USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘college’
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Song for Finals

“Right before finals, the band usually plays at Primal, so we will play right outside Leavey Library, to like cheer people up before finals and get people hype for studying. The songs that we play are usually pretty variable, but at the end, we always play ‘Conquest’ at the end and scream ‘Beat the Finals’.” 

Context: The informant, EK, is a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band. We were having a conversation about the strange rituals and customs of the band that are specific to that one student group. This ritual is an unofficial one, as in years past they have gotten in trouble with the university, however the band is trying to bring back the tradition, with and without official approval. EK really enjoys participating in this ritual as she feels that it really exemplifies the motivating aspect of the band; she also loves seeing the students’ faces when the band starts to play

Analysis: While this may seem like a simple tradition, this ritual demonstrates the role and importance that the Trojan marching band plays for the students at USC. The band’s role is not only limited to promoting school spirit at football games and other sporting events, but also to energize and boost morale for the entire student body. As someone that has witnessed this performance while in the library, hearing the amazing band play uplifting and motivating songs brought joy to the hundreds of stressed and overwhelmed students in the library who had been studying for days. This impact shows how the band’s culture and traditions affect the people in their community, and is capable of reminding the students that there is more to USC then just working.

Along with this, the choice of song that they play at the end of their performance demonstrates the meaning and overall significance of the performance. The song “Conquest” is usually played by the USC marching band when the USC football team beats their opponent to celebrate beating the enemy. By performing this song, the studying students will get the same feeling that they would feel when the USC football team wins. They suddenly feel a sense of confidence and increased morale and ready to vanquish their enemy: finals. Along with this, the screaming of “beat the finals” at the end of the performance echoes the sentiment that finals is something that we all should put our effort into trying to win our finals by doing our best. 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kicking the Lightpost – USC Band Tradition

“So the band has a tradition of, every time we march to the football stadium–the Coliseum–for games, everyone has to kick the bottom of the light pole as we are leaving campus for good luck. Then, we also kick it on our way back on [campus] after the game.

If we win the football game, we always play ‘Conquest’ at Tommy Trojan as, like, a celebration.”

Context: The informant, EK, is a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band (also called Spirit of Troy), and specifically part of the drum line of the band. We were having a discussion about some of the strange and somewhat rituals that the band does on game days (football) and how they affect the outcome of the games. EK feels an obligation to participate in this ritual as she is a member of the band, and fears the consequences of not participating in the tradition as it is a highly ingrained belief in the student group. The band, according to EK, relies heavily on many superstitions and traditions in order to ensure the success of the USC football team.

Analysis: For the informant, this ritual is extremely important for the band and to ensure a good outcome for the football game that they will be performing in. In this manner, this ritual is a demonstration of folk belief and superstition and how it supposedly affects the outcome of events that can be seemingly out of our hands. With this superstition, this group of performers can have a level of control over an unpredictable event.

There is also a participatory context for this superstition. If you do not participate in this ritual and kick the light pole, then if the football team loses, the band can blame the person who didn’t kick the pole. In a way, knowing and participating in the superstitions of the marching band is a way to figure out who is a member, and who is an outsider. Due to this, if you choose not to participate, or merely forget, your band members will see you as someone who is not really a member of that group anymore, and only after you resume your participation in that ritual can one resume their membership. This is mirrored in many other societal groups, from firefighters to physicians to USC students. Particular superstitions and customs are defining components of culture, and the groups that perform them claim them as a piece of their identity.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Dreams Predict Death

VG: Ok, so you said you have a superstition?

AM: I am 99% sure I know how I’m gonna die and when.

VG: Uh-how?

AM: Once a month, I have the same exact dream where I’m driving in a car during the rain and ss- what is it- we end up hydroplaning and falling on train tracks and not um having enough time to get off the car and getting hit by a dream. What is it- every month the dream changes just a little bit, but it’s always us driving, hydroplaning, and then ch- hitting a ditch.

VG: So you believe in the power of recurring dreams?

AM: Yes. Every month for the past three years.

VG: Do you know the specific day?

AM: No. All I know is is it’s raining really bad and we’re on the highway.

VG: Wow…who’s- you say we, whose in the car?

AM: Usually, my dad, my mom, and me.

VG: Wow…have you told them about it?

AM: Nope..not yet.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Variable, Southern California

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context:  This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore. This story came after a few others from a friend in response to the prompt “weird beliefs.”

 

Analysis: This a great example about the folklore and folk belief in reoccurring dreams because it offers such a precise description of what AM experiences in the dream. This precision is most likely because of the recent development of this recurring and very consistent dream. I also think it is interesting to note the absence of supernatural elements of this story. Frequently, people have monsters, paranormal activity, etc. in their dreams, so the fact that this story is based in reality effectively conveys the idea that this could be an omen – it is much closer to things that could actually occur. Possibly, the realistic narrative of the dream is related to the recent development of this dream. AM is a college freshman, so this dream could reflect feelings of fear about growing older and separating from the family. 

Additional reading: Kaivola-Bregenhøj, Annikki. “Dreams as folklore.” Fabula 34 (1993): 211-224. This article offers a great explanation about dreamlore as well as the relative novelty of its performance.

