Tag Archives: University of Southern California

Club Initiation Ritual

Main Piece

“[A club I joined this semester] has certain traditions and rituals that we have to undergo before we are onboarded slash, um, official members of the club – not on paper, but in the eyes of the members already. So…what they did is each new member or “newb” was blindfolded and led into a room where we were distracted and sc–I wouldn’t say they ‘scared’ us but they would like yell “BOO!” in our ears and scare us while we were blindfolded, but it never got too out of hand, it was never too scary, they were never too mean – just light, playful, pranks on us. And they would read–they read the constitution of their organization to us at hyper-speed while we were getting lightly hazed slash pranked and blindfolded by other members, and when they were done, we were taken back to our meeting room and we were each assigned — or they told us, in a big form of display, who our “Big” of the club was. We have “Bigs” and “Littles” — basically a new member is mentored by a past member, a member that has been reoccurring on the board — and they kind of take them under their wing to lead them throughout the club and the motions of the club, and we can come to our Bigs for advice, etc. And each of our Bigs ripped off our blindfolds and they would be standing right in front of us with their arms outstretched, ready to give us a hug. And we each had to go to different corners of the room with our Bigs and we were given 2-3 other members of the club as “delegates”, and we were all given champagne bottles. And each Little-Big pairs, along with their committee/chosen few delegates, had to chug the champagne bottle, and the first to finish got to pick karaoke for every other group.

I know that their tradition tends to wave and flow based on the constraints or number of new members that they get, but they always have traditions of light hazing, a grand Big-Little reveal, a reading of the constitution, and something where there’s a drinking competition.”

Interpretation

Informant’s Interpretation: Informant added context that this ritual happens at the beginning of the semester, and found it to be a fun tradition that unified the group. They also noted that it was hyped up to be a much more jokingly-frightening affair than it was in practice, and that partaking in it made them excited to be a part of a fun group. It also “broken down any of [their] nerves about being ‘new’ in the space.”

Personal Interpretation: While I believe hazing rituals sometimes take harmful forms on university campus, this one seems much more lighthearted and welcoming–particularly as recounted by informant, and with the knowledge that informant and peers were given context beforehand. Most importantly, the fact that it was something they were willing to share openly means no implication of absolute secrecy was present, which can often be a manipulative tactic for more intense hazing rituals. On a more analytical level, this reads as an initiation ritual–a way for new members to symbolically cross a boundary into being part of a group–and officially establish their ties to it. It also serves a purpose as a means of community bonding, and creates an experience only people part of the group have experience.

Background

Informant is a 21 year old college student who was raised in North Carolina and attends school at USC. They are mixed race (Pacific Islander and white), and identify as queer and fem-presenting.

Memorate of Racism and Corona Coughing

Informant: My editing partner told me about how she started having a coughing fit in class and the teacher actually asked her to leave. Like it wasn’t even the cough associated with Covid, it was a wet cough that she had been suffering from for a while. Everyone in class was freaking out even after she left.

Interviewer: She actually left the class? Do you think there was any racism as a part of it?

Informant: Oh it was racially charged. To say that it wasn’t racially charged would be f***ed. She’s f***ing asian.

Background: My informant and I were discussing the fear that was taking over the university campus and she brought up this story she heard from a friend.

Context:

Thoughts: The reason why I had to ask a clarifying question was because I suspected the student in question was Asian. At the time a lot of Asian students were facing racists slights such as this. It makes me wonder if the informant’s friend still would have been asked to leave the class if she wasn’t Asian.

Frat Initiation: Fight Night

Background: The informant was born and raised in southern California. He is a sophomore at the University of Southern California and joined greek life in the spring semester of his freshman year. The following is a ritual that occurred at the end of his freshman spring semester just prior to his graduation from “pledge” to “active member.”

Context: This piece was collected in a casual setting in the informants apartment. It was a staged interview so it did not come from a completely natural recount of the ritual. We are good friends so the setting was relaxed, although the informant was adamant on retaining confidentiality surrounding his identity. 

Piece: 

The following is a summary of a conversation, including a few direct quotations, so as to protect the identity of the individual and his fraternity.  

After a semester of hazing, pledges (people who have pledged to join a certain fraternity but have not been completely initiated into the fraternity) the pledge masters (who are active members of the fraternity responsible for the hazing/initiation rituals) gather the pledges and any active members who are interested  in participating in a large room in the frat house. The pledges and active members then form a circle. One of the pledge masters then goes into the center of the circle and says, “Pledges, who do you have problems with?” 

The pledges then wait silently until one of them declares that they have a problem with another frat member (active or pledge). At that point, the member who made the declaration along with the member who they declared to have issue with enter the center of the circle along with the referee who is usually the pledgemaster. The surrounding frat members begin to cast bets on who will win while others bang on their chests and jeer. The fighting consists of “slap boxing” for three rounds regulated by the referee. Often if a pledge or active falls during the fight, the surrounding crowd will shout statements like, “Get the fuck up!” and encourage the continuation of the fight. 

While both active members and pledges make up the circle, only pledges are allowed to call upon other members to enter the circle. It is considered taboo to refuse to enter the circle after being called out.

