BYU’s scenery has changed over the decades. Social life on campus was once animated by fraternities’ big social events and contests, big-name concerts and even well-attended dances.
While the campus was once composed of World War II wood barracks and Quonset huts, today it is filled with hundreds of buildings.
Students have attended BYU over the years with hopes of getting a higher education, but the BYU experience is more than academics. When alumni leave, they remember the football games, the devotionals, the on-campus activities and the active social life.
BYU in the 50s
The United States emerged from World War II as the strongest military power in the world. It was a time marked by a booming economy, a rising civil rights movement and various changes and conflicts.
At BYU, Ernest L. Wilkinson was president at the time and the campus saw great growth. Students amounted from 4,510 in 1950 to 10,265 in 1959, according to Y-Facts. Life on campus in the 50s testified of the recent world war, but was also witness to social changes.
Darrell Bangerter, a BYU freshman in 1953, said the World War II Quonset huts were all over campus. While some buildings already existed on the upper campus such as the Karl G. Maeser, the George H. Brimhall, the old Heber J. Grant Library and the Joseph Smith Memorial, Quonset huts operated as classrooms, dorms, a food parlor and even swimming pools.
Bangerter said he slept in Wymount dorms, which at the time consisted of seven large army barracks.
“Our meals were served in a Quonset hut that we called ‘Ptomaine parlor,'” Bangerter said. “The food was terrible, but the only other on-campus food source was the ‘Cougareat,’ which was a tiny room located in the basement of the old Joseph Smith Building.”
Many of the social events on campus were sponsored by fraternities and sororities, officially known as social units. Bangerter said they competed with snow and ice sculpture contests and had private parties and dances.
Fraternities’ leaders would get together with the sorority leaders and match the guys with the girls for joint parties. Then, each member would get information on their “exchange” date.
“It often proved interesting if you weren’t buddies with your leaders,” Bangerter said.
Bangerter, who belonged to Tau Sigma fraternity, said they had pledge weeks and new pledges were hazed. During his hazing, Bengerter was given a paddle and had to request a swat from every member, after which they would sign his paddle.
In addition, he had to eat a plateful of mashed beans and potatoes combined with a massive dose of garlic and baby regurgitating medicine, which made him vomit. Bangerter said he was also blindfolded and dropped in the desert with another pledge. They had no money and were simply given objects, such as a garbage can, to bring back.
The campus was also home to multiple large dance events held at different venues. During Bangerter’s time at BYU, students had the chance to listen to Glenn Miller’s band, then called “The Tex Beneke Band.”
BYU in the late 60s
Alumnus Michael Williams attended BYU from 1967 to 1970. Williams said he still remembers how dreadful registration was at the time. Today, students select and register for their classes online, but at the time students had to go to the Smith Fieldhouse at a specific time to pay their fees and get their class schedule.
“To get our classes we had to go to a kiosk set up for each class and pull a card,” Williams said. “If there were no cards left, it meant that the class was full, so we had to find another class. Since my last name began with a ‘W,’ I always ended up getting the least desirable schedule and religion class professors.”
Williams said it would sometimes take several hours to get his classes filled.
While fraternities and sororities had been banned by the late 60s, certain social and culture clubs continued to exist on campus and shape students’ social life.
According to Williams, when a girl got an engagement ring, she would gather with her social club members or girls on the floor of her dorm and “pass the candle.” This involved putting the engagement ring on a lit candle and passing it around in a dark room from one girl to the next who were arranged in a circle. When it got to the girl who the ring belonged to, she would blow the candle out. Presumably, the girls in the circle didn’t know who the ring belonged to.
Williams said he lived in a house with five other roommates, and it was common for them to hire one of the co-eds to cook for them.
“We would take turns taking her shopping for the week, and she would prepare our meals and eat with us,” Williams said. “It often resulted in a short-lived romance with one of the roommates, so when the relationship ended, we would have to find another cook.”
BYU in the 70s
The 1970s started the Oaks era, with Dallin H. Oaks appointed president of BYU in 1971. By then, the student enrollment had risen to 25,116 students, according to Y-Facts.
BYU graduate Michael Bush came to BYU in 1970 and graduated in 1972. During his first year at BYU, Bush was part of the student team that established the BYU Ombudsman Office. According to Bush, the office’s purpose was to provide legal advice and deal with students’ complaints, suggestions and problems.
As part of the Ombudsman Office, Bush launched the Student Legal Assistance Program to help students define their legal rights in connection with landlord conflicts.
“Students would pay a $5 contribution and we would pay the rest of their initial one-hour consultation with a lawyer,” Bush said.
This process helped students see their options in case of conflicts and worked as a friendly ear to listen to students’ concerns.
In 1992, Bush came back to campus as part of the faculty. According to him, one of the major differences between 1970s and today is the popularity of football.
“When I got here, football was not very successful,” Bush said. “Basketball on the other hand was a pretty big deal. They were winning a lot of games and had some well-known players.”
Bush, who grew up in a football-rich environment, decided he wanted to be involved in college sports, which then meant attending basketball games.
In the 1970s the Marriott Center did not exist. To get tickets, students had to wait in line, sometimes all night, at the Smith Fieldhouse.
Bush said he remembers when coach LaVell Edwards succeeded coach Tommy Hudspeth in 1972. While football athletes were previously discouraged from serving a mission under penalty of losing their scholarships, Edwards strongly encouraged them to serve.
“It’s very interesting to see this important change at BYU from one attitude to the other,” Bush said.
Among other accomplishments, Edwards is well-known for leading BYU to a national championship in 1984. By 1976, BYU had 20 returned LDS missionaries on the football team, according to BYU Cougars’ website.
Bush said big-name concerts were a big deal during his time at BYU. The Homecoming or the Preference concerts often included stars such as Neil Diamond, the Carpenters, Olivia Newton-John and Diana Ross.
“We also had pillow concerts where everybody would bring their pillow to the concert in the Wilk to sit on it,” Bush said.
By the mid-to-late seventies, colorful, wild designs, lava lamps and bean bag chairs had made their entry into family homes and students’ apartments.
“Disco was all the rage,” said Kenneth Alford, an associate professor in the Department of Church History and Doctrine and a BYU graduate. Alford, who attended BYU from 1973–1974 and 1976–1979 said dancing was very big at BYU in the 1970s.
“One of the most popular dance albums was ‘Saturday Night Fever,’” Alford said.
Dancing was popular all across the nation and at BYU many students were taking Social Dance 100, which meant a large percentage of the students knew the same dances.
According to Alford, Friday dances were held each month in the Wilkinson Center ballroom with an entrance fee of only $1, which encouraged high attendance. There were also several major University-sponsored semi-formal dances held throughout the year. The Homecoming dance, which was very popular at the time, was held in several locations. Alford said it was held at the Wilkinson Center ballroom, the Stepdown Lounge in the former Joseph Fielding Smith Building, the Smith Fieldhouse, the Richards Building and at the University Mall.
Additionally, there was a commercial disco dance hall on 9th East called the Star Palace. According to Alford, it had a traditional, lit disco dance floor, a mirror ball, strobe lights and was always packed with BYU students on the weekend. Dancing was the easy way to meet new people and find dates.
“My wife and I went dancing on many of our dates during our courtship,” Alford said. “In fact, I proposed to her right after we left the BYU Valentine’s Day Dance in February 1979.”