The informant is a 20 year old student who is currently studying at Dartmouth. He recounts his experience with this initiation tradition and how it made him already feel a part of something.
- So during homecoming weekend at Dartmouth, there is a Dartmouth tradition that tons of alumni come back to campus and are welcomed back into the frats- and each class builds its own bonfire structure, so my class, being a freshman would be 19, and the number of the year you graduate is placed on the top of the structure ( the structure is made out of wood and it is 50 feet high) I didn’t personally participate in making it but my class did. Then on the night of the bonfire, the entire freshman class starts at one dorm and moves through the campus picking up other freshman from each dorm building and eventually making their way to the green, which is where the bonfire getting ready to be lit. Then the freshman are welcomed into an inner circle around which all the other classes and alumni are standing and chanting. The bonfire is lit by select freshman, those who built it, and the freshman class begins to run around the bonfire the number of laps of their graduating year- meanwhile, all the surrounding upper-classmen heckle the freshman to run across the inner circle and touch the fire (which is completely guarded by Hanover police and security because its technically considered trespassing). Eventually, someone finally breaks free of the lap running and tries to touch the fire instigating others to do the same. Literally the police tackle people. This has been a tradition for a really long time, President William Jewett Tucker introduced the ceremony of Dartmouth Night in 1895
- me: so what is the significance of touching the fire?
- If you are caught then you are brought to the police station and the understanding is that an alumni will bail you out of jail, but if you’re not caught, you are seen as a legend from your fellow classmates and the older kids.
- I first heard about this tradition from a sophomore, who touched the fire himself, and was clearly still prideful of that, it was within the first couple of weeks of school.
- I actually did an interview about this in the school paper, but touching the fire for me provided the best welcome possible into dartmouth and solidified the fact that this is a good place for me.
I think that initiations can be really important for anyone in-group. In my opinion they immediately create a sense of community and a feeling of belonging which is so important for a group to stay strong and connected.
The informant is an 18-year-old college student attending university in Hawaii. She was born and raised in the Bay Area, California, but has a great deal of family living in Hawaii who she visited frequently when growing up. While I was on a hike with the informant in San Ramon, California over spring break, she was describing her dorm to me and began to tell the story of how it came to be haunted.
“I live in a dorm called Moki Hana on campus. I first heard of the ghost from my RA, he told us about it on the first day we moved in. There’s a closet on my floor on the side of the bathroom with a sink in it that is used as a janitor’s closet. In the 80s a freshman hung himself in that closet, on my floor, and his ghost haunts the tower. The Resident Assistants have to stay in the dorms over the summer and one night one of them felt a really sharp pain on her chest and couldn’t get up, and she refused to sleep in the dorms for a few weeks. You’re not supposed to sleep with your feet to the door because it’s a way for spirits to enter your body. Also nobody will go to the bathroom during witching hour because they don’t want to encounter him. I just try to be respectful when I’m talking about it, especially if I’m in the dorms. Anywhere on campus or in the local vicinity they call the dorm ‘Moki Haunted.’”
In this ghost story, a tragic event that actually took place in the Moki Hana dormitory, the suicide of a freshman student, is transformed into a persistent haunting that affects any student who lives in the dorms. Upon hearing of this, I was reminded of previous conversations that I have had with the informant in which she has emphasized that Hawaii has an extensive history of spirituality, and I believe that this coupled to the sense of isolation and unfamiliarity that many college freshman face when moving to an island away from home serves to amplify the fear instilled within the students who are placed in Moki Hana dorm. The informant’s Resident Adviser may or may not believe in the ghost, but I think that his purpose in informing the freshman who live in the haunted dorm about it is in part to make them aware, but moreso to provide a sense of unity among the residents and as a way of initiating them into the dorm, as for the year they live in Moki Hana the common fear of encountering or upsetting the ghost of the student who committed suicide there will function to bring the residents together.
