Background on informant: Informant is a sophomore at Harvard, from Los Angeles, and studying psychology. He is also involved in an outdoor club and intramural crew.
Informant: There are four challenges you’re supposed to do at Harvard. I don’t know the origin of these challenges but I know they are important, from a sort of personal pride perspective and maybe a bit of peer-pressure. The first is to urinate on the foot of the John Harvard statues, a popular tourist destination–it is a tradition for tourists to rub the foot for good luck. It’s not good luck; it’s just unsanitary. The next is to have sex in the stacks of the library. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but you don’t want to get caught obviously, so there’s some strategy required. Next up is jumping off the John Week’s Bridge which connects Cambridge and Boston over the Charles River. The Charles is notoriously nasty and until quite recently, it was too unclean to be safe to even swim in. But given the 25 foot drop off the bridge, this one is a good one for adrenaline seekers. The next and last is to participate in the Primal Scream, a biannual event in which a huge cohort of naked students sprint a lap around the yard.
Analysis: The informant’s phrasing of “four challenges you’re supposed to do at Harvard” is interesting because it suggests that these initiation practices are integral to claiming an identity to the institution. In this way, they operate in a liminal space, serving as a rite of passage. Interestingly, as well, all of the challenges require that the participant take a risk or give something of himself or herself. In order to be a part of the community, in might suggest, the participant must make a sacrifice that is tangible and could potentially have real consequences.