My friend is currently a freshman at Northwestern University.  She is majoring in journalism, so she lives in the CRC (Communications Residential College) at the university.  The CRC primarily consists of freshman and sophomore communications majors.

Every year, the sophomores in CRC start hyping up an event called Panquake.  They usually do this a few weeks in advance of the event itself and keep the freshmen confused as to what Panquake actually is.  Often the references to the Panquake are nonsensical and mainly work to keep the freshmen curious.  This year, my friend said that the sophomores made a lot of posters with irrelevant film and TV quotes, ending with the  hashtag “#panquake.”  As the event drew near, the sophomores said to just be ready “with $10 and a sense of adventure.”

Panquake takes place late at night.  The sophomores of CRC bring the freshmen to Chicago’s “El” (Elevated rail) and ride it to an IHOP in Chicago.  It turns out that the Panquake itself is quite simple.  The sophomores take the freshmen to the IHOP and they sit down and eat pancakes.

My friend told me that after the meal, the sophomores walk the freshmen back instead of taking the “El.”  This walk goes through multiple parks and a graveyard and is supposed to be a bonding experience.  This year, however, my friend said that one of the students accidentally touched a stranger’s car, and the stranger became infuriated and threatened to harm the students.  For the sake of safety, the group took the “El” back to Northwestern instead.  However, since the walk is a very important part of the tradition, the sophomores promised the freshmen that they would take them through the route some other time, so they know where to take next year’s freshmen.

I think that this tradition acts as a rite of passage for new residents of the CRC dorm.  The trip to the IHOP and the walk back to campus is an expression of passing a liminal point – the freshmen are transitioning from freshmen initiated members of the residential college.  The entirety of the tradition and practice seems to be important – I found it telling that the sophomores insisted that they took the freshmen on the walking route at a later date, because this part of the tradition was essential.  I also find the practice of “over-hyping” it very interesting.  Perhaps it adds to the mystery and excitement of the event.  Perhaps the “sense of adventure”  espouses an attitude the sophomores want to instill in the freshmen – they want them to be unafraid to try new experiences.