There are plenty of ways in which today’s Coker College looks completely different than the original campus, founded in 1908 as an all-women’s undergraduate institution. Today, Coker welcomes students of all genders, for both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. We hold a variety of classes online. We use technology like Apple TVs, iPads, and Promethean boards in our round-table classrooms.
Still, throughout all of our growth and change in the past 110 years, Coker’s culture of traditions ensures that students and alumni from any decade can share stories with at least a few common threads. “Coker thrives on traditions,” writes Dr. Malcolm C. Doubles in his book, In Quest of Excellence: A History of Coker College on its Centennial (2008).
From Cokernuts to Cobras, Violet Power to Green Machine, generations of Coker students have enjoyed uniquely Coker experiences—and as our college grows, so do our traditions.
Everyone who has ever been a part of the Coker family knows that we are a close-knit community. One of the traditions that best reflects this core value is the Coker College commissioner program. Since 1925, a select group of sophomores have been chosen every year to lead “families” of 12-15 incoming first-year students. The families are named after some of our favorite animals: Dolphin, Bunny, Frog, Moo-Cow, and many more!
While the commissioners have traded in their classic plaid pinafores for garments with other brightly colored stripes and patterns, their mission remains the same: to help new students navigate college life and be successful. To this day, being selected as a commissioner is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a Coker student leader.
"Going into sophomore year with that commissioner position, it made me more comfortable talking with people, initiating that first contact...it helped me with my leadership abilities...becoming more responsible, managing my own time more.” - Temaris “Byrd” Dixon (‘19), SGA President
“I was chosen [to be a commissioner] my sophomore year and I just thought that was the most wonderful thing, to be able to mentor some of the freshmen. It’s hard, I think, when you go to college and you leave home and all that.” - Mickey Harder (‘65)
The best communities are those that come together in times of stress—and every college student knows that there’s nothing more stressful than finals week. That’s why we host a late-night breakfast each semester on the evening of reading day. The dining hall opens at 9:30 p.m. for breakfast, cooked and served by members of the Coker faculty and staff.
It’s an opportunity to relax before exams, enjoy a good meal, and interact with faculty and staff outside of their standard classroom or office setting. It’s also one of the last big on-campus gatherings before the semester ends and the latest batch of Cobras crosses the graduation stage.
“[My favorite Coker tradition is] definitely Late Night Breakfast, where the staff served us. That was definitely fun.” - Tiffany Anselmo (‘01)
One of Coker’s oldest traditions, the crew races were established in 1919. Every spring, students pilot the college canoes in a dash across Prestwood Lake. Though the original canoes were unfortunately destroyed in a fire many years ago, exact duplicates were created and are still in use.
Student teams from the sister classes “Violet Power” (comprised of classes with even-numbered graduation years) and “Green Machine” (odd-numbered graduation years) take great care to decorate elaborate, personalized oars for the occasion. The event is full of school spirit, complete with a crowd of on-shore spectators, vigorously cheering on friends and classmates.
My freshman year, I was actually in the races. It’s so much fun. You make so many new friends with painting your paddles and almost sinking a canoe...We actually ended up winning.” - Harleigh Oxendine (‘20, Violet Power)
“I’m going to have to say my favorite tradition is crew races because we are coming up on our 100th year...That has so much history and tradition with it, and I’m so happy that I’m able to be here for the 100th, to be one of the top people to put it together because CAB does that. Trying to put that together is really fun. ”- McKenzie Hite (‘20, Violet Power), Executive Director of Campus Activities Board (CAB)
Coker Olympics of Winter (COW Days) is a week-long event that happens each year at the beginning of February. In recent years, it has aligned with Homecoming (or HomeCOWming) and alumni have been able to watch the fun unfold along with current students.
Established in the 1970s as the brainchild of Dr. Fred Edinger, then-director of student life, COW Days traditionally include a hot wing eating contest, tug-of-war, a lip sync contest, a campus-wide hunt for collectible cows, the Miss COW Pageant, and the Coker Hunk Contest. The festivities culminate with the playing of the COW Day Games, with Violet Power and Green Machine classes competing in hopes of earning the title of COW Days Champions.
“I was that person who would wake up at 5:00 a.m. to go stake out their spot to find that cow.” - Brittanee Phillips-Clark (‘15)
Coker held its first May Day celebration on May 1, 1916, and the ceremony was a much-anticipated annual event until 2002. For decades, May Day on campus involved the customary maypole, dancers, and the crowning of the May Queen. It was often the most extravagant event of the academic year, with students donning their best formal attire to officially welcome springtime.
"We always loved May Day...one thing that they would do in preparation is that a number of stores, the Coker Department Store, Montaldo’s from Charlotte, and several other really nice dress shops, would come and do fashion shows in the drawing room because the girls would select what dress we wanted to wear for May Day.” - Rose Smith (‘75)
The Bell Tower
The bell tower has been a familiar campus landmark since 1914. It houses the bell that originally hung in the tower of the old Welsh Neck High School building. Rung at the beginning and close of every day for over 50 years, the bell is now used to celebrate victories for our athletics teams, to announce significant accomplishments by our Coker community, by incoming first-year students during New Student Convocation, and as part of the commencement ceremony for each graduating class.
“I remember ringing the bell after the big wins and waking up everybody on campus.” - Hal Edwards (‘97)
While we grow as an institution and a community, the values central to the Coker experience remain the same. The college continues to serve as a surrogate family and support system for our students as they discover their passions and pursue their ambitions. As those ambitions shift with today’s rapidly changing society, new traditions have been established to meet a growing, diverse set of needs.
Cobras in the Capital
In September 2018, Coker celebrated the second year of our new Cobras in the Capital common experience trip. Each fall, all new first-year students, their commissioners, and Coker College 101 (CC 101) faculty and staff travel together to Washington, D.C. The three-day excursion immerses students in the history and culture of our nation’s capital, helps to build a sense of camaraderie among the new student cohort, and establishes a support structure that will last students from their first semester through graduation.
Pillars of General Education
Most colleges have general education requirements. These classes are usually taken during a student’s first or second year of study, and help to create a broad foundation of knowledge and awareness across disciplines. This fall, Coker introduced its revamped General Education “Pillars,” which incorporates the tenants of our student covenant—integrity, respect, scholarship, sustainability, service, and contribution—into the curriculum.
This new approach to general education allows students to create a personalized experience in which they can grow, learn, think critically, and pursue areas that resonate with them. Students are encouraged to explore subjects outside their major, while relating those courses back to their own core interests.
Active since 2013, Coker’s Emerging Leaders program offers first-year students the opportunity to jump headfirst into leadership lessons. The 15-week program empowers students to discover and develop their personal leadership style, equipping them with the confidence and skills to become successful student leaders.
“There are so many leadership opportunities for our students here,” says Caroline Carter, director of student activities and leadership, and head of the Emerging Leaders program. “Unless you’re in a very formalized leadership position, like a commissioner or RA, there’s not a whole lot of training that you get to develop those leadership skills. The Emerging Leaders program gives those who want to get involved, and show an early passion for it, a jumpstart in preparing for whatever they want to take on.”
"When I think of Coker, I think of family. I think that’s the reason I decided to stay and invest so much time and energy into it, because it invested so much time and energy in me. It’s a great place.” - Ali Nelson (B.A. ‘12, M.S. ‘15), head coach of the spirit squad
Change is inevitable, especially for an institution with a legacy that has lasted over a century—but it is that balance of momentum with a steadfast commitment to our shared community that makes Coker so special.
What’s your favorite Coker tradition? Follow @CokerCollege on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and share your best memories with us!