USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘college’
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Fraternity origin story

Main Piece:

Informant: Yeah I can tell you that. Does it matter if it actually happened or no ‘cause I’m not sure.

Interviewer: No

Informant: Okay, so the story is about this guy, Billy Bags. William Bagnard was his full name. When he was like around twenty he was drafted into World War II. He goes to Japan and eventually gets taken as a Prisoner of War (POW) by the army. When he’s there he goes through absolute hell. But Billy Bags is a tough guy so he eventually makes it through and comes back to the US after the war. The story goes…and I’m not positive…but the story goes that after the war he enrolled at USC. When he’s there he tries to join a fraternity, cause, like, he wanted to recapture the brotherhood or whatnot he found in the war. But when he joins he is disgusted by the act of hazing. Billy Bags had been through hell in Japan and like, for him he had seen how bad his experience as a POW was and didn’t want to ever put other people through anything similar. Billy Bags says, “screw this, brotherhood isn’t supposed to make you want to put your brothers through pain, I’m gonna start my own fraternity where we don’t haze.” Pretty much that’s the story we all tell each other, although we have no idea if it’s true or not.

Background:

            The informant is a friend of mine from high school who know goes to school here at USC. He is a sophomore, majoring in Business Administration and from Denver, Colorado. I asked him if he could re-tell me the story of how his fraternity was founded. The fraternity in question carries a strict ant-hazing policy that the members are incredibly proud of. This interview was conducted in person and recorded for transcription.

Context:

            The informant learned of this story through other members in his fraternity one night during his new member semester. He said, however, that no one formally “taught” him the story. Rather, the story is passed down through informal interaction. I have personally heard the informant talk fondly of this story previous to collecting this piece.

Analysis

            As best I can observe, the story of Billy Bags is an identifier for the members of the fraternity and provides commonality through a shared legacy. The informant was even doubtful of the validity of this legend, yet he still considers it a part of his own community’s history, regardless of the truth. In this way, the story of Billy Bags is a legend for the informant and his peers. Legends often provide causal reasoning for the laws of a given society/community. In this case, the legend of Billy Bags provides the fraternity with a tangible reason for its anti-hazing policy. The story of Billy Bags could be considered a myth in some cases. It is a creation tale that simultaneously establishes reasoning behind the fraternity’s belief system and traditions.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Game
Initiations
Magic
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Theatre Rite of Passage: Pre-Show Game

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old female college student, was describing rituals, related to both her family and her passion for theatre, that she believes help define different facets of her identity. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which she describes a pre-show ritual that she witnessed several USC MFA Acting students take part in during a production.

Text:

Informant: So, last year, the first show that I worked on at USC was doing the spotlight for the MFA repertory. Um… and so I was doing the spotlight for a show called A Bright Room Called Day and it was for the third year MFAs, so they’re in their last year. And it was incredible to sit up in the light booth and watch this really tight ensemble just like completely vibe with each other and fall into place so effortlessly. And I got to see so much from the outside-in that was very inspiring, and it was so cool to observe the rituals they had formed through three years of spending so much time together, creating and growing. And so, they did this thing where, before the show, they would all gather in a circle um… and for a while I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but I ultimately figured out that they were saying this chant where on of them would say, “Get in your body!” And then everyone else would say, “Get in your body!” Um… but then it got really like intense and loud and it was hard to even like keep track of whose voice was saying what. And, basically, this whole eruption of sound would turn into passing the word “bah” across the circle, so you would just throw your hands up in someone’s face — the face of the person standing next to you — and say, “Bah!” And then it would… you know… it was just like lightning! It would just shock through each person. Usually it would go around the circle, but sometimes someone would stop and turn it the other way and people would get in these matches where they would yell “bah” back and forth at each other. And everyone in the circle was so invigorated and clearly so dedicated to committing to each other. So, that was a really amazing ritual to observe.

