Wolverine Cult-ure

Students and faculty reflect on the reputation, dynamic and traditions of various student groups, clubs and sports on campus.


Illustration by Sophia Evans

Students participate in the girl’s pre-show ritual before their first performance

Averie Perrin and Iona Lee

It’s quiet on campus. Georgiana* and the rest of the girls from the theater department gather in a circle, tucked away in one of the campus’s most secluded locations. They believe they are alone. These students are participating in the girls pre-show before their first performance of the school play––a secret ritual, passed down through the department’s generations, restricted only to the female members of the cast. Little did they know, they were not, in fact, alone; they were in plain view of a school security camera.

Georgiana said the guards on the other side of the camera acted quickly, deeming the ritual inappropriate and reporting the cast’s actions to the administration.

“The incident was determined to be of sexual nature, but we theater kids thought it was not,” Georgiana said. “It was just [sexual] in their mind. Still, I can never look at the security guards the same again.”

Georgiana said this tradition consists of performances honoring famous school theater alumni.

“We have to come two hours early for girls pre-show, so no one sees us,” Georgiana said. “We go to a secluded spot that [will]  not be revealed, somewhere on campus that people rarely ever go. There are songs and dances involved, naturally. In the songs and dance, we pay homage to people who did theater at Harvard-Westlake and are now successful in that industry.”

Georgiana said besides just honoring alumni, the girls are forced to show reverence to upperclassmen, too.

“The whole thing is actually about age hierarchy,” Georgiana said. “It’s all about seniors, sophomores and juniors.  You have to pay respect to your elder theater kids. If you don’t, there are consequences. I’m not even kidding. There are very specific ways in which you have to pay respect to the seniors, and you will be shamed if you do not follow those. It’s kind of like a sorority rush.” 

Georgiana said the ritual used to involve kidnapping.

“Back in the day, they used to [use] blindfolds to bring people to the location of the pre-show,” Georgiana said. “We no longer do that, but now we get harassed by the seniors out in the open, and then they chase us to the location.”

A participant in girls pre-show, Elise Fried ’24 said she feels very close and comfortable with her fellow cast members. 

“I’ve been sworn to secrecy, and just the fact that we have a pre-show that you’re sworn to secrecy about is weird,” Fried said. “A lot of the layers of traditions surrounding the shows could be compared to a cult. The theater department is a really close department, and we all spend a lot of time together, and you really are bonded. So some would say cult, I would say family.”

A popular student group on campus that also requires confidentiality from its members is Peer Support. Peer Support is a club that meets after school in small groups where students can share their problems with peers, while trained student leaders moderate discussion. 

Club leaders discuss their club dynamics 

Peer Support Trainee Lily Stambouli ’24 said the secretive nature of Peer Support is intimidating and can seem weird to outsiders.

“You’re literally going into a room with people who might be strangers, and you’re sharing things and playing games, and then everything that happens in those rooms is totally confidential,” Stambouli said. “That’s lowkey culty activity, but I don’t think it’s culty activity in a bad way, necessarily. I think it’s cool.”

Stambouli said that the confidentiality of the group makes it more attractive.

“People thinking that Peer Support is a cult makes it more appealing,” Stambouli said. “Although Peer Support might seem like a cult, it’s just a really good community. “

Peer Support leaders and trainees attend an annual overnight retreat before starting the program.

Stambouli said retreat has specific and fun traditions. 

“Basically, at retreat, the Coordinators come up with a word, and then you have to dress up based on the word,” Stambouli said. “This year, it was Greece. And so you have people dressing up like characters from the movie Grease or just like Greek gods or goddesses. I was a frat boy because of Greek life. There’s a lot of variety. If you have ever seen ‘Midsommar,’ that’s exactly what the Peer Support retreat is like.”

Former Chronicle Staff Writer Grace Coleman ’24 said she feels that The Chronicle, the school’s newspaper and another major student group, is exclusive and known for being weird.

“Chronicle feels like a family of incest,” Coleman said. “Everyone on The Chronicle is somehow weirdly and deeply connected to each other in this strange excluding manner that makes everyone whisper ‘What the f***’s going on with Chronicle?’ ‘Why the f*** is Chronicle so weird?’ and ‘Chronicle’s a cult,’ because Chronicle is a cult and everyone on Chronicle is in a cult, specifically the seniors.” 

Coleman said Chronicle seniors ordered her around, and she was forced to do errands and tasks for them.

“When I was a sophomore on Chronicle, the seniors and juniors would just send us out to Starbucks to pick up their food and bring everything back to Ralph’s to pick up snacks,” Coleman said. “So instead of us doing work, they just ordered us around.” 

Coleman said she was hazed by upperclassmen on Chronicle and had to follow her editors’ orders to gain their approval.

