Sweetheart Circle, the heart of Georgia Southern
By Roxanne Cortner
When people think about Georgia Southern University, they often think about the football program and the Power of Paulson. They think about what G.A.T.A stands for and how hearing someone shout “Georgia!” someone from GS will shout “Southern!”
They may think about the degrees offered, or the large-scale, small-feel atmosphere. They may even think about our greek life system and the party-like atmosphere that has been associated with the small town in rural Statesboro, Georgia.
For the students and alumni of GS, there is a not-so-hidden gem right at the heart of campus: Sweetheart Circle.
In 1906, when GS opened its doors as the First District Agricultural and Mechanical School, the campus consisted of only a few buildings for dorms, dining and study. The buildings surrounded an open field, in a heart-shaped formation giving The First District Agricultural and Mechanical School’s main campus the nickname “The Sweetheart Campus.”
Historically, the circle was a point of contact for men and women on campus to be supervised by the Dean of Men and the Dean of Women as students were not allowed contact on campus with the other gender. Eventually, men and women were allowed to eat together in Anderson Hall dining hall, but could not walk around campus together. As the times changed, that rule was uplifted, but the Circle was still a common area for interaction.
In 1924, the school was renamed to Georgia Normal School because the mission changed to train teachers. With this change brought an expansion of the campus, causing the heart-shape formation to reform. Students began calling the front of the campus “Sweetheart Circle.”
Students coming to college and getting to be on their own for the first time, took on the adventure to look for their future sweetheart. When men and women were allowed to be together around campus, they found that the lower end of the circle was secluded enough for young lovers to have intimate conversation. Legends say that if lovers hold hands and walk around Sweetheart Circle three times, they will get married and their marriage will last forever.
This legend carries on today as Sweetheart Circle is a common place for students and alumni to get engaged, take engagement pictures, and get married.
Alumnus Virginia Braswell and her husband James believe this legend to be true as they met at GS and got engaged at Sweetheart Circle. Braswell says that when they visit GS they must make a stop by Sweetheart Circle to reminisce about their time together and at GS.
Meagan Horan, a current GS student, hopes to one day live this legend with her boyfriend whom she met her freshman year in Statesboro.
While the name Sweetheart Circle may sound “sweet,” not all events at Sweetheart Circle have been great.
In the 1920s, upperclassmen referred to freshmen as “rats” and subjected them to humiliating rites throughout the year as an initiation. One event consisted of male “rats” parading around Sweetheart Circle in just their underwear. This tradition was stopped in the 1930s during an event at the Thanksgiving football game.
In 1974, different groups of students participated in the “streak” across Sweetheart Circle that was dismissed by the campus police at first. Students took the dismissal and a group went streaking across the campus.
Sweetheart Circle has always been a place for student free speech. The circle has been a place for protests and strikes. A march over the events at Kent State University on May 18, 1970 and a walk out by eight black campus employees are two events among many that have taken place on Sweetheart Circle where students have exercised their right to free speech.
The school even started a spring youth arts festival on Sweetheart to provide another way for students and those in the community to express themselves.
Sweetheart Circle has changed in different aspects since GS opened its doors, but over the last 20 years, it hasn’t changed that much.
Dr. Theresa Novotny is a double-eagle from GS and has been working for GS’ testing services for over a decade. Novotny’s office is located just off Sweetheart Circle and she has seen a lot of changes in the use of Sweetheart Circle. Novotny says that the look of Sweetheart Circle has not changed much over the years, but more events have come about due to the addition of electricity and different garden looks.
Since its opening, GS has added many traditions that take place at Sweetheart Circle. GS holds annually a Lighting of Sweetheart Circle in December where the entire area is covered in lights. They have even covered the grass in snow made by a snow machine. The annual watermelon eating contest used to take place on the circle. During Homecoming in October, student organizations decorate floats for their homecoming court candidate and parade around Sweetheart Circle.
“The Circle has always been integral to campus,” Novotny said.
Today, Sweetheart circle is still a gathering place for students. Visitors to the campus can find students hanging from the trees in their hammocks, playing games, or sharing a picnic with friends and lovers. Sweetheart circle is a common place for graduating seniors to take their graduation photos in front of the GSU hedges. The open grass areas are commonly filled with different campus organizations creating memories with each other.
Surrounded by different classroom buildings and administrative buildings, Sweetheart Circle provides a beautiful scene for those looking out their window. Potential students, business partners, and visitors are welcomed to GS by the trees, flowers, and hedges that make up the scenery of Sweetheart Circle.
Students and faculty find themselves taking time to absorb the atmosphere of Sweetheart Circle as much as possible during their time at GS. For those that don’t, like Horan, they find themselves wishing they had taken the opportunity when they could.
Through many changes on and around campus, name changes, and new developments, one thing has remained the same: Sweetheart Circle continues to bring students and faculty together.