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.