The Illinois Institute was founded by the Wesleyans in 1854, and it wasn’t too successful as a college. Jonathan Blanchard came to the rescue in 1860. Warren L. Wheaton handed over some land to the school, and Blanchard renamed it Wheaton College in his honor. Blanchard became the college’s first president and sought to provide a liberal arts education combined with intellectual growth and Christian faith. During the early 1900s, enrollment more than doubled under President J. Oliver Buswell, who, in 1940, was let go for his argumentative temper and intellectual approach to Christianity. The late 1900s saw expansion in academic programs, the addition of sports programs, and increased facilities to accommodate rising enrollment numbers.
Wheaton’s compact campus provides a quiet and picturesque setting, at the center of which is Blanchard Hall, Wheaton’s oldest building and a well-known landmark. Designed after buildings at Oxford University, this castle-like structure marks the front of campus and houses offices of the president and other Wheaton higher-ups. The Chapel is another postcard-worthy structure on campus that hosts mandatory services for students during the week and occasional performing arts events. The Todd Beamer Student Center contains offices, a performance space, a few dining options, and meeting and study rooms. The Beamer Center bustles with student life and provides a lively on-campus hangout. The on-campus museum of the history of evangelism is housed in the Billy Graham Center (named after one of the school’s most famous alum). The BGC is also home to evangelism institutes, the Wheaton College Graduate School, and the school’s radio station.
Wheaton College is located near downtown Wheaton, Illinois, a small, wealthy suburb of Chicago. Like Wheaton College itself, the town is full of upper-class, white Christian folk, making positive relations between the school and city effortless. The community is very welcoming to students, and the small town immediately gives newcomers a homey feel. Many of the town’s parks and downtown attractions (the few there are) are a short walk from campus. When students want to escape the bubble of Wheaton, they head 25 miles east to Chicago for all the thrills of city life. By thrills we mean good ol’ wholesome (i.e. booze-less, tobacco-less, debauchery-less) activities, of course.
Blanchard Hall Bells can be heard clanging across campus whenever a couple gets married, engaged, or has an anniversary. No wonder there’s pressure to get a ring by spring!
To pass the time during mandatory chapel services, many students take up knitting and manage to create multiple scarves, garments, blankets, etc. during a semester’s worth of chapel.
The Bench is a tradition at Wheaton reaching really far back. The Juniors and the Seniors fight over the possession of what is now a slab of concrete with two handles. This is a serious game with a ton of rules surrounding it which is for the most part fun for all involved though only a select few, mostly guys, get to even be involved.
One student writes about a more unofficial tradition: “There are fun events such as ‘Kingdom Runs,’ where your floor, team, or group of friends streak to the ‘For Christ and His Kingdom’ sign out on Blanchard lawn. This often happens at night...and often with guys more than girls.”
The Wheaton Film Festival features films from students of all class years. The student body gets gussied up and awards are given to the best film, best script, and the best actors.
During Homecoming, girls team up into their classes and fight (literally) for the Powder Puff tournament title.
The school has been hosting a few dances every year since the ban on dancing was raised a few years back. There’s a yearly square dance, swing dance, and others put on by College Union.
The talent show that takes place during parent’s weekend is just like high school, but with a bigger audience.
Wes Craven (1963) is a film writer and director and has created films such as Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, and Scream.
Elisabeth Elliot (1949) has authored more than twenty books, including Passion and Purity, Through the Gates of Splendor, Quest for Love, and Shadow of the Almighty, a life account of her late husband, Jim Elliot.
Jim Elliot (1949) was an evangelical Christian missionary who was killed by tribesmen during a long-term mission to Ecuador.
Michael Gerson (1986) is an op-ed columnist for The Washington Post and was George W. Bush’s chief speech writer and senior policy advisor from 2000 until 2006.
Billy Graham (1943) is a world renowned evangelist, pastor, author, and has been a spiritual advisor to many US Presidents.
John Piper (1968) is a preacher, theologian, and author of Desiring God, What Jesus Demands from the World, Pierced by the Word, The Passion of Jesus Christ, Don’t Waste Your Life, and many others.
Philip Yancey (1971) is the author of Finding God in Unexpected Places, Discovering God: A Devotional Journey through the Bible, The Jesus I Never Knew, What’s So Amazing About Grace, and more.
The Wheaton Thunder competes at the NCAA Division III level and is a member of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. Sports are a very popular activity with the athletically-inclined student body, and whether varsity or intramural, students find tight camaraderie in their chosen teams.
One Wheaton graduate says, “Wheaton athletics are very popular, and rightly so. The football team is fun to watch, and usually pretty good (one of the Wheaton LB was just drafted into the NFL), and the men’s soccer teams are usually national contenders. The women's soccer teams usually aren't as fun to watch, but only because they always win. They went undefeated last season, and have won the D-III national title three of the last four years. The basketball team made it to the D-III elite eight this year. Wheaton sports are a lot of fun.”
Wheaton College is featured in the college guide Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope.
Wheaton owns a portion of land in northern Wisconsin called Honey Rock that serves as a camp and “study abroad” location for students.
Wheaton has a Human Needs and Global Resources program (HNGR) where students can intern in third world countries.
The Marion E. Wade Center houses interesting books and memorabilia, including C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe that is said to have inspired the Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien’s desk upon which he wrote The Hobbit.
Most Wheaton students live on campus in one of the eight dorms and apartments or 16 college-owned houses. The dorm floors are all single-sex, and there are pretty tight rules about when the opposite gender is allowed on the floor. Rooms range from singles to quads, and as usual, the shoddier dorms are reserved for freshmen, and the upperclassmen get the nicer digs.
Fischer Dorm is the most ‘alive’ dorm on campus. I lived there this year and will next year as well, and loved being involved in things like raids and coffeehouses. In Fischer, there are two girls' floors to every guys' floor, and raids are comprised of a floor having a party for its brother and sister floor in the middle of the night. Coffeehouses are usually low key performances in which anyone in the dorm can perform, while the audience drinks coffee inside or outside (depending on the weather).
A recent alum writes, “Something happens at Wheaton that really doesn't happen anywhere else. There's an amazing amount of dorm floor loyalty, and there's also a fair amount of floor traditions and stereotypes. The 40 guys or 30 girls on a floor will be mostly friends for the rest of their time at Wheaton, and for some, those will be their only friends. It's a tight-knit group on dorm floors.”