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Collections | Digital Collections | Vanderbilt University History

The Students' Army Training Corps:
Entire University Reorganized as Army Post
Soldiers in Khaki March to Class

Reprinted from the Vanderbilt Alumnus Magazine v4 n1 (November 1918): 5-7

The Mess Formation If an alumnus of even the most recent years should suddenly find himself on the Vanderbilt campus, he would rub his eyes in complete bewilderment as he saw the changes that have taken place in the University this year. He would find West Side Row, once the center of University life but so long depleted except for a student here and there living in isolation, now the home of Company C — a jolly, vigorous group of American soldiers. He would find Kissam Hall, with all its rooms and hallways freshly plastered and painted, filled from top to bottom, with the men of Company B, and the dingy old dining hall transformed into an attractive mess hall and study hall for all the companies. Strangest of all, he would find the top two floors of Wesley Hall crowded with the members of Company A — a crowd somewhat different from the theologues of former years.

The alumnus would be even more surprised to see the contrast between the life heretofore and that now led by the 500 students who make up the unit of the Students' Army Training Corps on the West Campus. Called from their cots at 5:45 to setting up exercises at 6:00, to breakfast at 6:30, to drill from 7:15 to 9:00, to retreat at 5:30, to supper at 6:00, and to study hall from 7:30 to 9:30, they have all the appearance of men living in an officers' training camp. It would even seem that the college has been transformed into a camp, with its men in khaki, now parading along the reconstructed roads of the campus, now drilling on Dudley Field, now marching in squads to their classrooms.

And yet all the while these students are expected to be doing systematic university work to fit them in expert knowledge for the tasks that lie ahead of them as officers. Their courses of study are very far removed from the traditional curriculum leading to an academic degree; they have been made up by the Committee on Education and Special Training of the War Department, and are supposed to be especially adapted to officers' training. All of them are required to take the War Aims Course under the direction of the Professor of History, aided by additional instructors from other departments of the University. Most of them are required to take English Composition, practically the same as in other years, but modified so as to give especial attention to the reports and correspondence of officers. The third hour of English I is devoted to a study of "American Ideals" rather than to the English literature heretofore used. A large number of sections in English have called for additional instructors, and the department has been aided by the volunteer service of Professors Johnson and Harris. Other courses in Sanitation and Hygiene, Surveying and Map Drawing, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Physics, and Modern Languages, make up the bulk of courses from which electives may be taken. The full number of academic hours required is fourteen, for the preparation of each of which two hours are supposed to be given. Despite the confusion of the early days and the still greater confusion caused by the influenza epidemic, classes are now running regularly, and the way seems clear for the maintenance of strict academic standards.

The alumnus who had thus visualized the working of the military and academic life might then raise the question as to what has become of "college life." He would find fraternities, acting in accordance with the instruction from the War Department, practically reduced to a minimum of activity. The houses as centers of fraternity life have been eliminated, fraternities either giving up their leases or renting their houses. All social activities are done away with, and fraternity meetings reduced to a purely business basis. The faculty realizing the importance of continuing fraternity life, has changed its fraternity regulations so that men meeting certain standards in scholarship may be initiated on November 15. In this way it is hoped that the various chapters may fill up their quotas and thus tide over what once seemed a crisis in the fraternity situation.

Other organizations and clubs have practically gone out of business. One would as soon expect to see a man from Mars as a Commodore sporting his cane, or a group of "Owls" preparing for initiation, or the Nemo Club planning for a dance at one of the down-town hotels. Literary societies have not up to this time been organized. The Hustler appears only once a week, and the Observer not at all. Some patriotic students are now attempting to provide a Commodore for this year; but the nature of this publication will naturally be materially changed.

Kissam Hall as an Army Mess Hall Only one organization has taken on new life, namely the Y.M.C.A. Who would believe that the old Gymnasium could be transformed into an attractive home for students? Such is the case. The walls have been painted, writing desks built around the room, while the deft hands of the Vanderbilt Woman's Club have decorated the building, adding touches of color and producing an atmosphere of social refinement. Mr. J. F. Zimmerman, who was released by the English Department, has been appointed secretary by the War Council not only for the Vanderbilt Y.M.C.A., but for the others of Nashville. He is gradually working out an effective organization that will make the association a great instrument of usefulness. Free stationary, magazines and books, moving picture shows, and a victrola are provided for the students. Some of the best singers of the city have already given concerts. Receptions will be held from time to time under auspices of the Y.W.C.A., Vanderbilt Woman's Club, Ward-Belmont, and the faculty. At the same time Bible classes are being formed, religious meetings held, and every provision made for the moral welfare of the student body.

If the alumnus should conlcude that there was no opportunity for the manifestation of university spirit under these circumstances, he would be agreeably surprised if he attended the weekly meetings on Friday evening at the Chapel. Here the military and academic elements of the University merge into a really great meeting. The Gold and Black and Old Glory float side by side. For the first twenty minutes the companies vie with one another in cheers and singing, and then all join in University and patriotic songs. Never has such singing been heard on the campus. It is more than interesting; it is thrilling and inspiring. After the singing a talk is made of a more serious nature, tending to awaken the higher ideals of men. So far Dr. John L. Webber, Y.M.C.A. secretary of Camp Jackson; Captain Rossiter, a returned Canadian officer; Chancellor Kirkland, Dr. Mims and Coach McGugin have talked to the assembled students. The possibilities of these meetings in preserving Vanderbilt's traditions and ideals and in interpreting the present war are unbounded.

So far one might think that Vanderbilt is entirely given over to the work of the S.A.T.C. If the alumnus should go to Chapel on Tuesday at noon he would find some 250 students — about half of them young women and the other half young men who are either too young or have been physically disqualified from entering the S.A.T.C. These students are taking the regular courses of study and constitute the University as it has been. Vanderbilt has never had a finer body of students than these men and women who are doing their utmost to maintain the highest standards of scholarship and character. They have missed the chance to take a part in the great struggle of the present, but they are preparing for the tasks of the future. Much will be heard of them before the year is over.