Informant’s relationship to the item: Though the informant did not personally take part in the pre-show ritual that she observed, she was clearly affected by witnessing other USC students participate in such a high-energy, impassioned, and invigorating display of connectedness. She describes feeling inspired by the game as an outside observer, as well as how the pre-show game seemed to energize each player and provide the entire group with a sense of cohesiveness. While she only watched the game from afar, being able to witness the passion of the production’s actors also seems to have filled the show’s crew with energy and excitement. It also seems to have made the informant feel more connected to the entire process.

Interpretation: The folk chant and game in which the actors participated appears to be some sort of pre-show ritual that the entire ensemble used in order to connect with one another and energize themselves before a show. Such rituals are common in the theatre, as well as other occupations in which people do not have total control over their actions or the ultimate outcome of their craft. There is a psychological element to these kinds of rituals, which some people believe to be magic, because they allow the participants to feel as if they have some level of mastery over the universe. The informant’s account is also interesting because it serves as an example of the distinction between active and passive bearers of folklore. The informant — who only witnessed and did not participate in the game — can be considered a passive bearer of the other actors’ folk game. The actors who participated in the game and, thus, performed that piece of folklore are considered active bearers of the pre-show ritual. However, if the informant decided to teach the game to others, she could become an active bearer of the ritual, as well.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Signs

Kilachand Hall is Haunted

Content:
Informant – “Kilachand Hall is supposedly haunted. That’s where the honor students live. It used to be a hotel. The most famous resident was a playwright named Eugene O’Neill. There was also another famous writer there who won a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer or something. I don’t know. But anyways, O’Neill died in this hotel. And BU bought the building and turned it into a dormitory. Strange things have been going on on the fourth floor ever since, cause that’s where he lived. Apparently he died there. Lights inexplicably dim. Elevators stop working and open on the fourth floor for no reason. There are knocks on the door when no one is outside.”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it on my college tour. It makes me not what to live there haha.”

Analysis:
Eugene O’Neill did in fact die in Kilachand Hall (formerly known as Shelton Hall). I think this legend is popular because it is a reminder that a famous person died in the building. It adds panache to the idiosyncrasies of an old building.

Folk Beliefs

The Princeton Gate Superstition

Content:
Informant – “The lore is that you can only go through the gate once as a Freshman and you can only leave through the gate as a senior or you won’t graduate.”

JK – “So how do you get onto the campus then?”

Informant – “This is just the main gate. There are other gates.”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it on an official college tour.”

Analysis:
When you are college student, your campus can feel like your whole world. You can lose track of the outside world and become totally immersed in your college’s culture. This superstition is an exaggeration of that feeling. You enter this new world as a freshman, and then you are trapped there until you graduate. Passing through the gate before graduation is like leaving the world too early (i.e. not graduating).

general
Initiations
Legends

The Legend of Camino Hall

The following informant is a 22 year old student from the University of San Diego. In this account she is describing a legend about one of the buildings on her campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: There is this urban legend that someone, umm… like killed themselves in either the Camino bathroom. Thats like one of the residence halls but you know also where the administration building is. Umm… yeah so apparently, she had gone to class, this was a girl, and she was going through a hard time and she just like went to the bathroom, like in the middle of class. And people were like “what the fuck, why did she not come back” and then they were like “oh she is probably still in the bathroom”. So they went to the bathroom and she was just like hanging from the ceiling. So like it may or may not have happened, most people believe it, but like some don’t.

K: So when did this happen?

S: Like right when the school opened, like around that time, the school was established in 1949

K: How did you hear about it?

S: oh, just people were randomly talking about it when i transferred, like that first semester, and i was just like what the heck why are we talking about this right now. It was the older students telling the new ones, it was very random, and i don’t know if it was to scare us but i was just like “thank you so much for this information, what do you want me to do with it”

K: did they ever say why she killed herself?

S: no one knows why she killed herself

K: What did you take away from this?

S: I was kind of just like taken back, because i had just transferred, and so i was kind of like um so why are you telling me this. but i had not thought about it since they told me, so… yeah, its not something i think about often.

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she launched into this story. As we were in a public space, people overheard the conversation and a few even nodded in agreement, like they were validating what she was saying.

