Oct 11, 2010

Ask Your Tour Guide about Campus 'Traditions'

Often steeped in folklore and sometimes born of pranks, college traditions speak volumes about the community of students and campus culture of an institution.

At Washington & Lee University, students offer apples to Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveller for good luck before exams. Further west and a little to the left of WLU, University of Wisconsin—Madison students touch a statue of Lincoln (his foot to be exact) to ensure similar academic success.

Traditions can also dictate a “bucket list” of must-do activities before graduation, like streaking the lawn at the University of Virginia. At Duke, students make a ritual of camping out in tents for days to get free tickets to basketball games.

Contradictory to what may appear to be the essence of tradition, some long-standing campus customs die out or become less relevant as time passes and what was once fun no longer entertains.

For example, when men were housed on one side of campus and women on the other, Penn students had a tradition of engaging in “Rowbottoms.” A spontaneous riot or “Rowbottom” would erupt when someone—inevitably from the male side of campus—yelled “Rowbottom” from a dorm window.

Word passed across campus and the women would hustle out to see men make fools of themselves. But with the introduction of co-ed “residence halls,” the tradition lost its novelty as a means of drawing attention from the opposite sex.

Inside College, the web edition of The College Finder, lists a number of “interesting traditions.” Here are some from that list together with a few local favorites:
  • American University: Around finals, students gather in the courtyard between Hughes and McDowell Halls for a Primal Scream and watch other students flash them from overlooking dorms.
  • Barnard College: During finals week, the president of the college, deans, and other members of the administration serve a Midnight Breakfast to students.
  • Catholic University: Every fall, first-year students compete in a city-wide scavenger hunt dubbed “Metro Madness.” Hopping around the city by Metro (the DC subway system), teams earn points for taking photos and videos of some famous and some not-so-famous sights and completing challenges.
  • Cornell University: Every St. Patrick's Day, first-year architectural students design and build a several-story-high dragon and parade it through campus. Costumed students accompany the beast and then eventually burn it in the middle of the Arts Quad.
  • Georgetown University: Ever since "The Exorcist" was shot on campus, Halloween has been celebrated in a big way. The film is shown after dark on Halloween, either outside on Copley lawn or in Gaston Hall. After it ends at midnight, Georgetown students gather in the cemetery on campus for the "Healy Howl,” which is directed at the harvest moon.
  • George Washington University: The entire campus marks the birth of GW’s namesake on February 22nd of each year. The celebration kicks off with a march to the Quad, followed by colonial refreshments, speeches and a bonfire—rain or shine.
  • Pomona College: For Ski-Beach, a busload of students dons parkas and gloves to ski the slopes of Mountain High, a nearby resort. In the afternoon, they re-board the bus and head to Newport Beach or another local beach. Somewhere between mountain and beach, ski paraphernalia is abandoned for swimsuits and boogie boards.
  • Rollins College: Every spring, the school president picks a day for the community to enjoy a holiday with no classes. Fox Day is announced by the placement of the Rollins fox, a large stone fox statue, out on the main lawn on the campus.
  • University of Maryland: Midnight Madness started in 1970, when at midnight on the first official day of team practice, Coach “Lefty” Driesell had his players take laps around the track that used to encircle the field at Byrd Stadium. Midnight Madness has since become a highly anticipated annual event, often featuring fireworks and a laser light show.
  • University of Mary Washington: Spirit Rock is a 20-ton piece of granite sporting many layers of latex paint. It is used by students to share their feelings, birthday wishes, achievements, and hopes for the future.
  • University of Virginia: According to tradition, before they graduate, students must run naked from the Rotunda down the Lawn to the statue of Homer (which must be kissed on the buttocks) and then back to the Rotunda before retrieving their clothes.

Any campus tour guide worthy of the title will almost certainly cover a few traditions while on tour. If he or she doesn’t, be sure to ask!

Do you have some favorite [printable] college traditions? Use the “Comments” box below to the list.

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