No one song could ever capture all the motivations that bring students to a college campus, all the experiences they have there or all the ways those experiences changed their lives.
But “On the Banks of the Old Raritan,” the alma mater of Rutgers University, did a particularly inadequate job.
“My father sent me to old Rutgers,” the song proudly began, “And resolved that I should be a man.”
Stirring as it may have been, that lyrical formulation from 1873 left a few members of the modern Rutgers community unsung. Those whose mothers sent them to Rutgers, for example. Those whose fathers forbade them from going to Rutgers, but who went anyway. And the women who currently make up half of the Rutgers student body.
For some years, people tried singing, “My father sent me to old Rutgers and resolved that I should be a man - or a woman,” but though the line was more inclusive, it made less sense.
So this past Saturday, the Rutgers football team was accompanied for the first time by a new version of those lyrics, retooled by Patrick Gardner, the university’s director of choral studies. “From far and near we came to Rutgers,” the song now begins, “and resolved to learn all that we can.”
Rutgers is the latest formerly all-male college to bring its alma mater in line with its new demographics.
“Men of Dartmouth” made sense in the 19th century when men were the only students, but not in 1988, when the words were changed to “Dear old Dartmouth.” A year before that, Princeton’s president changed the lyrics of “Old Nassau” over the objections of students, who voted to keep it in its all-male form.
At Davidson College in North Carolina, “Our fathers loved thee” and “their loyal sons undaunted” morphed nicely into “Thy founders loved thee” and “thy loyal sons and daughters.”
West Point updated its alma mater in 2008, more than three decades after it began admitting women. As for Penn State, it had been educating women for decades when it adopted an official song that told of standing “at boyhood’s gate,” waiting to be “molded into men.” The words were not changed until 1975.
Rutgers’ new lyrics were first performed at the university’s convocation, in August, but this past Saturday marked a debut in a much tougher venue. Gardner said the football fans responded “very well.”
“There are some alumni who will be concerned and alarmed and upset, and we encourage them to sing whatever words are near and dear to them,” he said. “I’m glad that people are passionate about Rutgers and want to put that in a song.” (Rutgers beat Arkansas, 28-24.)
Someone started a “Change Back the Rutgers Alma Mater” petition online. As of Tuesday night, it had one signature.