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.”