USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘USC’
Folk Beliefs

Kicking the Flagpole

Information on the informant: The informant is my mother who is currently 50 years old and lives in Palos Verdes. She attended USC in the 80’s and was actively involved in a sorority. She also is a huge sports fan and regularly attended USC football games. She has been going to games since the time she attended USC up until current time.

From the informant:

“Ever since I first attended my first USC football game, I remember it being a tradition to kick one of the bases of the flagpole leaving campus going towards the Coliseum. I believe the pole is right near Exposition and close to the business buildings. I wasn’t exactly sure why everyone did it but I think people just did it initially as a superstitious thing and then it caught on and became more of a tradition. Even though it’s weird I still take part in it and kick the base of the pole every time I walk from campus to the Coliseum on Game days. USC football has fluctuated since I’ve been there but I’m guessing a lot of people kicked the flag pole while Pete Carroll was the coach.”

Analysis: As a fellow student who attends USC games regularly and who has since I was born, I have seen this tradition take place first hand. It is a fairly strong rooted USC tradition and could be a symbol of the fans who are truly USC fans who partake in this. I also remember being told about this tradition while taking a tour of USC in the Spring of 2015 so clearly it is an undocumented tradition of the school that many people know.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Tenth Girl

Well Dan and Mary Smith told me that. He said “What’s the tenth girl?” And I said “I don’t know, what’s the tenth girl?” And he said “Nine out of ten girls are pretty, and the tenth one goes to Michigan.” I guess the girls in Michigan are pretty plain! But, Michigan was a hard school to get into, and you had to be very smart, so it was probably very smart girls but very plain. They told me that in ’76. When we were working at USC together. David’s wife went to Michigan!

 

ANALYSIS:

(The names above have been changed for confidentiality purposes). This joke has two dynamics to it – a gender differentiation, or a commentary on girls made by boys, as well as a school rivalry component. The informant and his friend who told the joke to him both worked at the University of Southern California, and had a lot of pride and spirit for the school. The friend’s wife went to Michigan – which adds yet another level of humor to the joke, because the joke was told presumably by her as well. At the very least she seems to have been present whenever Dan told the joke. While this is a jab at her appearance (although it could be untrue or unwarranted) it is clearly in a spirit of fun, and relies on stereotyping and blason populaire to make its point and be humorous. The two men clearly respect Mary, and her husband probably finds her attractive, so it seems this joke is told (at least by these specific two men) in a spirit of school rivalry more than anything else. Especially because USC has a reputation or stereotype of attracting a very attractive, but perhaps not as intelligent, female student population.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pinning Ceremony

My informant is a USC student and member of a sorority at the University. She is bi-racial of black and Caucasian ancestry.

 

“Usually towards the end of the school year there are these things called pinnings, and it happens when a senior guy in a fraternity and a senior girl in a sorority have a ceremony of the guy “pinning” the girl—with a pin—which signifies their love being bigger than his brotherhood with his fraternity, as he sticks his pin on her chest over her heart.”

 

Analysis: This ceremony is one that only takes place within Greek life, and as such the tradition is passed down verbally and visually within the Greek community. My informant wasn’t aware of the ceremony until she joined a sorority and witnessed it happen to one of her friends. The pinning ceremony is one that reflects a declaration of love and devotion for a boy for a girl, which is incredibly significant within male greek life as a guy’s fraternal “brothers” are (up until that point) the most important people in his life. A more Freudian explanation for the ceremony may be a means of the boy making it known to everyone that he is engaging in sexual intercourse with the girl of his choice, by sticking his “pin” onto her.

Legends

90 Conspiracy Theory

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.

Initiations

Big Sis Night

 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.

