“The idea of tradition on campus refers inevitably to connection—to the past, to people, to place.” These connections allow students to come together and “feel a part of something larger than themselves.”
Research conducted at Samford reveals the value of the Step Sing campus tradition. Established in 1841 as a Baptist institution named Howard College, Samford University has an extended history and numerous campus traditions. (It changed its name to Samford in 1965.) Step Sing is one of the most significant of these traditions. Established in 1951 when students lined up to sing outside on campus grounds, Step Sing now takes place indoors and involves nearly a thousand students each year.
Throughout its long tenure at Samford, the Step Sing tradition has reflected trends of change and growth, but it has always carried a significant role in the campus community. One particular area that demonstrates the cultural changes surrounding Step Sing is Samford’s on-campus dancing policy. At many institutions, especially historically Baptist institutions like Samford, dancing is often regulated or prohibited. Yet, in 1988 dancing was officially sanctioned at Samford, allowing the publicity and excitement for Step Sing to continue growing.
Interviews with Samford students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni identified the value of Step Sing as a campus tradition for the community, bonding, unity, connections, and identity it creates. The Step Sing tradition engages with the campus community by involving over a thousand students each year, or around one-third of the undergraduate student body. The broad reach of this tradition even extends to the surrounding Birmingham area, from which many audience members come. In this way, Step Sing unites the campus community with the greater city, creating a unified experience for all.
Bonding also occurs for students during their Step Sing experience. Each Step Sing act involves at least forty students, creating opportunities for new relationships to form within the acts. Additionally, during the performances, members of different acts often interact and support one another, creating bonds between all participants. Around Samford students speak of the Step Sing community as if it were a family.
Participants also see value in the unity Step Sing creates for Samford. With its vast student involvement, this tradition can be described, to say the least, as wide reaching. Participants span from Greek organizations, independent groups, and even campus ministries, contributing to the event’s unifying feel. However, that unity is not limited to the participants, as significant numbers of alumni often return to campus for Step Sing. According to some reports, more alumni come for this event than for Homecoming each year.
In addition to former students making their way back to Samford, a prospective student visit is also hosted on campus during the Step Sing weekend. Many of these students see the performance and factor that experience into their choice to come to Samford. Moreover, many students’ parents visit during this weekend and feel more connected to the institution as a result.
Step Sing is also valuable in its contribution to Samford’s institutional identity. As part of the institution for many years, Step Sing persisted as a critical campus tradition through waves of change and is truly a part of the culture and identity of Samford. In fact, it has such a strong role that some consider Step Sing a hallmark of Samford, one of the defining events of their college experiences.
Step Sing brings undeniable value to Samford and the broader Birmingham community. Both in its historical and present context, individuals sought to further that value, and through the years the tradition has endured. However, Step Sing is not only a campus tradition, but also a part of the history and heritage of Samford University and the state of Alabama. Thanks to it, people throughout the state have a new song—and perhaps even feel like dancing.
For more information on Samford's Step Sing program, check out their website.
This feature was previously published in Issue 128, Spring 2018.
About the Author
Morgan K. Morris completed her MA at Taylor University and serves as a resident director at John Brown University.