The Head of the Trent Regatta and Homecoming is a rite of passage for university students in Peterborough. Students’ social media accounts present homecoming as a one stop shop for unforgettable memories. Personally, these events make me feel a little uneasy. The idea of celebrating debutant athletes with beer and collective cheering is just a bit too American for my taste. We have a cultural obsession with homecoming. It’s a relic from a less analytical time. A time when celebrating cheerleaders and quarterbacks felt wholesome instead of heteronormative. So, where does homecoming fit into the cultural landscape of our campus now? Does Homecoming cultivate our collective identity as Trent students or encourage dysfunctional traditions? Jess Grover, President of Trent Alumni Association, makes a compelling argument that Homecoming is a joyful celebration of all Trent experiences. She explained that beyond the spectacle, is a reciprocal expression of appreciation from the university to its students and vice versa.
The Head of the Trent Regatta and Trent University’s Homecoming are two of our longest standing traditions. For fifty years, students, alumni and faculty have congregated along the banks of the Otonabee River to cheer on rowers and share the cool Saturday morning together. The Head of the Trent is the biggest single day regatta in North America. It draws premier athletes from across the country and northern United States. Approximately twelve hundred rowers come to our modest row house to compete. The Trent campus defines the iconic aesthetic of the race. In the last stretch of the course, the canal narrows and the spectators erupt into applause. No matter the jersey, athletes are showered with encouragement from spectators overhead on Faryon Bridge. Everyone is excited and everyone belongs. This is athletics at its best.
There is an argument to be made that events like Homecoming, glorify student athletes and reinforce their position as a gentry class within the university. For several reasons, that theory doesn’t exactly translate to student dynamics at Trent. Our student body doesn’t put the same financial and ideological investment into athletics. Trent focuses on academic over athletic scholarships and a lot of varsity funding comes from fundraising done by the teams themselves. As a small university with an environmental focus, athletics doesn’t carry the same clout around campus. This allows students to admire athletics unto itself and not as a gauge of popularity.
Unfortunately, due to concerns around COVID-19, the rowing club was forced to postpone the 50th Head of the Trent Regatta until 2021. For the first time since 1971, the Otonabee was left placid on Homecoming weekend.
Nonetheless, Trent still found creative ways to celebrate. The Alumni Association hosted a series of college reunions over Zoom. This forum made 2020s’ Homecoming accessible for people who can’t physically be on Symons Campus and the Alumni Association is going to include this feature for future Homecoming events. Alumni shared memories from their time at Trent and caught up on current trends at campus. It’s remarkable that decades after graduation, people are still attached to their academic institution. At the time that many alumni were enrolled, university was still an unbeaten path and Trent was an unconventional school. To choose Trent specifically, was an assertion of identity. In addition to this, university is a short but seminal chunk of our lives. An undergraduate degree is lifechanging and Trent is the only place that holds who you were before, during and after that transformation. For these reasons Trent will always be a home for us. Homecoming isn’t just an excuse to visit campus, it’s the opportunity to engage with that facet of our identity. In a normal year, alumni cross the continent to reunite along the Otonabee. Despite new homes, families and responsibilities they make a point to be at Trent’s Homecoming weekend. The lengths that alumni are willing to go, proves that Trent is special because we make it that way.
Trent has worked to create a Homecoming environment that is comfortable and safe for students, alumni and families and the 2020 hiatus has given Trent time to take stock of this event. Although, Homecoming as a cultural phenomenon is fraught with problematic attitudes surrounding athletics and alcohol, The Head of the Trent offers more. There is something so transparently juvenile about the Beer Garden and face paint that it’s earnest. Much like prom, it feels silly to get excited about a trope. It’s sort of like knowingly stepping into a stereotype. But Homecoming gives us the opportunity to reflect on how our time at Trent shapes who we are. The 2020 experience didn’t vitalize campus the way Homecoming usually does but it managed to bring people together by connecting our shared journeys at Trent. I’m hoping that by October 2021, the banks of the Otonabee will be filled with spectators and the steins will be overflowing with pilsner.