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Student Body

By Phil Guidry

When Dave Cork skirts the impeccable sorority house lawns that line his route to freedom, he's not thinking about taking part in a grand college tradition. He's only concerned with getting his bare ass to the finish line and out of sight of the cops who prowl his run.

He cuts left, ducks under a thick patch of overhanging branches, eyes the lights ahead. He's blocking out the honking car horns, the cheering drunken spectators, the ecstatic girls leaning out of their bedroom windows. The cold is getting to him; he can feel it in his bare feet and see his quick, hurried breaths. The numbness in his extremities grows. But it doesn't matter - he must finish. He will finish. His pride is at stake.

Up ahead, a sizable group has gathered. They are standing on all street corners, cheering and waving him on. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a friend. A female friend.

His mind races. Should he stop and say hello? Or should he keep running? He glances back at his friend - if ever there was an icebreaker, this is it…

He slows his pace. But just as he approaches this female friend, something else catches his eye.

Flashing lights.

His blood runs cold, finally in step with the rest of his body. He picks up the pace again, running harder than ever before. The fraternity and sorority houses fly by on the edges of his vision. The only thing on his mind now is finishing. The horns honk louder.

Breathing heavier. Running harder. More spectators appear. The finish line draws closer. So do the flashing lights. This is the moment of truth.

Cork completes his run.

He has done it. The ultimate test of undergraduate absurdity has been conquered. Soon the feeling will return to his cold-numbed body parts. That's when the realization will hit: he has continued a school tradition. He has etched his name in the ranks of the risk-takers, the daredevils, and the just plain stupid.

Dave Cork has completed his first Naked Row Run.

Nudity on campus is a tradition as old as college itself. The act of baring it all has been a staple of college life on campuses from Swarthmore to Stanford, and everywhere in between. And the reasons for getting buck naked are secondary to the act of simply getting buck naked in the first place.

Dave Cork, a 20-year-old junior, made his notorious run as part of a longstanding tradition at the University of Southern California. The ‘Naked Row Run' is a completely buff sprint down 28th Street, home of the fraternities and sororities on campus. It has been done for a variety of reasons - to relieve stress, to celebrate Homecoming and big football victories, to haze freshmen; it was even done on V-Day to celebrate the end of World War II. The means by which it is done are often as varied as the reasons - on foot, on bicycle, on skateboard, pulled by a truck or car, on rollerblades… there has even been at least one Naked Row Run undertaken by a ‘runner' on crutches.

And it's not just testosterone-charged males doing the streaking. At USC and other schools where naked traditions exist, women take it upon themselves to get naked with the best of them. After all, it's not politically incorrect if everyone gets involved. And if some students are just a little more equal than others, so be it.

But USC's is just one of countless nude traditions that is coming under fire. Recent moves by university administrations and campus political groups have tightened the clamps on these rowdy affairs. One of the avenues of this crackdown has been the threat of legal action against those students found guilty of campus nudity.

While there's no truth to the rumors that running the Row naked can lead to the culprit's being labeled a sex offender, arrested Row-Runners are charged with indecent exposure.

"Make no mistake about it - we will arrest you if we catch you running down 28th Street naked," says Bob Taylor, the Deputy Chief of USC's Department of Public Safety. "We realize that it's sort of a tradition, but the fact is, the Naked Row Run is indecent exposure. And we'll treat it as such."

Recent years have seen the number of busted runners rising. Campus authorities who have traditionally turned a blind eye to these shenanigans, have perhaps seen one too many pairs of bare buns jogging under their noses.

"Our goal is to provide a safe environment for the campus area," says Taylor. "We've made quite a few arrests on 28th Street for this type of behavior, mostly because more and more students are taking it upon themselves to push their luck and break the law."

Students beg to differ.

"We should have the right to show our asses on campus whenever we want," said Steve Valdez, a senior. "Besides, it's cool seeing people naked."

Can't argue with that logic… or can you?

