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2010 alumnae Erin (Risch) Zou­tendam, Cara (Burke) Valle, and Alison (Konarske) Ver­milya, founding members of the weekly tea. Cara Valle | Courtesy.

The 12-year-long tra­dition of Waterman Tea didn’t actually begin in Waterman Res­i­dence.

In the fall of 2006, freshmen Cara Valle ’10 and Erin Zou­tendam ’10 began orga­nizing weekly teas with fellow freshmen in the upper left hallway of Olds dor­mitory.

“At first, we made a rule against talking about classes, grades, assign­ments, etc. at tea,” Valle said in an email. “I think the rule itself fell by the wayside, but the spirit of keeping it a purely social gath­ering has, I think, sur­vived. All we ever planned was to drink tea and chat. We wanted to avoid making it an official group or activity with tasks and oblig­a­tions. Hillsdale stu­dents have too many of those already.”

Orig­i­nally con­cep­tu­alized as just a get-together for a group of freshmen (Valle remembers a maximum of 20 people squished into a 9x12 foot Olds room), the tea grew in pop­u­larity across campus and soon included upper­classmen. Now known as the Waterman Tea, the gath­ering is held at Waterman dor­mitory most Friday after­noons. The next official tea is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 27, from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

After its first year of meeting in Olds, the tea grew too large and moved to Waterman Res­i­dence.

“It was obvious that we needed more space,” Valle remembers. “We’d all made new friends, started dating, started inviting upper­classmen, and — maybe most sig­nif­i­cantly — wanted to welcome new freshmen into the tra­dition. The thought of stopping ‘Tuesday Tea’ never crossed anyone’s mind. It had become such a big part of being at Hillsdale, at least for me and a few others. Waterman had the nicest and biggest common area by far at the time, and the girls who lived there all agreed to let us use it for the weekly tea.”

Since its move to Waterman dor­mitory, the tea has changed not only its original name from “Tuesday Tea” to “Waterman Tea” but also its purpose, moving from a closed group of friends to an open invite to anyone in the Hillsdale College com­munity.

“We don’t limit our­selves to reaching out to freshmen alone, because the goal is to create a com­munity where freshmen can mingle with upper­classmen, so if it’s just another event that’s only for freshmen they won’t ever break that cycle,” said senior Chloe Kookogey, a former head RA of Waterman. She also noted that the vision for Waterman has always been to foster com­munity between the two female freshmen dorms, due to Waterman’s con­ve­nient location between Olds and McIntyre — some­thing the tea facil­i­tates.

“We would have people who were freshmen, a lot of sopho­mores, a lot of juniors, even some seniors who came to our tea, so it was usually a nice variety of all classes,” Kookogey said.

Although in recent years the tea has almost exclu­sively con­sisted of female stu­dents, it wasn’t always like that.

“You look at the old pic­tures and there are plenty of guys in there,” said Maria Servold, assistant director of the Dow Jour­nalism Program and one of the original members of the Waterman Tea. “Of that first time there probably were five-ish guys because the friend group was a mixture of guys and girls. I do think it has been, or when I would attend it was fairly bal­anced — it never felt like just a girls thing.”

In fact, the reason Waterman Tea was first called “Tuesday Tea” was because Tuesdays were when there were vis­i­tation hours for men in the Olds dor­mitory. But the “fairly bal­anced” rep­re­sen­tation of both guys and girls at the tea has since changed. “It was always a very female-dom­i­nated event. Because it’s tea, it’s not very mas­culine in nature,” Kookogey said, speaking of her time as head RA. “But again, we didn’t want to segment it off and say this is only for freshmen women. We specif­i­cally mar­keted it to freshmen women but we had guys, like last year when I was a junior, some friends of ours — some seniors — would come reg­u­larly to tea. It was nice to always have a variety and you would never know who exactly was going to show up.”

The current res­i­dents of Waterman also hold this mindset of encour­aging mixed rep­re­sen­tation.

“We would love it if both guys and girls came. We do have free food which should help draw both,” Car­oline Walker, an RA of Waterman said over Facebook Mes­senger. “It is def­i­nitely a fun way to meet others and we will have small activ­ities (weather dependent) that would be fun for both guys and girls.”

Walker men­tioned that a goal for the Waterman Tea this year is to provide an oppor­tunity for attendees to connect with stu­dents in the other classes, thus rein­forcing the fact that the tea isn’t exclu­sively for freshmen, or freshmen women.

Perhaps this greater desire to include everyone is the reason the Waterman Tea has con­tinued for 12 years.

“I’m sur­prised that Waterman tea is still going on, because we bright-eyed freshmen who started it were only thinking of our­selves and our own best friends, not the gen­er­a­tions of other stu­dents to come,” Valle said. “But, in another sense, I’m not sur­prised at all, because there’s nothing in the world more natural than sitting around, sipping tea, and chatting with good friends at the end (though orig­i­nally in the middle) of a long week.”