Then there’s the folklore of Testudo. It’s the statue at the University of Maryland, of a land turtle, a terrapin, it’s this big turtle it sits on a big granite, uh…pedestal, in front of the library. And his nose is really shiny, because people rub his nose for good luck. Whenever you pass by him. And the legend is that when a virgin graduates from the University of Maryland, the turtle will do a backflip. And no one’s ever seen the turtle move. Put that in there!
Do you remember when you first heard it?
Orientation! Freshmen orientation.
Who told it to you?
The Orientation leader.
This turtle statue is clearly a point of pride and identification for the University and its students. Located in the middle of campus, and symbolic of their school pride (it being their mascot), it is in the public eye and everyone seems to participate in the traditions surrounding it. First, there’s the belief that if you rub its nose you will have good luck – which is a unifying ritual that all students can share, and enforces their school culture. Second, the joke that implies that no virgin has every graduated from the University of Maryland is also clearly a point of pride and culture. And third, the fact that orientation leaders distribute this tale to new students as a kind of intitiatory introduction to what the school culture is all about, shows that the students pride themselves (and make fun of themselves) for “getting around” and having fun in college. This is saying to the new students, welcome, you will have fun here and I promise you will get laid in college – with a subtle warning that if you don’t, everyone will know you’re a virgin because the statue will do a backflip! You don’t want that humiliation or want to kill the tradition.
“She was only the Dean of Men’s Daughter,
With an IQ of twenty-three,
But the things that we college boys taught her
Could’ve earned her some sort of degree.”
Where’d you get that song?
University of Maryland!
So you learned that in college.
Who’d you learn it from?
I don’t know, some college boys. Some graduate student. In engineering.
This is a folksong that most kids at the University of Maryland presumably learn, from other, older students. It suggests school pride in being raunchy and sexually active, and there’s also a clear dynamic of gender roles embedded in the joke. The girl is either naive or provocative, but it’s the boys that show her the ropes and supposedly “corrupt” her. She is also obviously dumb, if she has such a low IQ. The fact that she’s the Dean’s daughter makes her a catch, because she’s highly unattainable and in a sense, off-limits, as well as perhaps easily corruptible because of her ‘stupidity’. Or maybe she’s dumb but attractive, so the boys don’t care. The fact that she’s the dean’s daughter makes her low intelligence funny. So this suggests the boys at U of Maryland can get away with things, and can persuade or manipulate even the most unattainable girls. They can have their fun and still stay out of trouble with the administration.
Chainmail is a fairly well-known form of folklore, and has been around for a long time. Chain mail letters can be anything from handwritten letters to emails to texts and are typically sent to a group with some sort of either beneficial or warning message attached, as incentive for the person on the receiving end to pass the message along to more people.
An example of such a message is one my roommate shared with me that had passed around our sorority. The message read:
“You have been visited by the ghost of Helen M. Dodge! Pass this on to ten sisters in the next five minutes and she will give you good luck for the rest of the week!”
Chain mails seem to fit into the category of contagious magic and involve belief a great deal. They are contagious in that in order for the receiver to either alleviate any harm that may come, or to ensure any benefit, from having read the letter, he or she must pass it along to X amount of people. The magic of the letter passes along with it and integrates into the daily lives of those who receive it, or it at least claims to do so.
Chain mail letters are really interesting in their relation to belief because I would bet that if you asked a large group of people if they believe in the power of chain mail letters to affect their lives in either positive or negative ways, the majority would say no. However, these letters are constantly passed around. They can be fit into the category of superstitious as well as contagious magic—perhaps it is the fear that chain mail letters may in fact have some power, some magic, that drives people to continue passing them along.
This particular chain mail letter doesn’t run the risk of being harmful to the person receiving it in any way, but perhaps the receiving individual may feel that they are to be at a loss if they don’t pass it along.