 

general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Alpha Phi Omega Initiation

“I don’t know how long it’s been in practice, but like every time like we wear pins, like a pledge pin on the right side [of your chest] when you’re pledging and then you put it on the left when you have been initiated. So, ‘cause the left side is your heart, so like the service pin is more on your heart like, you’re like in. Um, and then during the initiation ceremony we like light candles for each, kind of characteristic we talk about, um, and then we also, when people are ushered in to the initiation ceremony they’re, they have to close their eyes and not look and they get in a line with hand on shoulder, like in lines of maybe ten people and then someone leads them who’s an active member already to lead them to the place of the initiation. And then once they’re all there, um, they can open their eyes and then they, everybody says their name in order and they say the oath repeating after the person leading the ceremony. Um, let’s see. That happens once when you find out you’re gonna become a pledge and that happens another time when you’re initiated to become an active member. The pledging period is, like, a semester long, basically . . . It just seems like it’s always been done that way and so, when I experienced it as a pledge, it’s how I also experienced it as an active, like it, it feels like it’s always been that way.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies biology and is currently applying to medical schools. This interview took place in the new Annenberg building when I was having a conversation with another friend about superstition and the informant started to volunteer information about the rituals that have taken place in her life. She is a part of the campus service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, or APO and has been for all four years she has been at USC. APO is co-ed and is somewhat culturally removed from USC’s other Greek life. It states its principle values are “leadership, friendship, and service” and the members of this service fraternity are supposed to embody those values in their everyday lives.

 

This ceremony is clearly a liminal moment that has been ritualized. It is a way for new members to join the fraternity on a consistent basis while knowing that they have the approval of the active members. Essentially, it is a way of very clearly establishing who is a part of the frat, who is not, and who is in the process of joining. I thought it was interesting that the informant interpreted the movement of the service pin from the right side to the left side as having to do with the left side being where your heart is. Part of me believes this interpretation is influenced by her studying biology and the human anatomy currently being the most important area of study in her life, while the other part thinks this is probably the original symbolic meaning of the movement. Having the pin on the right side of your chest makes it merely a form of decoration, at most an acknowledgment that you are interested in being a part of this organization. However, as soon as you move it to the left side of your chest, it is a statement that the organization is a big part of your life as it is next to one of your most vital organs.

 

The repetition of the initiation ceremony is important, as it gives the active members and pledges a period to adjust to the change in the community. It is noteworthy that the active members light a candle for each “characteristic” that an APO member should embody, i.e. leadership, friendship, and service, as this means three candles are lit and three is an important symbolic number in American culture. I think the reasoning behind making the pledges close their eyes when they are led to the ceremony has more to do with symbolism than it does with keeping the location of the ceremony a secret. The pledges are going to find out where the ceremony is as soon as they open their eyes, so there is really no reason to think that keeping the location a secret is an important part of the ritual. Rather, I think it has to do with the fact that when the pledges close their eyes they are in a location that represents their lives before APO, and when they open them they are somewhere that represents the their new lives with this fraternity. This action also increases the suspense and sacredness of this ritual. That an active member leads the lines of pledges into the ceremony shows the approval of the existing members of APO and is an important step in making this outgroup a part of the in-group.

Folk Beliefs
Myths

Nazi Trees at Moreton Fig

*Note: To provide some context, there are large trees outside the on-campus restaurant Moreton Fig. The informant is passing along a rumor popular within the USC community that the Moreton Fig trees were donated by Hitler.

INFORMANT: “I first heard this when I was a freshman in Parkside. It’s one of those things where if you go here, you’ve probably heard the rumor. So you know the big trees outside Moreton Fig? I guess I’d assume they’re fig trees, but I don’t know… there’s this rumor that they were donated to Von Kleidsmid by Hitler and the Nazis, because Von Kleidsmid was a eugenist or something like that.”

I tried to do a little research after the informant told me this, and I came across a couple LA Times articles that explain the rumor.

http://articles.latimes.com/2007/aug/20/sports/sp-crowe20

It would seem that Hitler didn’t donate the trees, and the tree(s) may not even be at Moreton Fig, but rather between Bovard and PED. However, the type of tree is known as a “Hitler tree.” In reality, the tree was donated in honor of an Olympic athlete, not because Von Kleidsmid was a eugenist.

