Former resident turned warden has seen it all

Selwyn College warden Rev Dr David Clark takes some time out of preparing for the new wave of...
Selwyn College warden Rev Dr David Clark takes some time out of preparing for the new wave of students, with college cat Ernie, in Dunedin. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Rev Dr David Clark has spent enough time in and around Selwyn College to experience its old traditions, and watch new ones develop.

The former resident turned warden admits some of the antics which go on behind Selwyn's brick facade on Castle St are best left behind those walls, but is more than happy to share stories about rival college Knox.

One of his favourites was when Knox students in the 1950s synchronised their watches before leaving for their holidays.

From all across New Zealand, they then reported to their local newspapers the sighting of a UFO at staggered times.

What became known as a classic hoax was taken as genuine at the time, with the Otago Daily Times even falling victim to the ruse.

He also had admiration for the skill required by "industrious" Knox students to almost entirely brick up the entrance to Selwyn overnight.

By the time they were caught "they were pretty well through".

However, the prank with the largest nuisance factor was when Knox students issued a carefully worded letter, with help from medical students, about the link between type 2 diabetes and Dunedin's drinking water.

The letter asked people to supply the Dunedin City Council with vials of urine for testing.

Suffice to say, the council received a "stream over two or three weeks" and the mayor was outraged at the inconvenience.

Dr Clark studied at the University of Otago and was a resident at Selwyn in 1991, before going on to be a senior resident, resident assistant and assistant to the warden.

He loved his time there so much he returned in 2000 as the Selwyn Scholar to do a PhD in theology.

Dr Clark believes that over the years, Selwyn students have become more "wholesome" with "relatively little" in the way of elaborate pranks happening these days.

"I think students have a much heavier workload these days."

While the well-known traditions such as the Selwyn Ballet and the Leith Run still take place each year, some new ones were also emerging.

The "Sock Off" started about four years ago (lasting longer than the "Coffee Club" which involved singing songs and drinking coffee around the piano after dinner) and involved being given the name of a fellow resident who the student had to hit with a long sock stuffed within another long sock.

If you succeeded in hitting your target, you obtained their person's name and had to hit them, and so on.

Finally, after lecture theatres were staked out and night-time ambushes were successful, the final round of the game took place on the college's lawn with students pitted against each other and the entire college watching to see the winner crowned.

The Selwyn haka, which was created 30 years ago, and the accompanying waiata, started 10 years ago, are also becoming stronger and a more important part of college life.

Dr Clark views part of his role as warden as fostering these social interactions and traditions.

While much of his time was spent managing staff, reporting to the college's board, and building relationships with the university and the community, pastoral care of residents was key.

Creating a community of mutual care, "that sense of looking out for each other", achieving academic excellence, and physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, was in the college's statute.

Being offered support and quality food, and being surrounded by a smaller number (160) of like-minded peers than other colleges, helped create a special brotherhood at Selwyn.

In order to build and maintain the brotherhood, at the beginning of each year Dr Clark creates "cardboard boundaries" for students.

They quickly realise these rules are near impossible to enforce and that they must take charge of their own lives, but often coming from the regimented secondary school world, they could "freak out" otherwise.

His advice for those starting their tertiary endeavours was to "give everything a go" and "don't be afraid to ask for help".

"Remember, there are generations of people who have been through the same challenges of adjusting to a new environment.

"What marks you out as a person is how you overcome those challenges."

Meet the... College Warden

Name: Rev Dr David Clark
Age: 38
Occupation: Selwyn College warden.
Years in role: 3
Study: University of Otago, BA in German, BTheol, 1991-96; exchange student in Germany, 1997; University of Otago PhD in theology, 2000-03.


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