Or, perhaps chain mail letters get passed around as a way of continuing community. They are a means of reaching out to 5, 10, 15 friends who you haven’t talked to in a while. Or the particular chain mail letter you have received is funny so you want to share it with three of your friends you think would find it hilarious. Chain mail gets a pretty bad rap, yet its continued existence makes me think there is some part of its communicative, outreaching nature that people like.
For another example of chain mail letters, see Dan Squier. The Truth About Chain Letters, 1990, Premier Publishers.
The 901 Bar & Grill is USC’s sole college bar. It is located just a few blocks away from USC and is filled with USC students almost every night of the week. The 9-0 is known for letting underage students into the bar if their fake ID’s remotely resembled them. However, recently the bouncers at the 9-0 have not allowed entry to students under the age of 21.
In February 2015, the 9-0 was bought by a developer. According to my informant, the company was apparently created in November 2014 and is called something like “Trojan Fig.” It has had no business prior to buying the 9-0 for $15 million. There is a theory floating around the Greek community at USC that USC made this company to buy out the 9-0 so students would not know that USC or Nikias was buying it out. Believers consider it to be a part of the University Village reconstruction project at USC. My informant thinks USC is “trying to buy out the last safe-haven” for underage drinkers.
This theory is backed by the recent strictness employed by the 9-0’s bouncers. Members of USC’s Greek community may also readily believe this rumor because of the implementation of more University regulations on fraternity parties. This rumor and its acceptance suggests that some students at USC are disappointed with the USC Administration because they are putting restrictions around ways in which USC students can party.
My informant, CS told me about her experience as a “big sis” to her guy-friend Josh’s little in a fraternity on USC’s campus. Within USC’s Greek system, members of fraternities get a “big bro” as well as a “big sis.” The big bro usually picks one of his good girl-friends to be his little’s “big sis.” Big sisses are revealed on one night during the semester. From my understanding, it is typical for big sisses to get their little bro very drunk and dress him up in a humiliating costume for part of the night.
CS detailed her experience as a big sis.
It was just me and KK [her friend]. So we walked over to the house together. So I get him there. And I’m really bad at the “drink, drink, drink” stuff. I got there just in time to put him in a room. And then Josh’s lights were off. And then we took off the blindfold and I had candy and cupcakes or something.
We didn’t have any hard alcohol. We just had beer. So we taped two beers to him. But then they were cold, so we put two towels around the beer before we taped them to his hands. It was sad and weird!
The next year when Jacob, my little, got a little, he also got this very sweet guy. And his big sis, Meghan, ended up doing the exact same thing.
CS’s reaction to her big sis experience reveals the expectations of such an experience. CS’s story suggests that a big sis should force her little bro drink heavily. Yet CS did not make her little bro drink heavily. Instead she gave him some beer and made sure he was comfortable while drinking it.
CS and Meghan’s experience suggests that big sis and little bro nights do not meet the expectations of most college students within Greek life at USC.
“You have like a big, giant cup or pitcher, typically in the middle of a circle at a party and everybody who sits around has their own drink, and you take a deck of cards that are mixed up in the center of the table around the pitcher and you go around the circle, one by one, and you pick up a card and depending on what card you choose will depend on what you have to do with your drink. So if you draw an ace, like that means that you drink, just you. If you draw a two, that means you get to choose someone to drink with you. If you draw a three, then you choose someone to drink. If you draw like a four, like you can come up with like the different rules, but the way I’ve played it like a four . . . all the women drink. If it’s a five, all the men drink. If it’s a six, you do categories, so somebody, like the person who pulls the card would say, ‘Animals’ and then you have to go around in a circle and at like a really quick speed name an animal off the top of your head and when someone pauses or can’t come up with one, they have to drink. Um, and after they drink they pour a little bit in the middle. And then if you pull . . . it goes on, till the end, but if you pull a king, you just have to pour in the middle pitcher.”
Interviewer: “What are the other cards?”
