August 31, 2017

Student Development released the updated 2017-2018 Student Handbook via email on Aug. 23, which included the first ever official publication of the Senior Bench Activity Guidelines. In his email to the student body, Paul Chelsen, vice president of Student Development, highlighted changes to free speech and public assembly, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), student grievance procedure and hazing policies as some of the sections that received “small but important updates” for the coming school year. Revisions to the handbook are made by the Student Development Office regularly in order to accurately and effectively guard student life and the community at large, but the inclusion of Senior Bench Guidelines is a rare instance of unofficial student-imposed regulations being officially published in the Handbook.

The tradition of the Senior Bench began with the class of 1950 when they stole the back of the bench, which weighs about 800 pounds. Since then, some of Wheaton’s most impressive pranks and displays of ingenuity are included in the 67-year history of senior bench mischief, including the famous helicopter event in which the bench was brought onto campus via helicopter.

A set of student-implemented rules originated in the 1970s to provide structure to the chaos of yearly collisions. These guidelines were updated again in the 90s and clarified seven or eight years ago. For years, the established guidelines remained in a thick file in Dean of Student Engagement Steve Ivester’s office, where students unknowingly had access to rules and regulations which led to the current strife between classes.

The decision to publish the student-enforced regulations into an official document is not due to any specific conflict or tension, but it arrives in the midst of controversy. This year’s senior class (‘18) claims the class of 2017 broke major rules and lessened the bench experience for the last two years. Parker Samelson, senior class president, said, “Visibility of the bench and appearances in public are my two biggest concerns with last year’s seniors.”

Numerous seniors accused the class of 2017 of total failure to make a single bench appearance during the spring of 2017, which would directly contradict the following rule: “Each academic year, there will be a minimum of two and a maximum of four bench showings.” Additional rules were addressed in their claims including unlawful housing of the bench and unfair display of the bench throughout the previous school year.

Numerous 2017 grads spoke with The Record in response to the current senior class. Price Gunn (‘17), who was one of many responsible for the custody of the bench last year, claims “no rules were ever broken.” He also suggested that this year’s seniors feel slighted because different groups were adhering to different rules and regulations. The classes of 2017 and 2018 both agree the lack of clearly posted guidelines granted authority to anyone who was willing to make a factless claim about the bench, and the campus plunged into a chaotic bench-state.

Steve Ivester, the guardian of the official guidelines, decided to publish a brief history of the bench in the Handbook to provide context to an increasingly confused student body along with the official guidelines in an attempt to foster a more successful and enjoyable tradition.

Ivester responded to seniors and recent graduates in an exclusive interview with The Record stating, “It’s not fair to blame anyone in particular for the publishing of the guidelines. There’s confusion every year and people don’t know what’s expected of them.” Because the senior bench activity is a student program, not an institutional program, “guidelines are published, but students are not held accountable by the administration.” The publishing of the guidelines in the Student Handbook serves to level the playing field by sharing information to all involved, but the responsibility of upholding those guidelines falls on the shoulders of the student body. The seniors are on the hunt already, and all parties involved anticipate a great year for the Senior Bench.