As a native of Boston, MA, homecoming was one of the many new cultural aspects I was introduced to when I began my matriculation at the illustrious Hampton University. While we mourn the loss of the legendary experience that is the HBCU homecoming, it’s imperative that we acknowledge and preserve the memories we were fortunate enough to have made in prior years. For many, the tailgate is a family tradition; something that feels as familiar as a family gathering. For me, it’s been a learning experience; navigating the HBCU tailgate has been a journey, but my two years have given me the perspective necessary to compile a list of HBCU Tailgate do’s and don’ts that’ll be sure to assist freshmen and first-timers come life post-corona.
- Do: Eat Early
I learned the hard way not to allow long lines at the food trucks to push me into procrastination. Before you know it, it’s 7 PM, they’re packing up expeditiously and giving any closing hour inquiries the side-eye if they dare ask if an order can be made. Eat upon arriving at the tailgate so you can fully enjoy your time tent hopping without a mental timer reminding you that the food trucks are going to leave, and as will your opportunity to eat the best meal you’ll see until Thanksgiving.
- Don’t: Move Around Too Much
Once you find a good one or two tents that you enjoy, try not to venture too much. I’ve made the mistake of wanting to see as many tents as possible, leading me to spend many more time pushing through crowds than actually just enjoying the atmosphere I’m currently in. Not only is squeezing and saying “excuse me” repeatedly annoying, but trust me, you never want to successfully make your way to a tent just to realize you were better where you started; the frustrated, disapproving, and drunken glares you receive as you push past the same people you struggled through 4 minutes prior will be etched in your mind and unescapable.
- Do: Drip, Don’t Drown
The rumors are true: every day at an HBCU is a fashion show, but homecoming is on a level of its own. Alumni and undergraduates alike never come to play when it comes to their tailgate fits, so make sure you’re prepared and know how to put it together. Don’t be afraid to mix trends of the past with those of today, and even mix in some paraphernalia if that’s your prerogative, of course.
- Don’t: Sweat the Small Things
Homecoming only comes once a year; and as we now see, it may not even come then. Don’t let minuscule things like hairstyles gone wrong, outfits gone wrong, and disagreements with friends derail you from maximizing your experience as much as possible. Life -and Homecoming- are too short to let trivial obstacles hinder you from such a crucial and irreplaceable experience.
- Do: Pace Yourself
The HBCU Tailgate is an all-day affair, so it’s important to act like it. Pacing yourself with regards to your “celebratory” beverage consumption is essential. The last thing you want to do is wake up at 8’clock with little to no recollection of the event. Too much of anything is never a good idea, especially on a day based on socializing with alumni and your peers. Resist peer pressure during the pre-game; your reputation will thank you.
- Don’t: Miss the Game
This last ‘don’t’ is a personal dig at myself. For some reason, during both of my experiences at Hampton’s Tailgate, I have failed to attend the game. I’m not late, I’m not busy, I just completely by-pass Armstrong Stadium and completely neglect the whole point of the Tailgate: The Homecoming Game. This year in particular, with no longer having the option, I’m definitely resentful at my taking the football game for granted.
I never imagined a world where tailgates, football games, and homecoming would just no longer be deemed safe, and I definitely never imagined a time where I’d find myself mourning the loss of the HBCU homecoming experience in my journal; writing odes similar to the way one might text their ex-lover: Dear HUHC, it’s me again…please come back, I’ll even go to the football games! I’ve changed!