“I don’t know all of them off the top of my head, but I know you can, like, there’s one that’s like . . . a rhyme and so like you can say, ‘fish’ and the person next to you has to rhyme with it and say like, ‘dish’ and then it goes around in a circle and if you can’t come up with a word, or can’t come up with a word that rhymes, you have to drink and then pour some in. And so at the end, the point is basically whoever draws the last king of the whole game has to drink the pitcher in the middle and it’s really disgusting because there’s usually like different alcohols involved so it’ll be like a mixture of like whiskey, and like tequila, and beer, and something that’s not tasty . . . There’s [a card] where like if you start to drink the person next to you has to start to drink and when you stop, they can stop, but it goes around like consecutively in the circle, um, so the last person can’t stop until everyone else has stopped in the circle, if that makes sense . . . I wanna say like ten, like the card ten, you drink for ten seconds. Um, I think seven rhymes with ‘heaven’ and I think we all drink. And then one card you have to do, like, ‘Never Have I Ever.” So like you put up five fingers and you say, ‘Never have I ever . . . kissed a girl’ and then anyone who’s kissed a girl, despite your gender, um, has to drink. And you do it, you have, um, you do it until your five fingers are down. And that’s King’s Cup.”
The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies communication and minors in dance and is a part of a prominent sorority on campus. She grew up in a relatively small town in southern California and was the captain of a prominent sports organization. She has danced for her entire life and, when she was growing up, would often drive for long stretches of time with her family to dance competitions. This interview took place late one night in my apartment’s living room when I began asking her about different games she knew. When I asked her where she learned “King’s Cup,” she said, “I couldn’t tell you who specifically, like a name, but, um, at my first party that I went to in high school, um, it was a game that was very often played and it’s typically more fun with the more people who play it, and so I was kind of like forced into playing it. And so I was forced into like learning the rules and for like my 21st birthday was when I played it with my closest friends and like my mom and we were all playing it. And we kind of just like took the rules that I knew and like would put a twist on it. So like we would change the card numbers, so instead of, I think the typical is like an ace being you drink, we would say like that would be the rhyme one. Like we’d confuse which ones were which, but we would write it down so we knew which card we drew.”
When asked why she practices it, she said, “It’s fun and it’s like a social atmosphere and it’s supposed to be funny to like . . . ‘Cause you could be the one who pours in a ton of alcohol and be like, ‘Somebody’s getting fucked up tonight! . . . I mean, screwed up tonight,’ and then, um, you end up screwing yourself over because you’re the one who ends up drawing the last king so then you have to drink the pitcher which is you pouring your whole entire drink basically in there trying to screw someone else over. So it’s supposed to be like funny and it’s like a game of fate, you kind of just, you don’t want to pick the wrong card, but there’s no one to blame but yourself if you do. I don’t know, I feel like people aren’t super serious about drinking the pitcher at the end because everyone kind of knows that if we’re all drinking different drinks it’s probably not gonna actually happen. But also like, people get sketched out, like they don’t want to pour all their drink in knowing the last king’s still out there, you know?”
I asked her what she thinks it means, and she said, “We’re all alcoholics! No, uh, I think it’s uh, I think it means . . . instead of standing around and drinking and talking or like forcing conversation, it’s like an excuse to be in a group and drink whether you know the person across from you or not, it’s just like a group game and you don’t have to know everyone in the game to play it.”
Looking at King’s Cup in particular is really interesting to me because it is an extremely popular drinking game within parts of my generation, yet I have never met two people who play it the same way. Despite the fact that the informant is sure there are some official rules somewhere that would be the “correct” way to play, she does not know what these are and it does not seem to matter. What matters is that there are specific rules and actions associated with every card that someone pulls, and that these are strictly followed once the game begins. In addition to this game being entertaining and a reason for a group of people to get drunk together, it also acts as a way of dividing up the group and defining the people playing it. Many of the cards pulled mean only a part of the group drinks, e.g. the men or the women present, and this draws a subtle, but perceptible line between the people playing. The frequent involvement of other games such as “Never Have I Ever” occurs to reveal embarrassing or “secret” information about the participants to the rest of the group, thereby bonding them to one another or singling out someone at whom everyone else can laugh.
