Background: The informant is an American UC Davis 2018 alumni who currently works as an actuary in San Diego, CA. He learned the tradition while attending university in Davis, CA, but never partook in it himself.
Context: The following piece was collected in a brief, casual over-the-phone interview.
Informant: “So around finals, usually like the Wednesday of finals week every semester there was an ‘undie run.’ So everyone uh, if you were going to donate your clothes would just strip off whatever clothes you were going to donate, leave them there, and then just run around the campus in your underwear.”
Collector: “Wait so there’s like a clothing drive?”
Informant: “Uh, there was at some portions er like at some of them like as I was going there it seemed like it was becoming less and less popular.”
Collector: “But people still took off their clothes and ran around in their underwear?”
Informant: “Yeah in like a big group, a big mob. They’d run through all the dorms, all the like cafeterias so you’d be like out getting cookies and there’d be a bunch of people just acting like drunk idiots.”
Collector: “Would they be drunk?”
Informant: “I’m sure some people were drunk but not most of them.”
Collector: “Was it during the day or at night?”
Informant “Mostly at night. Anyone who wants to go can it’s like a Facebook event.”
Analysis: I have heard of a similar tradition at USC in which seniors run across campus half-naked and swim in each of the fountains before graduation. This tradition differs in that it is open to all UC Davis students and occurs more than once in an academic year. Finals week is a transitory period in which the results from a semester’s worth of classes is still largely undetermined. It is usually a very stressful time for students, so the undie run provides a brief liberation from traditional social expectations. It’s important that it happens in a group so that the act becomes more publicly acceptable. If it were just one individual, it is possible that they would get arrested for public nudity, whereas a larger group performance assures the unlikelihood that law enforcement would be able to punish every individual. It would be interesting to examine more colleges across the country to see how many have an underwear run tradition.