Background: DL is a man in his early twenties who attend the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. It is a small school with less than 3,000 students (mostly undergrad). DL is getting degrees in violin performance and gender studies.
Context: “Dead week” is the typically week before finals, where classes are canceled so students can study. It’s usually a time of high tension across a campus, and DL believes the nude run is a way to “destress.” He does not have a clear idea of how the tradition got started or how long it’s been going on. He mostly finds it amusing, but was slightly embarrassed to elaborate on what happens during the annual nude run when I asked him for more information.
(In the following interview the informant is identified as DL and the interviewer is identified as JS.)
DL: We have a tradition during dead week in the fall semester…it’s a naked run [laughs]. And it starts, starts at the library, at the top floor of the library, where people completely nude in a big pack run from the top floor of the library all the way across campus to, like, the dining hall and go through the dining hall. And it’s probably thirty degrees outside [Fahrenheit] because it’s winter.
JS: What time of day does this take place?
DL: Maybe like 10 or 11 P.M.
JS: And the library’s still open at this point? People take their clothes off there?
DL: Yeah, you go in a robe or something—and like, not everybody goes completely nude but a lot of people do, so it’s not really that…weird?
JS: Have you done it before?
DL: I haven’t, no.
JS: Okay, okay. So you—have you watched people do it, though? Like, you sat out? Do people sit out in lawn chairs and watch it—
DL: No? No. Cuz that would be…
DL: Yeah, I feel like everyone has specific etiquette rules. People don’t like sit and watch, but like, if you happen to witness it, then that’s acceptable.
JS: And you’ve “witnessed” it before?
DS: I’ve witnessed it.
JS: Do you have friends that have done it?
DL: Yes, no one I live with has done it, but I have friends that have done it.
JS: And how does the administration feel about it?
DL: They don’t care.
JS: Does a specific person organize it or does a mass text get sent out?
DL: Like, a mass text gets sent out, so everybody knows when it is and on what day, because it’s the same every year.
Thoughts: I’ve heard of similar traditions at other campuses across the country, and I think the nude run practice falls in line with the similar traditions of skinny dipping or walking into public fountains fully clothed. I’d agree with DL’s idea that this a way for students to destress—it’s something that’s so wild and impulsive that it puts the concept of final exams into perspective. There are multiple elements of risk in it, including both the very cold weather and the willingness for people to go nude in public (a technically illegal act). I find it particularly interesting how the administration doesn’t seem to mind that it occurs on a predictable, annual basis, and that certain social codes about how not to be creepy have regulated themselves. People don’t sit around and wait for the nude runners to go by, they just witness it by coincidence—the fact that it’s a big pack of students also makes it somewhat safer to perform. It’s definitely not the kind of thing I myself would participate in, but it’s a pretty hilarious concept all the same.