“You’re expected to follow everything that [editors] tell you to do to a tee, whether it be doing three Starbucks trips during one layout session or letting the editor change your entire article,” Coleman said. “That was just kind of what you had [to do]to be accepted and seen as a good Chronicle member. I’d say it was hazing for sure.”

Athletes talk about their teams’ traditions 

Varsity cross country member Chris Weng ’24 said he feels his team is exclusive, and members receive different treatment based on how much effort they put into the sport.

“Your perceived effort level does have a bit of bearing on how you’re treated on a team,” Weng said. “If you see someone putting effort into something, we respect that. When you see everyone trying and putting in everything they’ve got, that creates a really close bond, but if someone’s not trying, it can kind of damage that. It just kind of feels disrespectful. I feel a little bit more closed off to them because I can’t relate to them in that same way.” 

When Junior Varsity cross country member Grady Ramberg ’24 quit cross country, Weng said he and other team members held a memorial for Ramberg.

“We wanted to do something special for him, so we did a little bit of trolling and decided that we were going to see him off,” Weng said. “Being a bunch of stupid high school boys, we bought a bunch of hardwood, brought some power tools, made a coffin and painted it. We brought it to school, wore suits and ran around the track while blasting music.”

Ramberg said the ritual after he quit the team was heartwarming and felt nice to be memorialized.

“I’m just very surprised [because] I knew something was happening, but I was not expecting a coffin and suits,” Ramberg said. “It was kind of nice. It’s a little sad because I won’t spend as much time with the team, so it was a nice send-off, I guess.”

Ramberg said he felt very close to the team and bonded by the difficulty of the sport.

“It really is like a family, especially after going to a Big Bear, where we spend a week with each other just running up in the mountains,” Ramberg said. “We’re so close afterward because we spend so much time together. Running is so painful, and when you do that with friends, you get much closer with them. When you go through pain with someone, you really know each other and pick up on so much about the other person. I guess this makes it seem like a cult from the outside with some of our cult-ish activities, but it’s all because we are just so close, so it makes sense why people on the outside are confused.”

Ramberg said the team environment can become unhealthy despite how much he enjoys the sport.

“I enjoy running, and I love the team, but it’s a little toxic with getting onto varsity especially because we’re all so close to each other, and we don’t want to be fighting with each other, but we kind of have to,” Ramberg said. “With everyone running a certain amount of hours per week and having to come to every practice, it limits us to cross country being the only thing we do. We’re Harvard-Westlake students, and we can only do one thing.”

Like Weng, Ramberg said runners who do not put as much effort into the team as others are treated differently from others who try harder and are excluded. 

“You kind of get made fun of a lot if you’re not running on Varsity or if you’re not hitting your weekly volume every week,” Ramberg said. “If you’re not running as much as the lead people, or you’re not as fast, it’s like you’re not as close with everyone or not as much part of a team. In order to belong, you have to run a certain way and be dedicated enough, but people often are able to become varsity and be part of that group. They can train more than they’re usually able to.”

English Teacher and Department Head Larry Weber said he often sees students who participate in extracurricular activities together gravitate toward each other.

“Similar interests is how you make friends,” Weber said. “We all want to have friendship, and these activities are what provide the opportunity to connect with someone interesting. It might feel like it feeds into cliquishness, but if you’re so busy and time-limited, where are you going to scratch that itch for real connection? It’s gonna be in the limited places where you spend your time.”

Water polo player Jack Burghardt ’23 said water polo is another sport that has a close-knit community that spends a lot of time together.  

“A lot of us spend a lot of our time together because we have three-hour practices every single day, and it’s hard not to get really attached to everybody,” Burghardt said. “A lot of us will get lunch and dinner with each other all the time. We also have a team banquet every year, which is pretty fun.”

Burghardt said the team tries to have a light-hearted attitude.

“We’re never gonna take anything all that seriously,” Burghardt said. “We’re always gonna have fun with everything we do. Even [in] our toughest times, we find a way to bring each other up and have a good time.”

Burghardt said there are water polo traditions to introduce players to the team.

“Every freshman has to wear a suit on the first day of school,” Burghardt said. “It basically tells all your freshmen teachers that you’re on the water polo team and that even though you’re on the water polo team, you’re more committed to school than you are to water polo, and it is really fun.”

Weber said he believes these close student groups are natural and can be good social opportunities.

“They can be really positive as long as you don’t feel like you’re losing your identity, and if those groups don’t purposefully exclude,” Weber said. “Group identities inevitably form, and it’s kind of what makes being in a group fun. You can encourage each other towards a sense of group identity that can be a great expression of your kind of mutual sense of humor, as long as you don’t become a terrorist group.” 

*Name has been changed.