The informant noted that the night was a time to release pent up anger against fellow frat members who had issues with each other. The event occurs in the final week, dubbed “Hell Week,” before the pledges are officially inducted into the fraternity. It is not uncommon for participants to develop broken bones or other injuries during the event.

Analysis: 

I wasn’t very surprised to hear that violence, an action that typically denotes masculinity in American culture, was so deeply intertwined in the tradition considering the heteronormative history of Greek life on university campuses. Although the ritual is violent, the informant was not bothered, often laughing as recounting the event and suggesting that the event is not perceived, at least by him, as a traumatizing event but is rather an empowering event. 

The ritual serves as a brief dismissal from the hierarchy within the fraternity and allows for retribution. By seeking vengeance for abuse (perceived or real) at the hands of other pledges and active members, the pledges are able to gain equal status and regain respect and dignity by evening the score. The taboo on refusing to enter the circle further ensures that pledges are put on the same stage as other members of the fraternity who may have brutalized them. It allows pledges (who are to be inducted very soon) an opportunity to exert power over other members for the first time.

“Sah Dude?” As a Greeting

Main Piece:

Informant: “Sah dude?” It is basically saying, what’s up, dude? Usually there are some kinda handshakes involved, usually like a hang lose, or a rock on sign. 

Interviewer: Who used this?

Informant: Usually teenage young adult men. A lot of the guys with trucks that I went to school with. I think that says enough, haha. 

Interviewer: Did you ever use it? 

Informant: No. I mean I did on occasion, but I would say it back sorta like in a mocking way. I was also kind of a tomboy so maybe that is why they always did it with me as well? The people who used it the most were on the Dive team at my high school, at least when I was there. But now I see a lot of people at school use it, a lot of the frat bros use it when they see each other at parties and I have started using it a little bit more because of it.

Background

My informant is a good friend and housemate of mine from USC and is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with a minor in Health Care Studies from San Dimas, CA. She says that a lot of her mannerisms and sayings come from growing up in San Dimas which she describes as being a very small town outside of Los Angeles that feels more midwest than the West coast. She attended summer camps throughout most of her life, starting as a camper and becoming a counselor in high school. 

Context

My informant took me back to her hometown the week of her birthday to visit her family and to get her tire fixed. She wanted to show me around the city before we went back to LA, and decided to stop at a local strawberry farm. The worker there was a good friend of hers from high school, and when they saw each other they greeted each other by saying “Suh Dude?” Remembering this instance, I brought it up with her when she was willing to interview with me and explained the greeting to me. 

Analysis

I find it interesting that this folk greeting seems to be very popular at USC and the greater Los Angeles area among young men. It is easy to say where they got the saying from, as it is a condensed way of saying “what is up, dude?” and is probably much more convenient for them to say. Usually, this greeting is accompanied with some sort of handshake between males, leading me to believe it is an indicator of masculinity that is being expressed in this greeting. Although my informant is a female, she has expressed that since she is a tomboy they usually greet her the same way. 

USC Nazi Tree

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO.In this account, he explains an urban legend from USC. This Nazi Tree was recently mentioned in an LA Times article.  This is a transcription of our conversation.

 

Text:

Urban legend turned truth at the University of Southern California, is that there on our premises lies a single Nazi Tree. Before you say, “What? The USC institution—gilded in white privilege—has a Nazi tree on campus?” Well, when you have Von KleinsSmid as a president for a decade, wild shit happens.

So essentially, at the 1936 Munich Olympics, there are obviously lots of USC athletes there, and, you know, in celebration and in giving thanks, the Nazi regime gave saplings to all the athletes. And so one sapling made it back to USC, and it was planted right in between the back of Bovard and the back of PED [the Physical Education Building] over by the Book Store, and so now enshrined on our campus is a gift directly from Hitler himself.”

  

Thoughts:

Though this is the first time I heard a formal telling of this USC urban legend, I did hear word of it in the first few weeks that I came to this school. The informant and I are in an organization together, Trojan Advocates for Political Progress, so discussion of this tree began again in our meetings due to the relevant name change of VKC (which is happening upon the discovery that Von KleinSmid was in support of of eugenics). Looking this up, I saw that the LA Times also mentioned “one of two [saplings] planted on the USC campus survives to this day.”

My informant proceeded to tell me that, after doing some research on Reddit, he decided to explore the campus area of where the tree is possibly located; sure enough, he found the tree, which he stated was “unmistakably the tree because there was a plaque in front of it dedicated to the 1936 Munich Olympics.” He’s not the first I’ve met one to search for this tree— this tree seems to have the same reputation as ghosts, where people hunt around to see if its existence is true. I surmise that, just like ghosts, it’s tied to our shame or guilt of our school’s racist and corrupt history. The official existence of this tree is just another factor that reinforces the notion that USC is racist, both past and present.

 

For the LA Times article mentioned above, please refer to this citation:

Crowe, Jerry. “To Protect and Preserve a Tree Rooted in Games.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times,                         20 Aug. 2007, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-aug-20-sp-crowe20-story.html.