A rash of unfortunate fraternity and sorority hazing incidents have made the public all too aware of the ugly side of college rituals. Not all higher education traditions are created equal, however: some of the funniest, most outrageous, most bizarre, and most downright unusual customs are annual rites of passage that take place at or around the start of classes.
Stacker rounded up the 10 wackiest back-to-school traditions widely observed by students at American colleges and universities. Some involve singing, several involve food, and others wouldn't be complete without copious amounts of nudity. But hey, it's college, what do you expect—reading and writing?
From mean pranks and silly stunts to spooky mythology and pre-football rituals, here's a look at the weirdest, oddest, and occasionally most underdressed back-to-campus college traditions.
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Plenty of colleges host tug-of-war contests, but The Pull can only be found at Hope College. The tradition dates back to 1898 and pits two teams of 18 against each other with a 1,000-pound rope in between. Contests can last under three minutes or more than three-and-a-half hours. In an effort to stoke even/odd-year rivalries, The Pull pits freshmen against sophomores, with juniors coaching the former and seniors coaching the latter.
Reed College is known for traditions that involve nudity, and the Noise Parade ritual is no different. At the start of every year, returning students welcome newbies with, as the name implies, a parade of noise made with pots, pans, and other impromptu "instruments" across the campus. Then it gets weird. The ceremony ends with the ritual chanting of "Amanda Reed must die," which is part of the school's founding mythology. A naked student portraying Amanda Reed stands on a picnic table while the crowd dumps red paint on her and themselves. It's not unusual for most of the gathering to wind up naked, too.
What started as a tradition called step-singing in the early years of Vassar's history is now called "serenading." The central concept remains the same: at the start of each academic year, the juniors sing to the freshmen, just as they always have. At some point, however, the songfest turns into a massive food fight. Administrators put the kibosh on that, instituting a "water only" policy, which turned the ritual into a soaking wet song-a-thon to be enjoyed by all (without the waste).
What started in the 1950s as an endearing ritual of newly minted college boys and girls lining up to exchange smooches and roses has taken a turn for the worse, or better, depending on who you ask. The custom devolved into the young men pulling down a certain article of clothing to reveal a certain body part to young ladies (the body part is implied in the title of the ritual, and it isn't "quad"). Since then, according to The Stanford Daily, "the event has become a night of body-paint, drunk make-out sessions, and light-hearted debauchery."
On the campus of Yale University sits a statue of former university president Dwight Woolsey, who, legend has it, brought good luck to the crew team every time he showed up to a regatta. During campus tours, applicants are told to rub the statue's well-worn, extra polished toe to conjure up some luck of their own. Those who are admitted to Yale are informed upon their arrival that they're part of an old tradition called rubbing the toe. The first part of the tradition involves upperclassmen urinating on the statue's toe before school tours.
While the Ivy Leaguers are out peeing on statues, the technical whizzes at MIT are busy doing something, well, not particularly technical. They start the school year by tossing a piano off a roof. Every year for nearly half a century, residents of Baker House have dropped a piano (don't worry, it's a donated, non-working piano) from a school rooftop to celebrate drop day, which is the last day to drop courses in the beginning of the semester.
One of Emory University's earliest presidents was the brother of the founder of the The Coca-Cola Company, and both men donated a large amount of cash and land to the institution in its early years. They donated enough of each, in fact, to help bump Emory College up to Emory University. To this day, every incoming Emory freshman, as well as those at nearby Oxford College of Emory, start their academic careers with a toast—complete with raised bottles of Coke.
At the University of Pennsylvania, students look forward to a different kind of toast when school starts: in this case, it's actual toast. Shortly after classes start, when the Quakers play their first home football game—and every home game of the season thereafter—students throw pieces of toasted bread onto the field. That's as many as 30,000 pieces of toast tossed at every home game. Why? It harkens back to a protest that started in the 1970s when alcohol was banned in the stadium, preventing onlookers from enjoying a traditional toast.
The UCSC First Rain ritual takes place during the very first rain of the school year, but it has to be on a weekday and the rain must fall between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.—or whatever the frequently shifting rules dictate the standards to be at that time. Either way, when the party starts, a large group of students, sometimes numbering more than 1,000, runs fully naked across campus in the rain.
Many schools hold a convocation to usher in the start of the academic year, and Smith College is one of them. What the school's website doesn't tell you, however, is that the unwritten rule at the all-women's college is that less is more. While some students dress up for the event in outrageous costumes, the real school spirit accolades are doled out to the many young ladies who show up wearing next to nothing.