Customs
Game
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Life Shotgun Pinning

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty-two year-old girl who is also a student at USC in the Greek community. We were discussing a “shotgun pinning” that was to occur later that day. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Collector: “So, what is it exactly?”

Informant: “Basically, it’s the people who are more wacky or untraditional in the way that they don’t want a normal pinning. So their friends set it up for them. It’s so much more fun than the normal pinnings. It’s funny.”

Collector: “What do they do?”

Informant: “First, the guy’s friends get him really drunk and the girls do the same thing. Then all the friends tie the couple to a mattress. They have to sit on the mattress in front of the house while all their friends give embarrassing speeches and everybody cheers.”

Context

The Informant learned of this custom within the Greek community at USC by first hearing it from other members, both in her sorority and friends in fraternities. The Informant then witnessed it herself. She believes it to be a non-serious, fun way to show off your partner but stress-free because that how the couple acts anyway. She remembers them because they occur at least once every year before the seniors graduate.

Interpretation

            Upon first hearing about the untraditional tradition, I laughed at the strangeness of it. But after witnessing one myself, I believe it to have a slightly different meaning. I think the couples that participate in the shotgun pinnings are, like my informant said, a non-typical sorority or fraternity member. By allowing their friends to handle it and force them to go through with it, the stress is removed from the situation. I also believe that everyone finds them to be more fun because no one is taking themselves seriously. If a couple were to participate in a shotgun pinning ceremony, I would immediately think, ‘Oh yeah, so they’re not that into the normal pinning.’ Then I begin to think about all the possibilities of that couple to dislike the Greek community and so they act in unconventional ways in order to make that point clear.

Legends
Narrative

West Virginia Blue People

Text

The following piece was collected at a dinner table with a group of girls out celebrating a friend’s birthday. One of the girls, the “Informant”, was discussing an upcoming trip to visit her brother at West Virginia University. Laughing, the Informant launched into a story of the “West Virginia Blue People”, a story about a genetic condition the resulted from intermarriage.

Informant: “So, what my brother told me is that there’s a story that there are people in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, near the campus I guess, and there is skin is blue. It’s blue, and their people have always had blue skin because of all the intermarrying and incest. So you can tell if someone is a product of incest if their skin is blue! Sometimes, it can be really faint though, so you have to look closely at their lips or fingernails. Apparently, it shows more easily when they’re cold!”

Context:

            The Informant learned this information from her brother, when he returned home after his first semester at school. From California herself, the informant was very curious to hear about what the people of West Virginia were like. She remembers the story very easily, most often humorously, because she remembers the manner in which her brother told her. He recounted how, after hearing the story for the first time, he and his roommates would make a show of continuously checking to see if their other friends’ lips or skin ever looked blue. Finding it ridiculous herself, the Informant told me that she still enjoys being a part of the joke.

Interpretation

            My first reaction to this story was wondering whether there was a scientific reason, or condition perhaps, that acted as a precursor to this belief of a skin condition that was a result of incest. Upon further research, I saw that the original story was based on a specific family that was said to be suffering from blue-tinted skin. Researchers believe this to truly be the case, a result of the family suffering from a genetic condition called methemoglobinemia, which is an excess of methemoglobin in the red blood cells of the body. This condition does, in fact, cause blue-tinted. Hearing this story and conducting some research of my own led me to believe that people love to come up with their explanation for things they cannot explain, no matter how perplex.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

White Lighters: A Smoker’s Superstition

E: So you won’t use a white lighter?

J: Never, it’s horrible luck. I won’t use one, keep one on my person, or be in the room when someone uses one.

E: Why do you say so?

J: All of the members of the “27 Club” were found to have white lighters on or around them at the time of their death.

E: Could you tell me what this club is and who its members are?

J: The “27 Club” is the name associated with young  legendary musicians who all died at the age of 27. The likes of which include: Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Fredo Santana.

E: Have you ever experienced any sort of change in luck with a white lighter?

J: Personally I had glassware break the same week that I used one. It’s an unfortunate coincidence but not one I want to take a chance at again.

E: When did you first hear about white lighters being bad luck?

J: It actually wasn’t till well into high school when a friend told me a story about them and a white lighter that I found out it was a cursed object.

E: What happened in their case?

J: This is one of a few stories that I’ve heard from people and misfortunes with the lighter but this story starts at the beach. Two of my friends went to the beach one day and while they were enjoying their fun in the sun one of them found a white lighter. Thinking “oh cool free lighter!” they went back to my buddy’s house and used it. Later that same night a person was murdered on the beach.

Analysis:

After doing some research I found out none of the members of the 27 club died with white lighters on them and it’s really just a common misconception. For many deaths the iconic white Bic lighter had not even been invented yet. Although I am a very superstitious individual and when I hear a new superstition they stick. I find it interesting that feeding the belief has both proved some strange coincidences as well as created an association with musical legends. This is likely due to a high frequency of addictions in musical history.

