Tag Archives: college

Smith College Mock Weddings


Smith College is a historically women’s college in Massachusetts. EZ is a current Smith College student.

Main Piece:

EZ: “so, there’s a lot of just weddings happening that obviously aren’t real weddings but people just dress up and have ceremonies and stuff, just like in their friend groups. It’s just a Smith thing, I guess.”

SH: “Is it like, like making fun of the lesbian stereotype because Smith is a historically women’s college, or like, kind of serious?”

EZ: “It’s definitely not that serious. I think it’s definitely a historically women’s college trope that like, um, you’re kind of like embracing it, and I think it, there was an article about it a while back, but it dates back pretty far, so there’s like tons of history in the archives about it, um, and I think it started out more as like ‘oh haha we’re like women getting married, like how unconventional’ and then now it’s more like, we’re like either dating or just good friends or something like that, and it’s more like a fun friend group thing than like ‘haha look at us’ kind of thing”

SH: “Alright, so it can be between people who are dating and people who are just friends?”

EZ: “Yeah, I don’t think there are necessarily set rules to it.”


This tradition presents an interesting combination of different concepts within folklore. On the one hand, the tradition revolves around a ‘mock wedding,’ a non-serious replication of a very culturally significant event. Marriage is a significant ritual that represents the transition from single life to the expected life of raising a family. In some societies, marriage is even the transitionary event that inducts one into adult society. The imitation of this event could, without any additional context, have come from a desire to mimic this transition into adulthood and freedom, as earned by the college students’ leaving their family home and living among their peers.

But when viewing this tradition through the context of its location and historical ties tells a slightly different story. Smith College is a historically women’s college, and has through that centering of women long had associations of lesbianism tied to it. Marriage, central to many societies, has been used within the United States to uphold and enforce the heterosexual nuclear family. With this nuclear family came the expected subjugation of women, who are historically disenfranchised and were made dependent on their husbands for financial support. Since, as the EZ says, the tradition “dates pretty far back,” these mock weddings presumably existed long before marriage equality, so at a time when legally, women could not marry each other. Therefore, these mock weddings represented a protest against the heterosexist laws that forbade them in reality, and now exist as a relic of that time. While currently, the mock weddings are something fun to do with your friends, they recall a time when the marriages were ‘mock’ because they legally could not be anything else.

Boston University Seal Superstition


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.”


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


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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


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.