Goon Squad helps freshmen class of 3,500 settle into dorms

The 70-year-old SU tradition has shifted from ensuring freshman wore identifying beanies to helping them move their belongings from packed cars to residence halls.

Every August freshmen arrive at Syracuse University with cars filled to the brim with items to be unloaded, and each year they’re met by the Goon Squad to make that process easier.

The group, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary, comprises upperclassmen clad in orange T-shirts who take each freshman’s belongings and place them in large bins that are wheeled into the students’ new homes. This year's freshmen class includes approximately 3,500 students. 

Photo: Luke Rafferty
Goon Squad members load up another cart of freshmen belongings Wednesday during move-in day.

“I think that there are very few traditions on campus that we sustained for 70 years, and what’s really special about the Goon Squad is that it unites all of our students in the common experience that everyone has,” said Carrie Grogan Abbott, director of the office of first-year and transfer programs. 

It’s a helpful hand that students and their parents appreciated after waiting in long lines outside Brewster and Boland halls Wednesday morning.

“The wait was an hour, but it moved quickly,” said Evie Brooks, an architecture freshman, as she waited with a small plant in her hands and a stack of boxes next to her on the sidewalk. “People knew what they were doing. They were really friendly and helpful.”

When the Goon Squad started in 1944, it served to ensure that freshmen wore beanies noting their year, Grogan Abbott said. The program quickly morphed into a welcoming force aimed to make students more comfortable, and it’s been filling that role since the early 1950s.

Belen Crisp said she became involved with the Goon Squad last year as part of a group from OrangeSeeds, a leadership program for first-year students that she co-directs. The finance and entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises senior said volunteering allowed her to reach first-year students and also pay forward the help she received as a freshman. 

“Everyone on the Goon Squad was so helpful my freshman year, so I remembered that,” she said. “Even though we’re lifting a lot of heavy stuff, I just enjoy it and I remember how much I needed that help.”

Parents bringing their children to the campus said the members made a difference in making the morning less hectic and giving them piece of mind. “You’ve got all this stuff, you want to make sure your child is well organized and set up for the big move-in,” said Paul Ajemian, who drove from Westchester, Pa., to drop off his son.

The members, who totaled more than 650 for the week, worked efficiently by stacking boxes, cases of water, drawers and garbage bags together in the bins that they brought up to each student’s room. They were back within minutes to meet the next new student and keep the line flowing.

“So far, so good,” said Katie Lussier, who flew in from Stuttgart, Germany, as she moved in her daughter. They've been really happy and friendly." 

Mackenzie Welsh, a communications sciences and disorders senior, said although the work was tiring, she had fun making the new students’ days easier. It also brought back memories.

“It really just brings me back to my freshman year moving in,” she said taking a break outside Brewster Hall. “I also lived in this hall so it’s kind of funny.”

Any student who wants to be part of the squad is welcome to join, Grogan Abbott said, and many who do help out end up being thankful they did.

“I worked with the Goon Squad for a long time and students always say, ‘Thank you so much for having me volunteer. I had a great time,’” she said. “We have students who work the first day and have such a great experience they come the next day and say, ‘Hey, I just want to help out again.’

“Generally, I just think everybody really enjoys the experience."

Goon Squad 2014

Rows of cars line campus streets outside residence halls Wednesday and Thursday as freshmen moved their belongings into their new dorms. (Photo by Luke Rafferty)

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