Folk speech
Proverbs

College/Education Proverb

Piece:

Informant: “I went to college to get a diploma, it would have been just as easy to get an education.”

Background:

The informant learned this saying from his grandfather upon graduating from high school in Ohio. He found it highly impactful, not only in the context of college, but as a general life lesson as well, and took care to heed this advice going forwards.

Context:

This expression and the conversation leading up to it were recorded during a scheduled meeting that took place at my home in San Diego, CA.

Thoughts:

Although on the surface this saying may seem very specific, I think the lessons it implies can be applied to all walks of life. It stresses the importance of finding value in all aspects of an experience, as opposed to seeing something simply as a means to an end. It is certainly an expression I will remember and perhaps help spread in the future.

general
Legends
Narrative

College Studying Murder Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a firepit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to J during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told amongst a group of friends sitting in a circle around a firepit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“This story was told to me by a counselor who was actually in his freshman year of college. It goes something like this… There are two college roommates, Briona and Ellee, who are in the same math class and have a bit midterm in the morning… Briona decides to stay in and study, while Ellee goes out to party with a guy in the same class. *pause for childish laughing*… After a while, Ellee returns to find the lights out and Briona in bed asleep. To be courteous, Ellee does her nighttime routine in the dark before going to bed… *beep beep beep, beep beep beep, beep beep beep*… Sleepily, Ellee climbs out of bed and walks over to wake Briona… She rubs the sleep out of her eyes and notices the blood-soaked bed and stiff body of Ellee. On the wall above her, the words ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?’ are scribbled in blood…”

Thoughts:

As I read back through this transcript, I wish it could better capture the feeling of this piece. The ambiance of the environment in which it was told played into it with the cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us, making us feel as if we were not alone. I think the story was interesting coming from J, as he never went to traditional college. However, it was still an effective ‘scary’ story for us since we all knew what it was like to share a room with a person you haven’t known for very long. Things are often represented in sets of three, and this one used the alarm beeping in threes to give the listeners something familiar before the big reveal. The writing in blood is a common element in scary stories, but it implies so much more in this story that it played a larger part than it normally does. J was unsure of which names were meant to be used in the story but didn’t think they were terribly important.

Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs
Signs

Humboldt University Proverb

“Humboldt, where the men are men and so are the women.”

Context: The informant and myself were visiting Humboldt to see how the school has changed. The trip was built around the nostalgia of her college years. This proverb was then given while driving from San Fransisco to Arcadia, where Humboldt University is.

Informant Analysis: The informant attended Humboldt University in the 80’s while it was still a relatively small school. She noted that their mascot is a lumberjack, a very manly and strong figure. In part she said this was because Humboldt was a logging town surrounded by giant redwood trees. During her time there, she noted that the only people who went to Humboldt were very “granola” people– meaning that they were the outdoorsy type who enjoyed sustainable living. The few women who chose to attend Humboldt were also notoriously manly. According to the informant, it was a joke that the woman who went to Humboldt had hairier legs than the men.

Collector Analysis: I do agree with much of what the informant said about how the lumberjack figure represents Humboldt University well. I also wonder if this folk slogan was propagated by the men or women who attended the university. To be a woman at a predominantly male school is difficult and does promote for the women to affect a more masculine persona. It may be a way to fit in to the culture of the school or out of basic fear of being a woman in a male culture. While the proverb is a compliment to men, and viewed as a diss to women, I would argue that this piece serves as a strong representation of gender roles during the 80’s in Northern California. Although the culture and politics are very liberal today in Arcata, during that time, there was a strong clash of conservative farmers and liberal college students. This proverb may be a representation of this clash that occurred around the school.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations

USC High Dive: Graduation Tradition

Main Piece:

Jumping off the high dive at the USC Aquatic Center before you graduate

Informant: Apparently you have to jump off the high dive before you graduate from USC. It’s in the aquatic center and it’s like 30 or 40 feet high in the air. You’re supposed to like go break in or something late at night and just go do it. I haven’t done it yet, though.

Background: The informant is a sophomore here at USC. This piece was recorded in person at her apartment. She has yet to jump off the high dive, neither have her friends. The informant said she had learned of this tradition even before arriving on campus freshman year. A potential roommate who she had met over Facebook had told her of this tradition. The informant was apathetic towards this tradition. It was clear that completion of this task was not on her to-do list.

Context: For every single college and university, there are a myriad of “before you graduate” traditions like this one. Some schools value these traditions more so than others. Going off this conversation, it seems as if this tradition isn’t taken very seriously.

Analysis: I am interested in the origin of this tradition. Immediately I was drawn to the very literal relationship between leaping off the high dive and “taking the leap” out of your comfort zone and into the working world. Personally I had not heard of this tradition before this conversation. Additionally, I can think of another reason for the development of this tradition. USC athletics is quite possibly what this school is known for. As such, the department has separated itself from the non-athlete student body. Regular students can not use the facilities managed by USC Athletics. Possibly, this tradition arose as a sort of reclamation act for non-athletes here at USC. In breaking into and using USC Athletic facilities without their knowledge, non-athletes could be taking a subtle jab at the department as a whole.

[geolocation]