Tag Archives: college tradition

Getting Bruinized in the Fountain

CONTEXT:

L was born and raised in Sun Valley, Idaho. She is 20 years old and moved to Los Angeles to attend school at UCLA; she is now a sophomore. 

The context of this piece was at a little coffee shop at UCLA. I was visiting my best friend for the weekend. I asked her if she had any folklore to share with me and she excitedly told me all about a special ritual that UCLA partakes in every year.

TEXT:

“I mean at UCLA there’s a fountain that you’re supposed to get “bruinized” at where you touch the water once and say some crazy chant and you’re not allowed to touch the water again until after you take your last final. Otherwise you won’t graduate in 4 years…during freshmen orientation you’re supposed to wade in or touch the water. If you touch it again before your last final as a senior it’ll add an extra quarter before you graduate. After you take your last final people usually go and swim in it to celebrate.”

ANALYSIS:

UCLA hired Howard Troller to design a foundation on their campus; he used this as an opportunity to create something that was architecturally different from other fountains that “just squirt water into the air.” He designed an inverted fountain that flows inward into a large bed of rocks (handpicked by Troller himself.) Troller finished the fountain on March 18, 1968 and ever since, the fountain has been the location where UCLA students host one of their biggest traditions. During freshman orientation, freshmen are “initiated” by touching the water. They are then told to not touch the water again until they graduate; if they touch it before, it is said to be a bad omen – it may even add an extra quarter to their academic career.

The Doc Benton Story

Informant Background:

            My informant, JC, is my father. He attended Dartmouth College, and was an active member of the Dartmouth Outing Club, or DOC.

Piece of Folklore:

JC: “The most important ritual of the DOC might be the annual ‘Freshman Trips’ orientation in the fall, where student leaders from the DOC take incoming freshmen out into wild places across northern New England for several days, teaching them Dartmouth songs and lore and bonding as a group with no adults around. All of these different trips convene at Dartmouth’s Ravine Lodge on Mount Moosilauke, where the bone-tired freshmen would gather around the fireplace and listen to a shaggy-dog, long, winding ghost story called ‘The Doc Benton Story.’ The story is based on local legend — a 19th-century scientist named Benton becomes obsessed with finding the right alchemy/chemistry that might unleash eternal life. As he’s working on his experiments, he gets married, but his young bride tragically dies. Benton disappears, never to be seen again. But strange things start happening all around Mount Moosilauke; farmers’ animals unexpectedly die. A logger goes to the Dartmouth’s tip-top house atop the mountain and mysteriously dies, with strange marks on his body. Years later, a hiker is separated from his group and disappears. His body is later found, with the same strange marks on his body. Reports surface here and there of a dark cloaked figure haunting the flanks of the mountain — though it would be years after Doc Benton would have died had he lived out his natural life. Anyway… the teller of the tale digresses into the geology of the mountain, the history of the towns around the mountain, the education that Doc Benton received, extraneous family history of his relatives and so on and so on for an hour or more, with the best storytellers stretching it on for almost two hours, until the first-year students are nodding off and struggling to stay awake. And then at the climactic moment in the tale all the upper-class D.O.C. members let out an absolutely blood-curdling scream, terrifying the freshmen.”

Analysis:

            The tale of Doc Benton is a classic initiation ritual – It forms an in-joke that all of the people already folded into the subculture are aware of at the new members’ expenses. It works especially well because telling ghost stories around a campfire is also a very common tradition, so the ruse that the freshman are asked to believe in is very believable. Knowing what is coming becomes an easy indicator of who is a part of the subculture and who isn’t. Because of the shared experience of being startled when older members were first hearing it, it also creates a cycle of anticipation and shared experiences, even if they are set apart by a number of years. Additionally, the tale itself is grounded heavily in the land and the area around Mount Moosilauke, as the D.O.C. is, so although it is primarily used to set up the punch line of the scream, it has cultural significance in and of itself too, tying in bits of actual local history and culture into random made-up details.

Tombs Night at Georgetown

Background information: OLP is a 21-year-old student at Georgetown University in DC. They were raised in the Bay Area, but currently live in DC for school. They have lived there for the past couple years, but only recently physically went back to Georgetown for classes. Because of this, they have had a good amount of exposure to Georgetown culture.

OLP: Georgetown students have a tradition of having this thing called a “Tombs Night” when they turn 21, it’s like, where you have a party and then go to this bar called the Tombs. And I had mine this year!

Me: Oh, I remember! How was it? 

OLP: It was fun (laughs). It definitely felt like something that was really, um, hyped up, so it was exciting.

Me: How did you learn about Tombs Night? 

OLP: I know this because I was invited to upperclassmen’s tombs nights like last year (laughs). I don’t think I know where or when it originated, but I think it’s been said that it’s because the Tombs is notoriously difficult to get into with a fake, so no one even tries until they’re 21. So yeah, even though I was invited, I didn’t ever actually go to the bar until this year. It’s like a big way to celebrate being 21, so the person’s friends will host a party for them and invite as many people as possible. And for some reason they stamp your forehead at the door when it’s your birthday. So it’s a whole thing, so I assume it must be kind of old. 

