Tag Archives: college

Boston University Seal Superstition

Context:

The informant, NR, is a current Boston University student and heard about this superstition from friends while walking around campus.

Main piece:

“So, there’s a, there’s a giant seal in the center of Marsh Plaza, which is kind of like the center of campus. And it’s superstition that like, if you step on the seal, you won’t graduate in time. Literally like, you can go to Marsh Chapel like any time during the day, and like it’s the center of campus so like it’s always going to be, there’s always going to be people walking every which way. But if you observe, you’ll, uh, notice that people will like actually go out of their way to avoid stepping on it, on the seal.”

Analysis:

I think this is a pretty common college superstition, and I’ve heard mention of multiple similar versions on different campuses. Many universities have school seals embedded somewhere on their grounds, and since the seal is associated through its shape with the authority of the university, stepping on the seal could be seen as disrespecting the authority of the educational institution.

Alternatively, the seal could represent the college community, and disrespecting the community by stepping on the seal would result in being left behind while your classmates graduate on time. Other versions, like the one linked below, include conversions for reversing the bad luck drawn by stepping on the seal, but the informant says he has never heard of a conversion for stepping on Boston University’s seal.

For another version of this superstition, see this superstition around stepping on the seal at Auburn University: “Auburn University – Seal Superstition” by Eli Alford, USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 1, 2021, http://folklore.usc.edu/auburn-university-seal-superstition/

Berkeley Seal

Background:

Informant studies at USC and has a boyfriend who attends UC Berkeley.

Main Piece:

“So basically there’s seals on the floor there, and you’re not supposed to step on it until you graduate, ‘cus if you do step on it it’s like bad luck or whatever, um, so when he was talking about it I was like ‘man, fuck that’ and I stepped on it and he [the boyfriend] was like ‘no!’ and I was like ‘bro I don’t even go here’ like this shit doesn’t even apply to me.”

Context:

My informant and I were discussing school customs, as we didn’t really know any that pertained to USC. They brought up something they heard at Berkeley.

Analysis:

This is a classic example of a college superstition using sympathetic magic, specifically the Law of Contact, that fails the student if they step on the seal (which is an important symbol to the university). There are probably countless stories of people who stepped on these seals and couldn’t graduate. While my informant specifically didn’t say anything about counteracting the bad luck (usually a method of conversion exists so it’s not completely doomed for the student), such superstitions surrounding graduation are commonly found across many colleges with many different variations. Interestingly, my informant raises a question of who this Law of Contact is able to be applied to—they are a student at USC who came into contact with a Berkeley custom, so they believe the “curse” wouldn’t be applied to them.

For more more information on this superstition, see Chen, Kaylie. “Traditions at Berkeley.” UC Berkeley, 12 April 2021. https://life.berkeley.edu/traditions-superstitions/

Stealing the Caltech Cannon

The Caltech Cannon

Legend Transcript:

Note: Commas indicate a pause in speech. Italicized words indicate words said with emphasis.

Informant: We stole the Caltech cannon one time

Me: Nice?

Informant: Yeah, like by pretending to be construction officers and, fraudulently producing documentation.

Me: Wait, really??

Informant: Yeah. Someone had had a summer internship at like a construction company so they still had the stamp, and they stamped a bunch of like, construction documents, um and then in broad daylight went and just took the statue and whenever anyone asked they would just show them the document.

Me: Really? And nobody questioned it?

Informant: No.

Me: Damn.

Informant: And then we had the cannon for a bit. And then we gave it back ’cause Caltech wanted to be lame. (pause) That’s not the first time we stole the cannon either. That was just the first time that included, like, fraud. Um, sometimes they would just do it in the dead of night.

Context:

The informant said he learned about these legends from a seminar called Mudd lore. He also commented that these stories highlight the “evil genius aspect of our Mudd lore” that is a “kinda little fun and cute little STEM moment.”

