Life at Transylvania: Raf week

Jack-O-Lanterns carved by campus and community members wait on the steps of Old Morrison to be lit at the annual Pumpkinmania event.

What does it mean to be a Transylvania Pioneer? This is a question that The Rambler is going to explore and attempt to answer through looking at specific and unique aspects of Transylvania life and explain what they are and what they mean to the campus. This will not only explain the campus culture for audiences outside of Transy, but also capture campus life in this specific moment in Transy history.

A lot of students can attest to the fact of when you tell people you attend Transylvania University, you are often met with a couple of vampire jokes. Around October, these jokes are sometimes followed up by “Does your school take Halloween pretty seriously?” and of course anyone who knows Transy knows that we do, with Raf week.

For anyone unfamiliar with it, Raf week is “a Transylvania University tradition, drawing its name from the 19th-century botanist, inventor, and Transylvania professor of botany Constantine Rafinesque, fondly known today as Raf,” said junior Jackson Bishop. “It is a week-long celebration leading up to Halloween, similar to a homecoming celebration.”

The celebration is named in honor of Constantine Rafinesque who, as the story goes, cursed Transylvania upon his leaving. Raf week is named after him in order to honor the professor and to keep the curse at bay.

In his book titled A Life of Travels and Researches in North America and South Europe; Or, Outlines of the Life, Travels and Researches of, Rafinesque himself wrote about the curse he placed upon the college.

After returning to Lexington from a trip to Cincinnati for a public lecture, Rafinesque accounts that he found President Horace Holley had “broken open my rooms, given one to the students, and thrown all my effects, books and collections in a heap in the other. He had also deprived me of my situation as Librarian and my board in the College.”

In his anger, Rafinesque wrote that he “took lodgings in town and carried there all my effects: thus leaving the College with curses on it and Holley.”

The curse seemed to have worked since the next year in 1827, President Holley died of yellow fever and then the university burnt down in 1828.

Despite the spooky history, Raf week has become a celebratory and fun tradition for the university.

The week is hosted by Student Activities Board and consists of various events including the most popular event, Pumpkinmania. Other events change from year to year but have included a Fall Festival, Halloween movie screening, bonfire in Back Circle, and an apple cider station.

The week has been a popular tradition for many years, but why? Besides it being a chance to play up the Halloween theme of the school’s name, what makes this week so important to the campus?

As sophomore Celine Chea explains, “I think Raf week is such a big deal to everyone at Transy because it’s such a fun time. Many people look forward to it every year. Halloween is so widely celebrated in the American culture so it’s expected that a small, tight knit community such as Transy celebrate as well. Raf week is a great time for everyone to take a break from studying and enjoy this time of year. Fall is such a special and unique season since there are many activities, such as pumpkin carving, that you wouldn’t do any other time of the year.”

The opportunity to take a break from studying and celebrate the season is a prominent reason for other students as well.

“This is that time in the semester when everyone – faculty, staff, students – becomes consumed with their schedule, however, this is also the start of the holiday season and providing a space and time for the community to pause and engage in these activities is relaxing,” said senior and Student Activities Board President Alexa Quiroz.

Perhaps the absence of a Homecoming week, something most other colleges have, is a key to why Raf week is taken so seriously here.  Since Homecoming weeks are usually the time for a campus to come together as one family, it only makes sense for Transy to find that somewhere else.

Quiroz added that the week “also strengthens the friendly ‘togetherness’ atmosphere that’s fostered here at Transy.”

Many of the specific events of the week really do foster the opportunity of bringing the campus together.

“I definitely think that Raf week brings the campus together because it is open to everyone,” said Chea. “I don’t know why anyone would carve a pumpkin or go see all the jack-o-lanterns by themselves. Many campus organizations set up tables to pass out candy so it’s nice to see people of different interests come together for a single event.”

A final aspect of the week’s popularity is the history engrained into it.

“I think it is important to continue this tradition because it is part of what sets Transylvania apart from other universities,” said Bishop. “Our university has a unique, storied, and interesting history, and it is important to honor the past by continuing to celebrate what makes Transylvania an amazing and unique place.”

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I am a double major in Psychology and Writing, Rhetoric, & Communications. I first joined the Rambler to get a taste of journalism and to make an impact on Transy's campus. I never outgrew my childhood love for all things Disney, but I'm okay with that.