*Note: The informant, Harriet, is my grandma. She attended college at Rutgers University in New Jersey!
INFORMANT: “Well, there were a lot of jokes about the football team, the Scarlet Knights. They weren’t very good. West Virginia had a lot of jokes about us. And then there were the usual jokes about Rutgers kids being stupid, Rutgers kids being idiots. It was all pretty generic, most of the jokes could really be applied to anyone or anything. But one of my favorites was the one about the cemetery. It was … there was … a little boy and his mother were walking through a cemetery and they passed a tombstone that said ‘Here Lies a Rutgers Graduate and a Great Man.’ And the kid looks confused and he says to his mom, ‘I don’t get it,’ and she asks ‘Why not?’ And he asks, ‘Why are there two people buried here?'”
While the cemetery joke was pretty general, Rutgers jokes are a good example of the wider category of sports or college rivalry-related jokes. Almost every college has a direct rivalry with other colleges, whether it’s based on sports, academics, or something else entirely. With this competition always comes a slew of jokes, often very basic and general, that demean the other team, emphasize their shortcomings and failures, and downplay their triumphs. These jokes build on the lore of each particular school, strengthening bonds between its students and alumni, and enriching campus culture.
Generic jokes, I suppose, are also a form of folklore all their own, because they are blank slates to which any number of things can be applied. They aren’t specific enough to be blason populaire, but rather they’re so general that they can be used as a quick put-down for virtually anything.
The informant is a 19 year old computer engineering student at UC Davis. He is currently a freshman there after graduating high school the previous year. He grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, CA and has no strong religious ties. His family has been living in Southern California for many generations.
I asked him about the customs and activities associated with the football games at UC Davis. UC Davis is located in Davis, CA. This is northern California, which is slightly different culturally than the informant’s hometown. Though UC Davis has had an almost continuous football program since 1918, the team was only established as a NCAA Division I team less than a decade ago. This contrasts greatly with other universities who have structured themselves around their football team, like USC.
The football games are free for students to attend, but the informant says that the main draw for students to attend the game is the free giveaways of UC Davis apparel from various sponsors before and during the game. He said that he knew of giveaways of clothing such as scarves, beanies and t-shirts. There does not seem to be much hype for the games themselves. In other words, the students do not seem to be going because they are interested in football or supporting their university’s team, but just as something to do on the weekends. There does not seem to be as much pressure on students to actively support sports teams as there is at other universities that are more famous for their teams. When asked how he decided to go the game and who he went with, he replied that the decision was pretty spontaneous. A couple of his friends asked if he wanted to go and he said sure. He did not look forward to the game in advance.
Tailgating is found at UC Davis, but the informant said it was relatively minimal compared to other universities and takes place mainly in an empty field outside of Aggie Stadium. Aggie Stadium seats roughly 10,000 people and opened in 2007. The informant does not personally take part in the tailgating.
During the game, the student section is called the Aggie Pack. There is no assigned seating and people come and go as they please. There is a student leader in charge of leading cheers, but the mascot (a horse named Gunrock) plays a relatively small role in the games and is merely a person dressed up in a typical horse mascot costume. The informant said that the most exciting part of the games is the UC Davis tube sock giveaways, in which pairs of tube socks are thrown into the student section randomly.
When asked about half-time, the first thing he mentioned was that people like to leave then. This reinforces the idea that the students attend the games merely as something to do and not to actively watch the games.
All in all, there does not seem to be much hooplah surrounding the football games at UC Davis. Football is not the defining feature of UC Davis and this is evident in the blasé attitude towards the games. This is also evident in the attendance of other sports, including basketball. Even when ESPN was going to be filming one of the games, the students had to be lured in with free items to fill in the usually pretty empty stands.