Me: Do you know how it got to be such a big thing? 

OLP: No, I feel like people just want a reason to party on their 21st though, right. Oh and also, it’s usually a way for people to go socialize during the winter when club events are kind of dead. At least I feel like it is. 

This piece of folklore was very intriguing because of how specific it is to students at Georgetown. Through word of mouth, despite the fact that students do not seem to know the origin of the tradition, everyone knows that it can act as sort of a rite of passage for Georgetown students turning 21. “Tombs Night” being a tradition shows how folklore practices can provide an opportunity for celebration and socializing.

Collective Screaming During Finals Week

Background information: MD is a 21-year-old student at University of California, San Diego. He grew up in Hayward, CA, and is currently living near UCSD campus. Because most of his time at UCSD has been spent online, he has not had much time to engage in school traditions yet. 

MD: The night before finals week, I think everybody opens their window and screams at the same time. So you just let out all the stress you’ve been carrying through the whole quarter in that scream all together. And once everyone is done screaming at that specific time, you just carry on with your studying and whatever else you might be doing.

Me: I’ve definitely heard about traditions like that. Where did you learn about it? 

MD: I saw it on Reddit, I think. I probably was just looking up UCSD culture before I started going there, um, or after I decided to go there. I don’t really know (laughs). But I think it’s kinda similar to what a lot of schools do, like that’s probably why you know it too, like screaming on the quad or in a field or something. I think it’s fun to do something cathartic like that with all your classmates so you can all remember, that, like, you’re all in the same boat. It’s definitely very needed. 

Me: True, true. Have you done it yet this year? 

MD: I haven’t ever done it myself, and I never even heard anyone else do it when I lived on-campus. But to be fair, I only lived on campus for two quarters (laughs). 

This tradition is definitely not specific to UCSD, and I think that most colleges would have some form of this “catharsis” during finals week. It makes sense that this is such a widespread piece of folklore among college students, as it creates a feeling of connectedness and shared identity during a time when students are under a large amount of stress and may feel isolated as they focus on school work. I also thought it was important to note that, because of the pandemic, many people like MD have felt as though they are missing out out traditions and pieces of folklore because of the fact that they cannot communicate with others in the same way. 

The “Bell Run”

Background information/context of performance: GP is a 21-year-old student at Beloit University in Wisconsin. She grew up in Alameda, CA, but is currently living on-campus at Beloit. Beloit is a very small university, so many traditions are well-known throughout the entire student body, according to GP.

GP: Beloit does this thing where we all run to this bell in the middle of campus from what we call “The Wall” naked, and usually drunk, and then you have to pee on the bell. It’s called a “Bell Run”. It sounds gross (laughs). I don’t really know where or why it started, it’s kinda hard to figure it out. 

Me: That’s okay, you can just tell me about your own experience with this tradition. 

GP: Well personally, I know about it because I’ve been told by my peer mentor when I started college. I also saw a lot of people doing it on the weekends, especially people in like frats or sororities. I feel like it would make sense if it originated from Greek life here, I think a lot of people do it during initiation or, like, that kind of thing. That’s how most people I know ended up doing it. 

Me: What do you think of this tradition? I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds pretty entertaining.

GP: To me, it’s just one of those college traditions where people can do something kind of taboo on a regular day and not get…stigmatized for it. Like of course it’s supposed to be embarrassing, and it is embarrassing, but no one gets in trouble for it even though it happens all the time. It’s definitely a form of hazing, but in my eyes it’s a more harmless tradition and it’s supposed to be funny, as long as you’re not forcing people to do it. I’ve never seen anyone who was forced to do it but…I’m sure it happens especially in frats. It probably depends on if you’re doing it for Greek life or if you’re doing it because you’re drunk and want to do something stupid (laughs). But Beloit doesn’t have a super intense Greek life culture, so I think it just feels more fun and less scary. 

Me: That’s interesting how you brought up doing something taboo, I feel like a lot of college traditions are kind of like that. I agree that as long as no one is getting hurt, and everyone is having fun, it seems like a good time (laughs). Have you ever done a Bell Run? 

GP: I did one when I joined my sorority this year. It was funny because I didn’t know if I would have to do it or not but I was dreading it the whole time (laughs). I ended up doing it at like 5 am one day. I wore underwear still. I wasn’t trying to have everyone see me naked. 

GP’s idea that traditions like the Bell Run are a way for college students to engage in something taboo, without it feeling too inappropriate or embarrassing, was compelling because I think that it spoke to the idea that many traditions in various cultures may not be deemed appropriate without the context of folklore. The Bell Run provides context to a behavior that would be seen as very strange and vulgar without knowing the tradition behind it. I think that many other college traditions are similar, since they often involve drinking and engaging in public displays embarrassing or funny behavior.  In addition, GP’s belief that this tradition has been popularized primarily by Greek Life offers some insight into how groups like fraternities and sororities create a feeling of closeness and exclusive membership through customs like this.