Thoughts:

This is a particularly interesting legend for a couple of reasons. One is that out of my own curiosity I tried to do some research to see if there are more details on the internet and the search came up empty. This by no means insinuates that what she is saying is false, especially because the group of not so subtle eavesdroppers seemed familiar with the legend. But in the age of the digital realm, it seems odd there is no account of it only. The other interesting aspect is how the legend is used now. She explained that the older students tell it to the new students while they orient to the new campus. This seems like a mild form of hazing, in that in order to complete your transformation as a student of USD, you have to get mildly scared by the older students first.

Festival
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The University of Mississippi, Football Game Attire

Title: The University of Mississippi, Football Game Attire

Category: Legend

Informant: Evan A. Lewis

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 80s

Occupation: Retired— Radio Broadcaster, Laundry Mat Owner, Koren War Vet, etc.

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/08/18

Description:

The tradition of dressing up for football games has been popularized by Southern institutions beginning with University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). While a majority of other schools (USC included) usually wear an abundance of sports gear iconic to the University that the fan is cheering for (ex: Football Jerseys, face/body paint, pom poms, College T-shirts, etc.), Ole Miss students attend games in their Sunday best. Clothing found at these games are often still in the colors of the school but often include items such as: Button down shirts with Kahkis, blazers, suits, ties/bow ties, heels, formal cowboy boots, dresses, pearls, etc. Students wake up early on game days and wear formal attire throughout all tail-gating activities and throughout the football game itself to show support for their team.

Context/Significance:

The tradition of wearing formal attire to football games is believed to stem from around the late 19th century after the end of the Civil War. At that time, almost the entire undergraduate population of the University was enrolled to fight for the Confederacy. When the Confederate army was called away to fight, the “greys” marched through town as the women and children dressed up in their “Sunday best” to show the men off into battle, knowing they weren’t likely to return.

By the conclusion of the Civil War, almost the entire undergraduate population of the University was eradicated. The university then had to close and restructure their system before being able to re-open. In solidarity for the lost men after the war, on the first football game of the next season, the entire town of Oxford and the student body dressed in their “Sunday best” as they once again sent their football team off into battle against their opponents.

The tradition has remained a part of the University since the late 19th century and the practice is obeyed by students, parents, fans, and even some visitors.

Personal Thoughts:

Growing up, I often participated in this tradition but never knew the story behind it until recently. Both my mother and older brother attended the University of Mississippi. My grandfather was actually “The Voice of the Rebels” on the radio before TV took over. Almost every year, since I was a child, my family would drive into Mississippi for a game and visit old relatives.

It wasn’t until this project that I asked my grandfather why it is that Ole Miss is known for dressing up for football games. Since a majority of Southern schools have since adopted the practice, I wasn’t entirely sure which school started this first. Being the super fans that my grandfather, mother, and brother are, they since informed me of the history and the significance behind the dress code.

The tradition is meant to pay homage to the lives of the soldiers lost during the war. Dressing up is seen as a sign of respect, solidarity, and class.

Festival
Foodways
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Boston University, Trash Can Punch

Title: Boston University, Trash Can Punch

Category: Recipe/Food

Informant: Julianna K. Keller

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: 20

Occupation: Student

Residence: 325 West Adams Blvd./ Los Angeles, CA 90007

Date of Collection: 4/09/18

Description:

“Trash Can Punch” is a mixed alcoholic beverage made in the fraternity houses at Boston University. The trash cans used are the large grey janitorial trashcans that are often used in cafeterias and janitorial carts. The trashcans are bought or cleaned thoroughly before use (one can hope). “Trash Can Punch” has no real recipe but follows the same general guidelines. There is usually a strong fruity component or flavor, and then a variety of different forms of alcohol. Each fraternity or house serving “Trash Can Punch” will usually have its own recipe and sometimes color. All guests are welcome to drink it at the party and is served by the host or resident of the house throwing the party.

Context/Significance:

Ms. Keller visited Boston University her senior year of high school to catch up with a friend and gain firsthand insight about the university as she considered where she might study after graduation. Her visit just happened to fall over halloween weekend and her friend invited her to go out with a group of them for the occasion.

