The giant inflatable of Roomie and the array of cupcakes with green and yellow frosting were tell-tale signs that Gumbo Yaya had taken over Southeastern Louisiana University’s campus. Feeding the student body every Wednesday during Homecoming Week, the traditional, festive occasion did well to bring the Lion community together. Plus, the free food and nifty Southeastern trinkets are always a hit.
“It’s a really big event about building Southeastern pride,” said Katlyn Daigle, the Campus Activities Board Vice President of Membership. “It’s just a good time for all the students to gather and socialize.”
Sponsored by the Campus Activities Board (CAB), Gumbo Yaya has been a staple of Southeastern’s Homecoming festivities for longer than the freshmen class has been alive. The tradition stretches back well over twenty years, through Roomie’s makeovers, campus construction eras and technological breakthroughs. It has historically taken place in the heart of the fall semester’s most celebratory week, and its main purpose remains to evoke pride in sporting green and gold in Hammond, America.
“To Southeastern, Gumbo Yaya means tradition,” said Cierra Calloway, a senior family and consumer science major and member of the 2017 Homecoming Queen Court. “We have a lot of things here that students don’t realize are part of a great history, and I know over the years it definitely has changed.”
Hosting a campus event of this magnitude is no easy feat. In fact, CAB begins preparation for Gumbo Yaya in August, two months before the actual program takes place. According to Brenan Sarah, the Vice President of Public Relations at CAB, organizers must confirm participation from other student organizations. Furthermore, CAB leaders must reserve tents and obtain tables, chairs and supplies, as well as allow time for food specialists to prepare enough gumbo for the expected vast attendance.
“It takes a long time because there are a lot of organizations that go into it,” Sarah explained.
Aside from serving the favorite Cajun dish that inspires its name, Gumbo Yaya offered a plethora of activities for students to conquer. The promise of free T-shirts and giant foam fingers attracted a large crowd. At the Stuff-a-Lion table, students crammed cotton into a stuffed animal of Roomie, an action reminiscent of the concept of Build-a-Bear Workshop. Just outside of Student Memorial Park was a vending machine that elicited free cans of Coca-Cola after students hugged it. A stylish photo booth from Imaginola Photography allowed attendants to strike poses in fluffy boas, colorful masks and oversized sunglasses. The Sanguine Brothers, a magician duo who visited the campus, wowed the crowd as they made coins disappear into thin air. Plus, students tossed miniature balls into embroidered cups, decorated a picture of University President John Crain’s face with whipped cream and paid one dollar to send a lucky individual plunging into a dunk tape. With a soundtrack from classic Disney films serenading the outdoor event, students enjoyed endless opportunities to be fed and entertained.
“There are different events going on, but not necessarily for your average student,” said Daigle, “but [Gumbo Yaya] is for the entire student body, a way for everyone to get involved in Homecoming.”
Student participation is not the only thing Gumbo Yaya promotes. Midway through the program, students on the 2017 Homecoming Queen and Beau Courts made their debuts on the balcony overlooking Student Memorial Park. Their official appearance at Gumbo Yaya is as traditional as the event itself.
“It’s important to introduce students to the Court because Homecoming Week ends with the game where the king and queen will be announced at halftime,” noted Bryce Carpenter, a senior sports management major and member of the 2017 Beau Court. “It all builds hype for the game.”
For students on the Queen and Beau Courts, the experience is especially rewarding. Not only can they grab cupcakes or stuff miniature Roomies, they can also exude the excitement of representing Southeastern through its Homecoming festivities. For them, this special involvement exposes a unique perspective.
“I’ve always loved Gumbo Yaya, but it was an even more amazing experience with being on the Homecoming Court,” reflected Neil Bourgeois, a senior communication major who served on the 2016 Beau Court. “Being able to represent the student body as one of the Homecoming Court members was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Regardless of classification, level of organization involvement or major, students come together at Student Memorial Park for the annual Gumbo Yaya. According to CAB leaders Daigle and Sarah, the event boasts an opportunity for students to unify in their mutual integrity for being members of the Lion community. By setting up tents with their information, campus organizations that volunteer to participate seize the chance to recruit potential affiliates. The Queen and Beau Courts’ introductions are also instrumental to the event’s itinerary.
“It is an event that I look forward to every year because I get to show my love for the university,” Carpenter said. “It is an opportunity I take to interact with different organizations and meet new people.”
If the lengthy lines at each activity station aren’t good indicators, Gumbo Yaya is significant to Southeastern and its Homecoming.
“I’m really big on community, so being out there with 75 percent of campus makes me so happy,” said Calloway. “It’s very important for us to be able to come together as a student body and we’re in south Louisiana, so what better way to do that than over gumbo?”
The 2017 Southeastern Homecoming game will take place on October 7 at 10 a.m. at Strawberry Stadium.