A New Way To Play
By Daney Daniel Kepple
Photography by Justin Fox Burkes
The term “big deal” has a special meaning at Rhodes. It has an unusual spelling as well, a play on the name of Charles E. Diehl, president of the college from 1917-49, whose statue stands sentinel outside Burrow Hall.
Use the phrase “Big Diehl” to any student and you’re sure to hear, “Count me in!”
“We plan our weekends around it,” says Kelsey Hope ’11.
“I try to do whatever they are sponsoring,” claims Sameer Warraich ’13.
“It’s a great way to do things you would never otherwise have the opportunity to do,” according to Jessica Cowan ’11.
The Big Diehl program, which began its fourth season this fall, provides a greater breadth of weekend programming for students. Guided by a student-staff team, it sponsors 10 events each semester, ranging from paintball to NBA basketball, from skiing to whitewater rafting and camping trips. What’s not to like?
Even better, most of the events come with no or low price tags. Movie tickets and Memphis Grizzlies NBA basketball games are free. A weekend of resort skiing costs only $20 plus meals. It’s no surprise there are long lines for the out-of-town trips, and that 250 movie tickets evaporate in 10 minutes.
Naturally, such a successful program didn’t just happen. As the student body and faculty have grown, geographic, ethnic and economic diversity has increased significantly.
Dean of Students Carol Casey says, “It became very clear to me four years ago that we needed to address weekend programming for our students.”
Address it, she did. Her team members involved the leaders of existing groups that sponsor weekend programming—the North American Interfraternity Conference (IFC), National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) and the Rhodes Activity Board (RAB). All the groups have become staunch supporters of the Big Diehl.
Breaking down social barriers has been an important and unexpected benefit, according to Director of New Student Programs Marcus Langford.
“It allows first-year students a way to connect with the upper class students, which they love doing. While it is highly beneficial to the international students and students of color, almost all students utilize it. I’ve been involved with movie tickets, Memphis Redbirds baseball games and plays at the Orpheum. They were all well-attended by a good mix of students. I haven’t been involved with any event that didn’t sell out.”
The students agree. Sameer Warraich says, “Those of us who went on a camping trip got so close, and now we talk every day. That happens with all the activities. When you go out and have fun together it creates a bond.”
Says Jessica Cowan: “I was pretty set socially when I got to Rhodes, but the Big Diehl took me outside my comfort zone and connected me with new people. I go anywhere now even if my friends aren’t going.”
Director of Residence Life Marianne Luther says, “Students tell us via the senior exit survey and the social satisfaction survey that they enjoy the program and like the variety of events. In fact, they say they like the idea even if they haven’t participated. I would call it a success.”
That success includes broad staff involvement. John Blaisdell, now an Associate Dean Of Students, and officer Charlie Poindexter led a camping trip to the Smokies. Director of Student Conduct Chad Ahren takes students kayaking on the Wolf River. Field hockey coach Jane Wells ’03 has been on all three ski trips and says she gets as much as she gives.
“It’s just great to see students who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to be there learn to ski,” says Wells. “And it’s great to get to know students I wouldn’t normally come into contact with. I got to know Sameer, who’s from Pakistan, on the bus, and we spent quite a bit of time talking about hockey and the differences between here and Pakistan and the rest of the world. I asked him to join us for pickup games and he’s been able to make it a few times. I learn from him.”
Wells is a big fan of the Big Diehl for another reason. “I graduated from Rhodes in ’03 and I can tell you there were very few places in Memphis that we went. Beale Street when we were old enough, a few restaurants in Midtown and the Target store on Colonial. That was it for many students around my age. This program makes it easy for students to explore the city, and connecting with Memphis is an important part of the Rhodes Vision.”
Chad Ahren, who became convener of the planning team this fall, agrees that Memphis plays a big role.
“This is one of the culturally richest cities in the country, and our students need to be part of that.”