When they got to the party, held at a fraternity house, Julianna asked where she could find drinks being served. The girls hosting her visit pointed to the trash can in the corner where it was filled close to the top with a sweet orange alcoholic mixture. When she asked what was in the drink, no one was really abel to tell her an answer.

One of the girls said they were made from recipes. That each fraternity house had their own mixture and color and was only served at their house in particular. Another friend agreed and that the remaining contents from the party was poured into a bucket and saved in the fridge for use at the future party as a base to go off of (kind of like a rue for gumbo or starter for sour-dough bread.) A separate girl told her that ht house will only fill the trash can half way and then as party guests arrive they bring alcohol with them to add to the trash can so no one can ever really tell what’s inside.

Personal Thoughts:

Sounds dangerous to me, but who am I to judge? This seems like a form of half passive bearers of tradition, half active bearers of tradition. No one is explicitly taught how to make “Trash Can Punch,” but underclassman seem to hear these stories of how it’s made and perhaps learn them from fraternity histories during the pledging process. When these students reach the level of upperclassman, they then attempt to make these recipes themselves and alter them themselves in the process. The recipes have undoubtably changed over the years but remain somewhat iconic to each fraternity in some way.

Folk Beliefs
Game
Gestures
Humor
Legends
Magic
Material
Old age
Signs

MS College for Women: Old Maid’s Gate

Title: MS College for Women: Old Maid’s Gate

Category: Curse/ Conversion Magic

Informant: Lieanne Walker

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 60s

Occupation: Blue Collar— Homemaker, stockman, Home Depot Employee, etc.

Residence: Columbus, MS

Date of Collection: 4/21/18

Description:

The Old Maid’s Gate on The Mississippi College for Women’s campus has a curse associated with it. Women entering campus on foot from a certain drop off location will sometimes purposefully avoid the gate in order to not have to go through a charm of reversal in order to undo to curse. The gate is on the corner of campus in a  central location (making it a nuisance to avoid or have to follow through with), and appears to look like any other marble statue. However, if a woman is entering campus through the gate (and there are only a limited number of gates that one can enter the camps through), then she has to walk backwards under the gate all the way down that sidewalk of campus until she reaches the statue at the end of the park, turns around, and kisses it— This statue is known as the “kissing rock.” If the woman passing under the gate fails to do this, then she will grow up to become an old maid.

Context/Significance:

The “W” as the college is known, is famous for a few ghost stories and superstitions. This one in particular is special since there is a way of reversing the outcome of the curse. Since the “W” is a women’s college, its not surprising that this story would revolve around something bad that could happen to women in particular. Becoming an “old maid” is an irrelevant but somewhat universal fear shared by a majority of women, and the “W” being a location that houses a large number of women at a young age, it’s not surprising that a common fear at that location would be ending up alone.

Also, during the time that this tradition was probably established, in earlier years it was more common for women to have to rely on men for a sustainable lifestyle. Marriage held more importance and it was something you’d never want to be cursed from if possible.

Personal Thoughts:

My Aunt attended the “W” when she went to college and I remember her telling us the story of the old maid’s gate. When my mother tells the story she say s what happened was that her family was taking Aunt Chris back to school one semester and everyone was piled in the car to drop her off. When they arrived at the College my Grandfather prompted her to get out of the car. Aunt Chris refused and asked to be dropped off at another open gate to the school. My grandfather was refusing until she told him the story of the Old Maid’s gate and how she didn’t want to have to go through the ritual in order to carry her things back to her dorm. While they sat in the car, they actually watched another girl go through the conversion as they watched— They then agreed to drop her off at another gate.

Annotation:

For additional history behind MS College for Women’s Old Maid’s Gate, read an exert from:

Golden Days: Reminiscences of Alumnae, Mississippi State College for Women

MLA Citation:

Pieschel, Bridget Smith. Golden Days: Reminiscences of Alumnae, Mississippi State College for Women. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2009.

Customs
Foodways
general
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Afternoon Tea at Scripps College

Background information:

My sister, Jennifer, attends Scripps College and is graduating this year (2018). She is an English major and an Economics minor at the school and is greatly interested in literature, culture, and classic novels. Because Scripps College is a small, private, liberal arts college in the middle of the 5 Claremont Colleges Consortium, she has found that it has been a fantastic school for her to expand and learn about her interests and passion for literature. Due to her immense love for the school, she has been an active member in the college’s social life and learned about countless traditions that Scripps College engages in.

 

Main piece:

My sister has very strong ties to Scripps College and takes great pride in the fact that she attends this beautiful liberal arts college. When asking her about any specific highlights during her time at Scripps College, she shared that she did not know about a specific tradition (afternoon tea) until she first started her freshman year back in 2014. My sister, Jennifer, has always been a huge romantic, enjoying classic authors such as Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen and also engaging in certain classic traditions that are not a focus in the modern day. Therefore, when Jennifer realized that Scripps College offered afternoon tea on the Wednesday of every week, she was extremely excited and told me that she instantly felt that Scripps College was the right college for her. Upon her first afternoon tea, she was able to interact with other students at Scripps, faculty members, and even students from the other four Claremont Colleges. She said that throughout the hectic life of a college student in the modern day, this weekly afternoon tea was destressing and gave her an opportunity to unwind, drink tea (which she loves), and discuss her interests with other students and staff. Thus, as she is a senior right now, she has been to countless afternoon tea meetings, and told me that these small weekly sessions were integral to her time at Scripps College. She said, “without afternoon tea, I would not have been able to meet some of my closest friends and could very well have been more stressed”, so it is evident that Scripps College’s afternoon tea had a greatly positive impact on both her mental health and introduced her to some of her best friends today.

 

Personal thoughts:

I love my sister very much and as such, it makes me ecstatic to hear about her happiness and pride in her college. I am beyond happy that she found ways to relieve her stress and also make friends in the process, and therefore know that Scripps College was truly a place that she was able to flourish. Minute features about the college, such as the weekly afternoon tea, could very well have been insignificant for other students, but was very important to her, so I believe that because of this, she will integrate afternoon tea into her daily life when she graduates from Scripps College this year, as a means to de-stress and relive this beautiful tradition.

Customs
general
Initiations
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Full Moon on the Quad at Stanford

My mom went to graduate school at Stanford. This is her interpretation of the “Full Moon On the Quad” Tradition:

Mom:”The original tradition holds that if you are a freshman girl at Stanford, you are not really a Stanford woman until you’ve been kissed by a senior under the full moon on the quad. For decades the story was often told, but the occurrences of these kisses would happen spontaneously – or not. Individual girls would report their initiation into Stanford womanhood with a mix of scandal and pride.”

Me: But is there an actual event where people meet on the Quad?

Mom:”These days, it has become an organized thing. Throngs of upperclassmen wait on the quad while scores of freshman females arrive to be kissed, and kissed again and again by a steady stream of upper class students– most of them strangers. This happens on the first full moon of the fall quarter.There are monitors to insure that consent is being given, there are express lanes for gay, straight, and bisexual preferences and there are even health center advocates who distribute mouthwash to help kill infectious viruses and bacteria being passed mouth to mouth.”

Me: Did you ever think this was an odd tradition for a prestigious school like Stanford to uphold?

Mom: “Yes. There was a saying when I went to Stanford that Stanford women were all either boobless brains or else brainless boobs. (If they were smart they were ugly and vice versa) What an astonishingly sexist tradition. Yet maybe it is no surprise that this is the elite school that also fostered an environment that taught Brock Turner to see rape as an extension of fun and games.”

Analysis: I agree with my mom in that it surprised me to learn that this tradition still exists at Stanford. I wonder how it will change in this generation- where gender, and being a “Stanford woman” may be harder to define. At one point in time, this tradition represented the idea that women must be verified in order to hold some validity on campus. I think that to be a genuine Stanford woman, a person should simply be enrolled at the school.

 

For more on the Full Moon on the Quad Tradition: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/orgy-stanford-freshmen-love-full-moon-quad/story?id=20759670

[geolocation]