Context of Conversation: In-person conversation

Personal Interpretation:

Legends are grounded in the real world as dubiously true. Even so, they add identity and character to the places where they take place. This definitely applies to the legend of Harvey Mudd stealing the Caltech cannon. While this story is true (some Harvey Mudd students actually did go in and take the cannon in broad daylight) it has since been immortalized as part of Harvey Mudd’s identity, even being included in their Mudd lore seminar.

Interestingly, college legends tend to be crazy things alumni have done, perhaps as a reflection of the time between childhood and true adulthood where college students have more freedom than children but less accountability than working adults.

Additional Notes:

Another version of this legend can be found at:
Caltech Cannon Heist Memorial Page. The Caltech Cannon Heist. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://people.bu.edu/fmri/somers/cannon.html 

Harvey Mudd Experiments

Legend Transcript

Note: Commas indicate pauses in speech. Italicized text indicates words said with emphasis.

Informant: OH! um, a while back there was like, a tradition of like just making bombs and diffusing them but keeping the sound, so the bomb squad was just here all the time.

Informant: um yeah OH and then this one time this there’s this statue outside of my dorm that this person gave us and they were like this is very expensive and I made it so it like, can’t rust and the chem majors were like, no way. no shot. and so the chem majors rusted it… on the first day. They concocted some… I don’t even know.

Background:

The informant said he learned about these legends from a seminar called Mudd lore. He also commented that these stories highlight the “evil genius aspect of our Mudd lore” that is a “kinda little fun and cute little STEM moment.”

Context of Performance: In-person conversation

Thoughts:

Legends are grounded in the real world as dubiously true. They can also mark who is in or out of a group. For these tales specifically, knowing about them shows that someone is a student at Harvey Mudd. In addition, these legends seem to hint that Harvey Mudd students have a particular curious and spiteful approach to life, as demonstrated by the legend with the statue that couldn’t rust. I think the telling of these legends encourages new Harvey Mudd students to fulfill the legacy of prior students by continuing evil genius moments.

Why are there no bathtubs at Harvey Mudd?

Legend Transcript:

Note: Commas indicate a pause in speech. Italicized words indicate words said with emphasis.

Informant: Oh, I mean, Mudd doesn’t have bathtubs anymore because someone made meth in them.

Me: Wait, what? *laughs*

I: Not a joke.

Me: Wait, tell me more.

I: This is a real thing, um, one of our dorms, Atwood dorm, when it got installed had bathtubs in it because it was a newer dorm, right? And everyone was like yo bathtubs! and then um, one day, uh, somebody, and by somebody I mean- I think I think I think it was the FBI, um, came to Atwood and they were like Yo! there’s been a suspiciously high amount of like, drugs going through here. And we were like, that’s strange. um I mean it’s a college campus, so we expect the usual amount of drugs going through here, but an unusual amount…but then they were like no no no no not like that, like drug trafficking. and the school is like what do you mean? and they were like well we suspect that someone at Mudd has been, um, like, creating meth. and they were like, what? and then um, the the I don’t know when it was. But anyway, the FBI like, kinda starts to narrow down who the student is and then they come to the realization that this kid has been cooking meth in the bathtub. and, um, and the story ends and he like jumps out of like a 2 story building and like, attempts to get away and then he is caught and then they took all of our bathtubs out because the meth thing.

Background:

The informant said he learned about these legends from a seminar called Mudd lore. He also commented that these stories highlight the “evil genius aspect of our Mudd lore” that is a “kinda little fun and cute little STEM moment.”

Context of Performance:

In-person conversation

Thoughts:

Legends are grounded in the real world as dubiously true. While this story definitely happened in real life, it has since been elevated to legendary status, to the extent that it is told in a seminar. In addition, this story has definitely changed over time. Was it really the FBI, or was it the local police? This legend likely gains credibility because its effects can be tangibly seen on Harvey Mudd’s campus. Where are the bathtubs?

For this specific legend, I think there is something about STEM schools and breaking the law in very nerdy ways, such as creating meth. I’ve heard stories about a student at MIT who also created meth in their dorm room, and even a Boston University professor who was creating meth at their home.