Paige Phillips ’22 had barely pulled onto campus for the first time when the Goons came running toward her. They were led by Seth Reed ’21, who, flashing a million-dollar smile, immediately offered to help Phillips with her belongings while making small talk with her parents. “I never felt so welcomed in my life,” recalls the Colorado native. “I didn’t even know this guy, but after a three-day road trip, he made me feel at home. It was as if I had been wrapped in a big Syracuse University hug.”
As the University’s official welcoming committee, the Goon Squad is an enduring presence on campus, greeting new students upon arrival and assisting them during move-in.
Phillips not only befriended Reed but also joined the Goons a year later. “We facilitate your transition to Syracuse, whether you’re an incoming first-year student or a transfer,” says Phillips, a political science major in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
Recently, she became an orientation leader, a delegatory role providing on-the-ground support during Syracuse Welcome, the University’s new student orientation program.
The linchpin of the Syracuse Welcome move-in experience, the Goon Squad specializes in student satisfaction. The group boasts about 400 volunteers, culled from some 40 student organizations on campus.
Program director Carrie Abbott G’03 believes that when students feel safe and supported, they can be more successful. They also become part of something bigger than themselves—mainly, the Orange Family. “We function as a gateway and an introduction for students beginning their academic journey,” she says, noting the Goons’ infectious energy and welcoming spirit. “We’re rooted in a long, proud tradition.”
Founded by the Traditions Committee in 1944, the Goon Squad originally had one purpose: to make sure first-year students wore their beanie caps. (For more than 80 years, freshmen were required to wear beanies during their first semester as well as tip their hats to older students.) The Goon moniker stuck, but the group eventually became something entirely different. In addition to assisting new students, Goons found themselves planning homecoming activities and leading moving-up day ceremonies, in which the University celebrated the junior class’s transition to seniors. “We were a crazy bunch, especially at home football games,” recalls a former Goon from the Class of 1965. “We also hosted an annual talent show, which was a highlight of the school year.”
We function as a gateway and an introduction for students beginning their academic journey. We’re rooted in a long, proud tradition.—Carrie Abbott G’03, director of New Student and Family Programs
With their signature straw hats and Jiminy Cricket buttons, Goons were easy to spot. (The Disney character, which acts as Pinocchio’s conscience in the classic movie, was the group’s mascot until the 1970s.) Times and tastes have changed, Abbott explains, but the Goons’ irrepressible energy has not. “We make students feel welcomed and valued.” For this reason, Goons are always wearing a smile—along with a smartly designed T-shirt and fanny pack.
Paying It Forward
Nathena Murray ’22 was a sophomore in the University’s WellsLink Leadership Program when she was drafted into the Goon Squad. The double major in chemistry and neuroscience enjoyed the opportunity so much that she offered to repeat it this fall. “I am honored to be one of the first faces that a new student sees on campus,” says the Arts and Sciences student. “I feel like I’m paying my education forward, because the Goon Squad helped me when I was a scared, little freshman. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have made the transition from living with my mom to being on my own.”
Likewise, Goonship has its moments. Murray recalls moving students into “BBB”—Boland, Brewster and Brockway halls on West Campus—when a rainstorm erupted practically out of nowhere. “People were splashing through the mud. Carts were sliding all over the place,” she says laughing. “It was a chaotic mess, but everyone pulled together to get it done.”
Murray reflects on the barrage of questions she has received: “Students always ask me if they’ve packed too much. They also want to know what it’s like being a freshman or what’s happening on campus.” Phillips’ requests tend to be more pragmatic. “Right off the bat, everyone wants to know where to eat,” she says. “And where the bathrooms are.”
There’s no question that student health and safety is on everyone’s minds with COVID-19. Last year, New Student and Family Programs (which oversees Syracuse Welcome) teamed up with the Barnes Center at The Arch to create the Goon Squad Health Ambassador Volunteers program. This hand-picked group of students helped enforce COVID-19 prevention, health and safety guidelines. “It was the first time in Goon Squad history that we didn’t interact with new students in our typical way,” Abbott says. “This year, we’re back to normal, providing a warm Orange welcome.”
I want people to have the same kind of experience I had when I first came here almost four years ago.—Paige Phillips ’22
Accomplishing Big Things
Syracuse Welcome is mutually beneficial. Goons get to move in early, while incoming students and their families obtain peace of mind. And the occasional free meal. Phillips remembers being at Syracuse for only a day or two before misplacing her student ID. “My parents and I were in the dining center, loading up our trays, when I realized that I didn’t have any identification,” she says. “And then my mistake was broadcast on the intercom for everyone to hear. I was mortified.”
Phillips quickly resolved the matter, but it served as a potent reminder of how far she has come on her own. People like Seth Reed and student organizations like the Goon Squad have contributed immeasurably to Phillips’ personal growth—empowering, rather than enabling, her along the way. "I always tell new students to do something that scares them every day,” she says with a smile. “It can be giving out a compliment or striking up a conversation with someone they don’t know. A little slice of bravery can accomplish big things."