The smell nearly made David Werner retch.
On his hands and knees in the dark woods, the Whitworth College freshman braced himself as brown slime that in a former life was cafeteria food oozed through his hair and down his bare back.
Then he and his dorm mates, clad only in underwear, ran across campus shrieking.
Two years later, initiation into Baldwin Hall is one of Werner’s best college memories.
“They marched us into the back 40 in our underwear and poured this stuff over us,” he said. “It was totally a bonding moment.”
Now Baldwin men will have to find some other way to totally bond, according to a new policy that will drastically change initiation rituals at the Presbyterian college in north Spokane.
So will the upperclassmen who put freshmen in a tub of ice until they make the initiators laugh.
Some of those traditions don’t exactly align with the image the religious, liberal arts college wants to project, says Whitworth President Bill Robinson.
He cites a survey showing 40 percent of students want changes in the initiation process.
“A lot of them thought it was just stupid and childish,” said Danny Rock, intramural sports coordinator. “If it’s stupid, why are we doing it?”
A freshman was shot with a BB gun three years ago when he was blindfolded, tied to classmates and dumped in an area near the north Spokane campus. He was shot in the leg by someone in a passing car while the group tried to find its way back.
Freshmen can opt out of the rites of passage, which vary from dorm to dorm. But an easy out isn’t enough, said administrators and student government members, who agreed to the changes.
“We do not want people coming away from initiation feeling poorly that they chose to come to Whitworth,” said Rock.
“You want to be able to have it be something students feel good about,” said Robinson, who’s in his fourth year as president.
He’d like to see kids painting churches, stocking food banks and learning the history of their dorms and the college.
But smearing each other with Baldwin’s infamous stew of spoiled food and motor oil?
“It’s disgusting!” said Alisa Tongg, a student who helped revamp initiation rules.
Carrie Fries, a senior, was offended by a dorm’s Aerosmith imitation at Mock Rock, the grand finale of initiation week each fall.
Lip synching “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” the guys - dressed as women - pretended to do housework. “I thought that was completely inappropriate, the stereotypical female role,” said Fries, an education major.
Others have complained of sexual overtones in a game called “Birdy on a Perch,” where freshman women sit on men’s knees.
Says Stephanie Shimek, a 1996 graduate and proud former Birdy: “You can’t please everyone. There’s always going to be that handful of people who are offended by everything.”
Werner worries a longtime Baldwin chant will be banned: “Whip me, beat me, make me bleed. Physical abuse is what we need.”
Even balding alumni recite the words when they find out he’s a Baldwin brother, Werner said.
Shimek, who works at a youth center in Issaquah, predicts rebel initiators will simply take their rites of passage off campus next fall.
“I think when you put a lot of rules and regulations on everything, it makes people more defiant.”
She may be right.
“Baldwin and McMillan (dorms) are considering totally boycotting the whole thing,” said Werner.
“As far as I’m concerned, initiation’s one of the best things Whitworth has. It’s so awesome. It brings everybody together.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo