USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘University of Southern California’
Customs
general
Legends
Narrative

USC Nazi Tree

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO.In this account, he explains an urban legend from USC. This Nazi Tree was recently mentioned in an LA Times article.  This is a transcription of our conversation.

 

Text:

Urban legend turned truth at the University of Southern California, is that there on our premises lies a single Nazi Tree. Before you say, “What? The USC institution—gilded in white privilege—has a Nazi tree on campus?” Well, when you have Von KleinsSmid as a president for a decade, wild shit happens.

So essentially, at the 1936 Munich Olympics, there are obviously lots of USC athletes there, and, you know, in celebration and in giving thanks, the Nazi regime gave saplings to all the athletes. And so one sapling made it back to USC, and it was planted right in between the back of Bovard and the back of PED [the Physical Education Building] over by the Book Store, and so now enshrined on our campus is a gift directly from Hitler himself.”

  

Thoughts:

Though this is the first time I heard a formal telling of this USC urban legend, I did hear word of it in the first few weeks that I came to this school. The informant and I are in an organization together, Trojan Advocates for Political Progress, so discussion of this tree began again in our meetings due to the relevant name change of VKC (which is happening upon the discovery that Von KleinSmid was in support of of eugenics). Looking this up, I saw that the LA Times also mentioned “one of two [saplings] planted on the USC campus survives to this day.”

My informant proceeded to tell me that, after doing some research on Reddit, he decided to explore the campus area of where the tree is possibly located; sure enough, he found the tree, which he stated was “unmistakably the tree because there was a plaque in front of it dedicated to the 1936 Munich Olympics.” He’s not the first I’ve met one to search for this tree— this tree seems to have the same reputation as ghosts, where people hunt around to see if its existence is true. I surmise that, just like ghosts, it’s tied to our shame or guilt of our school’s racist and corrupt history. The official existence of this tree is just another factor that reinforces the notion that USC is racist, both past and present.

 

For the LA Times article mentioned above, please refer to this citation:

Crowe, Jerry. “To Protect and Preserve a Tree Rooted in Games.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times,                         20 Aug. 2007, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-aug-20-sp-crowe20-story.html.

 

Customs

Bonding over complaints about governing body

“One of the things I learned from the previous club president was all about the body of students and staff that runs all the recreational sports teams on the USC campus called the RCC, and what I learned was that they are terrible and that they don’t do anything right, and that all of our problems can be traced back to them. What I then discovered on my own was that is not quite true, and so what I’ve passed down to other people is that the RCC does a lot of good things for us. However, one of the things is that they don’t quite know how to open doors for us properly. For as long as anybody’s been around they have not come on time to open doors. So, what we have to do is, every time we go to practice, somebody has to go at least 15 minutes early to make a phone call to the people in the Lyon Center and have them come over and open the door for us, and every time they’re surprised. There’s rarely an occasion where they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. We already knew about that.’ This happens because the staff changes so regularly over there, it seems, but if nobody was sent at 5:45, then nobody would be sent until 6:15 or whenever we called them. We learned to get out our phones and make that call, which meant a conversation every week about how terrible the RCC was and how all of our problems were their fault. It was a team bonding thing weirdly in the end, commiserating over doors. It’s a little odd.”

Background Information and Context:

The interaction between team members about the RCC’s inadequacies happens prior to almost every practice, which occurs three times a week. Usually, it will take place in the halls outside the Physical Education building, outside the South Gym or the basement exercise room that the team reserves for practice. The informant decided to start with this anecdote when he was told that he could freely speak about his experience on the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team and interesting things that an outsider wouldn’t know about it. The informant has been on the team for multiple years and served as team president for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.

Collector’s Notes:

I have stood outside the doors of the PED basement and south gym more times than I can count, engaging in exactly what the informant described, but until we had this conversation, it never crossed my mind that this was a sort of bonding tradition. It makes sense when compared to the way citizens complain about their government. Even though the government is responsible for a lot of good things, we choose to focus on the negatives, and the act of complaining about the same experiences connects us as citizens, uniting us against those who are perceived to be separate from us because they have more power/money/influence/authority and tell us what to do.

Legends
Narrative

Trojan Marching Band Legend

Context: My informant and I were sitting and talking in a cafe, and he shared this legend he heard during his time with the Trojan Marching Band with me.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: I’m sure this is public information. I can share this. So the Trojan Marching Band, uh, we had some beef with the Bruins across town. Uh, just a little bit. I think it was during one UCLA/USC game where it was at their stadium. It was the Rose Bowl. We decided… to march our pre-game, which is the show before the actual football game, where we end up in a line, I think it spells either “Trojans” or “USC,” and we had strategically made it so everyone had like a bag of either sand… or of poop, or of some sort. I’m pretty sure it was sand. Um. And so we would march throughout the show, and not like make a big deal out of it. And then once we get into the formation of “USC” or “Trojans,” we would drop, we would drop our bags  in the spot that we’re in. And then we would run off the field. So essentially what happens is you leave like this huge like, spelling of “USC” or “Trojans” on the field, and obviously I’m sure they were reprimanded for it. Um, and that’s the story that we tell. I think it actually happened, but I’m not sure.

Me: Do most people regard it has happening, or is it like, a split opinion?

Informant: I think most people regard it as happening. I think it’s like, on a website somewhere. That it actually happened.

Me: And like, when do you usually tell this story to people?

Information: Um, when do we tell this story? I definitely learned about it on probably, like, a… a trip we were on. Because like, we like to reminisce about the history of the marching band, and we always joke about, there’s this perception that the year before was always better than the current year. And better in the sense that they were always a little like, rowdier, more aggressive, more spirited, and a lot courser than the current year. Each year is discerned as a little more refined, a little more politically correct, um, and that’s something that is looked down upon for reasons I don’t quite understand. Um, but yeah. So obviously, to do that again, I don’t think that would ever happen. Um, so that’s why we revere, and we speak of the legend that is old band.

Me: Do you ever hear differences in the way that it’s told, or the story consistent?

Informant: I think the story’s pretty consistent.

Me: Except for like, the sand versus poop thing?

Informant: Probably yeah.

Me: Have you heard that told both ways?

Informant: I think so! I think part of me is like, I probably read it as sand, on the website, or like heard about it as sand, but like, the whole purpose of the story is to like, elevate how rough and tough they were. So like, elevating it to be like, “Oh, there was poop in the bag.” That’s not… outrageous in the slightest.

Analysis:

This legend is an example of a story told within a specific group of people as a source of group pride and unity. The legend can be referenced as inspiration for future group actions and can be looked upon fondly as an example of a noteworthy accomplishment. It also feeds off of the rivalry between the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). USC’s campus has a strong football culture, and victories over UCLA, both in football and in other matters, are viewed very favorably.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

USC Haunted House

Information about the Informant

My informant is a USC undergraduate student majoring in Theatre. He used to have a major in the cinematic arts, and acted in a few student films produced by his fellow students.

Transcript

“So I was filming a student film here on campus a couple years ago. Uh, it was a–I was like–the film never actually got produced but I was a killer. I was like a serial killer or something. With all his–it was real–all like themed killings. It’s all pretty…insane. And, uh. We didn’t have a permit. So we got approached by a DPS officer. And we were all scared we were gonna get like…or the director at least was scared that we were gonna get busted. I didn’t care ’cause, you know, I’m just the actor. I can’t be held accountable for any of this. Uh. And… But she doesn’t say anything, she actually, uh, starts…talking to us and I forget how…this came up. But she starts talking about this house near campus. And uh, this is at night. And apparently this house near campus is haunted. And…because she said that like fellow officers have been in it to like…look at stuff or whatever, and there’ve been voices and moving things, spooky stuff. And uh, she said that apparently a family lived there, and…two–I’m pretty sure it was only two of the members of the family are…actually there as ghosts now. And they’ve been…messing with stuff, and…I think she said–yeah, she said one of them is friendly and the other one’s pretty…spiteful and vindictive. Uh. And so basically it’s not a place you wanna go. And I don’t know where it is. But…it’s around here somewhere.”

Analysis

Finally, a ghost story about USC. According to my informant, he had no real personal reason for remembering this story that the DPS officer told; he remembered it because it was part of the larger story that almost got their filming crew “busted.” But for me, and possibly for any other USC student hearing the story, it’s interesting because it presents a side to the DPS that we as students don’t normally hear about. It raises interesting questions as to why the DPS investigate this house that often in the first place and how the story is told amongst themselves. When one of them is told to go investigate it, how does he or she feel about this if he or she has been told about the supposed history of this house? It is curious that this story does not circulate amongst the student population of USC as ghost stories usually thrive amongst young adults around college-age, especially when it involves a location near them. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that this house is probably not one open to the public and thus the only legal reason a person would have for ever entering the house is to investigate it for some official reason, as the DPS officers do in this account. But it is still odd that even rumors of this house have not appeared en masse amongst the students and that even a Google search for haunted locations in the USC area turns up nothing except staged haunted houses for the purposes of Halloween celebrations.

general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Slang about UCLA

Context: The informant is a young professional who graduated from UCLA in 2012.  She relays that the acronym for her school had the unofficial meaning of the “University of Cute Little Asians”.

Analysis: A quick search of the UCLA website’s enrollment statistics shows that the ethnic category with the highest enrollment is those who have checked the “Asian/Pacific Islander” box, at 34.8% of total students; the next largest group is white students at 27.8%. The informant herself is not white, nor did she elaborate on whether or not she used the term in her own conversations, but she did confirm that at her time at UCLA, a large portion of the students she saw on a daily basis appeared to be of Asian descent.

The term therefore seems to be a somewhat racist comment on the high population of Asian-descent students at UCLA, combined with the well-worn stereotype that those of East Asian ancestry are shorter in stature than white people, and the fetishization of Asians, particularly Asian women, with the term “cute”.

A somewhat related term I have heard during my time at USC is “University of Spoiled Children”, quite obviously referring to the stereotype of most USC students being rich and white, and a good many of them “legacy” students, meaning an older family member also attended. This view, however distasteful to some, is actually rather true: USC’s student body is 39% white (the next biggest group, 23%, is Asian). And according to an LA Times article, “the percentage of USC students [whose family income is] over $200,000…is more than twice as high as [UCLA]‘s”.

I have also heard the much less controversial and more humorous “University of Summer Construction” (but not just summer anymore–I have been a student since the fall of 2010, and there has been some sort of constrution, modification, addition, or repairing going on every single semester along the commonest routes I take across campus).

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