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.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Military Fitness Test Ritual

Informant E was born in Korea and moved to El Centro California when she was 4. Before she came to USC she found that she was accepted into the school but also enlisted in the military. She put school on hold and deferred for a semester and went to training at the age of 17, and was one of the youngest soldiers to graduate. And after her experience with boot camp she came back to USC and started school and contracted to army ROTC. She has been deployed over the summers to Korea. She studies Psychology and Linguistics as a double major and a Forensics Criminality minor combined with dance as well. She wants to use her schooling and military experience to be in the FBI one day.

So in the army we have an APFT which stands for Army Physical Fitness Test. It consists of 2 minutes of pushups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 2 mile run. And the standards are slightly different for male and female but they’re supposed to be set for what you should be able to do like capability wise. As ROTC cadets, we take one every month. So in a way its kind of a ritual you could say. We have a specific way of taking the test. Because I’m in the army as well as ROTC I can see kind of the comparisons. For ROTC everyone comes 10 minutes before the test. And were not told to do this but everyone does. And everyone puts their headphones in, sips on some water, stretches, and gets like pumped up and this is kind of a ritual within USC. It’s just kind of taken its own life as this tradition. So after that we’ll all get up and do like 10 of these calisthenics exercises which are standardized throughout the entire army. And that’s kind of like a ritual as well, we do it every single time. It’s supposed to stretch and prepare you for the fitness test. And then everyone will line up and fold their clothes; everything is very specific you know in the military. And this is a ritual through the entire military too. And then we’ll go pushups sit-ups and run. But in between the sit-ups and the run, they give us about 10 minutes to allow our bodies to recover from doing the other 2 exercises. And during that time, it’s so strange, almost everybody will sit down and talk. They’ll talk to get the anxiety off their mind. Its kind of a nerve racking test for ROTC because if you fail APFT you can lose your scholarship. You would think that people would be freaking out but everyone just kind of sits down and talks. They talk about everything, mostly non-ROTC related stuff to ease their minds. Then you take the exam and most everyone passes every single time. It’s almost a superstition that you have to do this. Ever since I’ve been in the program for 3 years, we do this every APFT which is every month so it’s interesting how that’s formed on its own. It’s this student mentality to be really prepared here at USC. When you put high achieving students here together, they want to do really well, they want to be really early. I know that having these specific steps and rituals help to calm some people down. People have found that it helps to do it specifically. It’s almost like an OCD person, they do things specifically to help calm their nerves so we can take this intense test. The military puts you in these high stress environments, but these rituals and superstitions and community kind of comes out of these environments.

 

Analysis:

Here the informant talks about some of the rituals and superstitions in the military surrounding their physical test. Many of the rituals she says is to calm anxiety and continue to foster unity and support within the group. Unity is extremely important for the military because they need that support in order to do their job effectively.  They will do these rituals so exactly that they almost turn into superstitions that they must do them.  Even how the military training is set up with these stressful tests breeds community and support because they can all help each other and cheer each other on, and they all understand what each person is going through.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Initiations

Kicking the Flag Pole

“When USC students go to football games, as they head off of campus they kick the flagpoles on the edge of campus. It’s suppose to be for good luck. It’s supposed to help the team win. I heard about it when I was at orientation and the guide pointed at the poles and told us that ‘All the students kick theese poles on the way to the Collesium.’ It’s like a superstition thing. I have done it once during freshman year when I went to a game and sure enough when I did it I saw tons of other people doing it too. It’s definitely caught on.”

As a fellow student at USC I know this tradition to be true. It is interesting to note that this was taught during the orientation process to the university. During orientation at USC students are not only taught official protocols of the university but they are also taught about the unofficial culture of the campus, through an official medium. The kicking of the flag pole could even be considered a ‘right of passage’ for students attending football games. As if only the true fans and devoted students partake in this good luck ritual. This tradition is not only to ensure success for the football team during the game, but also an initiation into true fandom.

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