Tag Archives: university

The Alma Mater Joke

Background: The informant is a 58 year old man living in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, where he attended the local high school and elementary school. He went to college at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (currently UIUC – referred to as U of I by the informant). The informant always likes to tell jokes and mentioned one that was prevalent during his time at college. 

Context: The context was while eating, the informant and his son began talking about U of I, as they both attended the school. The informant suddenly appeared to remember a joke he was told as a student. 

Text:

BW: Yeah,  I remember this one joke I was told at U of I. It was really popular around all the students. I remember my friend group would always share it. So, there’s the alma mater statue at U of I that all students take pictures at when they graduate. Remember we took a picture with [son] there.

Me: Yeah, it was a statue of a woman, right?

BW: Yep, a motherly figure, and she’s standing up. Okay so it goes,

Everyone at U of I takes a picture in front of the alma mater statue and, um, if there is a picture of a virgin in front of the statue, then she will be sitting down instead of standing. But, see, there are no virgins at U of I, because everyone has been fucked by the University. [laughing].

Me: Oh, wow. Was there any ill will toward the University?

BW: I think it was like the usual anger of students towards their schools. Maybe it be the cost or the classes or being failed in a class, or something like that.

Analysis:

Informant: The informant, laughing at his own joke, shows that it retains its humor for him throughout the decades. It clearly brings back memories of his time at the university and of good humor between him and his friends.

Mine: The joke, while short, represents a few things. First, it directly mentions a graduation tradition done at the school, of taking a picture with the alma mater statue once someone graduates. However, this tradition is turned on its head for vulgar means – more so because the statue is depicting a motherly figure. However, moms have long had their share of mom jokes, notably “your mom” in response to a statement. The statue sitting down upon a virgin being there is almost like the motherly statue sitting down to protect the virgin, as if a mother’s embrace. But then, the punchline hits, and while it’s meant to be funny, it serves to actually highlight how the students felt about the university. While not sure if the joke is still being told, it clearly is a symbol that this time of history, in the 80s, was a period where the university was clearly mocked.

Beginning a School Wide Chant

Background: The informant  is a 22 year old male currently living in San Luis Obispo, California. He attended CalPoly-SLO and is currently working as a manager for a boy and girls volleyball club. He played volleyball and basketball throughout high school, and played and coached volleyball while in college. His story is from his time in college.

Context: The context was the informant was, after a sporting event, the informant was reminded of his time in college when he and his friends started a cheer. He performed the cheer.

Text:

WC: In college, since I was on the club volleyball team and was a coach for the girl’s team, I would always attend the volleyball matches whenever they were at home. So, my friends and I thought it would be funny to start a cheer, or a chant, at the games, as we knew all the players. 

Me: What was the cheer?

WC: Every time, someone got a block, we would say “booboo” and then clap twice. [does it]

Me: Was there significance behind it?

WC: Uh, not really, it was more to show the girls that we were there and we were supporting them. I mean, cheers in sports are really just to build morale and boost the team’s spirit so that was all that we were trying to do.

Me: What happened to the chant?

WC: Actually, since we did it at every D1 game, the other people around us started to pick it up. And then, the girls on the team started to do it after every block. So, what started as just our little firendgroup chant became a CalPoly-wide thing.

Analysis:

Informant: He was clearly very happy with the chant becoming a sports-wide occurrence at his school, especially that the girl’s themselves started using it. His intention was simply to have a morale boosting chant, but it did much more than that.

Mine: Cheers have long been used in sports in order to reveal a certain community of people. Typically, cheers are created in groups and spread through word of mouth, at least initially. People spend time in order to create someone that will stand out and boost morale. While initially it was simply something between friends, it became a much bigger thing, spreading to other fans and the players themselves. It demonstrates that folklore starts from the people, no matter who they are, and that anyone can contribute to the culture of the group they are in. The main form of communication in sports is cheering from the sidelines, and anyone should be able to contribute to that. There doesn’t need to always be people leading the cheers; instead, the cheers can start on their own.

Rubbing Abe Lincoln’s Nose

Background: The informant  is a 22 year old male currently living in San Luis Obispo, California. The superstition was told to her by his past girlfriend, X, who attended University of Madison-Wisconsin. He stayed with her for a summer at the college and is well versed in the community.

Context: The informant shared the context when the UW-Madison was brought into conversation while over the phone, as was speaking about past trips around the United States.

Text:

WC: So, at UW-Madison there’s this Abraham Lincoln statue on campus. It’s a statue of Lincoln, where he is sitting in a chair and he is staring out, sternly. It’s a pretty large statue, you’ll have to climb up and reach his head.

Me: What do students do with him?

WC: People will do a lot of different things. The most common I heard was that students would rub his nose for good luck. I think they also rub his feet. You can see this on the statue because it’s worn down a bit. [X] also told me that her friends would sometimes climb up onto his lab and whisper things, like their dreams after graduation, into his ear.

Me: Has it always been like this in history?

WC: I’m pretty sure. I believe people will also dress Lincoln up, depending on the time of year, just to celebrate whatever was happening on campus. It’s pretty cool.

Analysis:

Informant:  As he wasn’t part of the college and was looking in from the outside perspective, it’s clear he thought the tradition was very unique and popular enough to report on. He has seen the statue and noticed the physical marks that folklore left behind on it.

Mine: The statue represents that signs of good luck do not need something small that can be carried around by the person. Instead, they can be large objects that are stationary, all that matters if what is put into it. For instance, with the Lincoln statue, there is the want to have good luck or the wish for their dreams to come true. People believe in this statue because it’s something personal to their school, making it intimate to them. Also, Lincoln is a very popular figure in the Midwest, and likely was chosen as a symbol of good luck because he is generally seen as someone who brings good tidings, can end conflict, and more. He is an example of a historical figure that has taken on a somewhat folkloric role as time has passed on. He nearly doesn’t seem real, but simply a figment of fantasy.

Smith College “Grateful Gate” Superstition

Context:

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

Main Piece:

“So there’s this gate in the front of campus called the Grateful Gate, and you’re not supposed to walk through it until graduation, so um, I’ve never walked through it yet, and that way hopefully I’ll graduate on time.”

Analysis:

Many colleges and universities have a superstition that involves not interacting with some architectural part of the campus until graduation, with the superstition stating that if one does the superstitious action, one will not graduate on time. In this case, walking through the Grateful Gate is a part of the graduation ceremony at Smith College, so the transgression of the superstition is moving through this action at the improper time. By walking through the gate (metaphorically symbolizing graduation) before the actual completion of studies, the transgressor brings themselves bad luck.

For another college superstition with the punishment of not graduating on time, refer to this piece of folklore: “Auburn University – Seal Superstition,” Eli Alford, USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 1, 2021. http://folklore.usc.edu/auburn-university-seal-superstition/

Smith College Mock Weddings

Context:

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.”

Analysis:

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.