to beat the building he’s from,” Palumbo said.
The Woo-Shep Olympics, a series of yearlong House Cup-style physical competitions between Willard and Shepard, began with an Ultimate Frisbee game this year. Afterwards, Hansen said, members of both res colleges stuck around to chat and keep playing, despite their supposed status as bitter enemies.
“If anything, it’s a good icebreaker,” said Communication senior Milana Duggan, Shepard’s president from 2011-2012. “Like, ‘Ooh, ha ha, we’re supposed to hate each other – let’s be friends.’ [Students] take it seriously in a competitive sense but I don’t think it stops friendships.”
However, for some older res collegians, questions about the constructive and destructive qualities of rivalries are irrelevant because they say rivalries are dying out. In their eyes, younger generations don’t place as much of an emphasis on what used to be a revered tradition.
McCormick senior Holden Faber, who has lived in Slivka all four years of his undergraduate career, said Slivka used to have an unofficial “Rivalry Chair” on its executive board. That position has disappeared. Additionally he said that a shift in Northwestern’s structuring of intramural sports means that CCI and Slivka now play each other less in intramural sports, which were once the rivalry’s backbone.
“My sophomore year, CCI’s Exec Board-elect – they pretty much decided to not put a large emphasis on the rivalry,” Faber said. “There’s definitely a decreased interest in both sides. The caring, the passion, the planning just decreased a lot.”
What might change from year to year is not the rivalries’ strength, Duggan said, but their tone. When she was a freshman, the rivalry was very serious. During Duggan’s tenure as president, however, it became much more playful. When she told freshmen about the Woo-Shep rivalry, Duggan claimed the rivalry began because Willard enjoyed punching babies.
But Iyiewuare is determined to keep the Woo-Shep rivalry alive and strong.
“It’s just always an effort to keep it going because Exec Board changes, people move out,” he said, but “compared to last year, it’s definitely getting stronger. It’ll build as long as those who were there before don’t let it die.”