The attitude of campus administration toward these types of traditions reflects the changing face of college at the turn of the century. The juvenile, irrational freedoms enjoyed by a select few groups of people, are gone. These are no longer the days of Animal House; today we have P.C.U. Fraternities and sororities (and their Ivy League variants, the so-called ‘Eating Clubs' and secret societies) are opening their doors to students from all walks of life.

In light of this change, administrations are, understandably, less accepting of naked traditions. They're more concerned with covering their own asses (pun most definitely intended) than preserving a rowdy tradition.

In October of 1999, Playboy warned of a ‘new conservatism' infecting the college campus, and detailed a frightening outcome for colleges that, more and more, are acting like parents. If parents would not allow their kids to take it all off and streak to class, then administrations won't allow it, either. This is the ages-old idea of en loco parentis, taken to a new extreme level.

And nudity, regardless of tradition, will not be tolerated.

This attitude of intolerance toward traditions of the naked kind has spread from campus to campus, across the country. Arguably the most famous naked tradition at any campus, the annual ‘Nude Olympics' of Princeton University has recently come under fire, and is in danger of being cancelled altogether.

The Nude Olympics have been celebrated on the Ivy League campus since the mid-1970s, with the first snowfall of each year the students' signal for the games to begin. Students originally ran in orderly races and other events (thus constituting a somewhat - somewhat - more legitimate ‘Olympics), but in recent years the event has degenerated into one chaotic mass naked scramble. The event is geared primarily to sophomores, who run around the campus wearing only a hat, boots, gloves, and in some cases, decorative paint.

Adding to the often-volatile, always-interesting mix is an unheralded aspect of the Nude Olympics: heavy drinking. This, perhaps more than the simple act of running around naked, has triggered many of the incidents which sealed the event's doom.

"The wintry, hyper-hormonal romp around campus has made the university the butt of all too many jokes," an editorial in the Princeton Packet read, "and (has) provided the school with the kind of publicity that only P.T. Barnum might find useful."

The backlash against this tradition stems in part from countless incidents at last year's Olympics. In the 1997-98 academic year, the event was cancelled due to lack of snowfall. So when the snow finally fell the next year, the sophomores participating had never witnessed the event before (and therefore had no idea what to do), and the juniors, having felt deprived the previous year, forced themselves into the competition. The results, of course, were disastrous: six students ended up in Princeton Medical Center for overconsumption of alcohol, buildings in the campus Quad area suffered untold damage, other problems such as hypothermia and sexual abuse arose, and while the arrest figures didn't match the 40 of two years before, the image of over 200 nude students slipping and skidding around the frozen Holder Courtyard was too much for the university to bear.

Princeton president Harold Shapiro published a statement in the Princeton Daily following this year's event: "I believe we can no longer tolerate the risks that [the event] has come to pose to our students… I am simply not willing to wait until a student dies before taking preventive action."

Students and administrators at the University of Michigan, home of the infamous ‘Naked Mile,' found themselves facing a different, distinctly 90's predicament.

Videos of last year's Naked Mile - the annual cold weather streak through the heart of the Ann Arbor campus - were taken of the participants, and were posted on the Internet and sold for $29.95. To make matters worse, an Ann Arbor public access channel aired the video during prime time for a week to 63,000 households in the area.

"Women (who participate in the Naked Mile) are putting themselves in a dangerous situation," Captain Jim Smiley of the University of Michigan public safety office, told the Associated Press. He was referring in particular to the rampant groping of women participants by drunken spectators, and rising counts of lewdness and sexual abuse related to the incident.

Meanwhile at Princeton, the Nude Olympics also reached the Internet. But in this case, it was intentional, as an ‘official' Nude Olympics web site was created by one of the runners. The site posts gratuitous stills of Ivy League flesh, and "Johnny on the spot" recaps by participants and spectators. Clearly the Princeton runners take their nudity seriously. And they're not the only ones.

At Rice University, there is a special sect of students who make streaking their business. They are known as the ‘Baker 13.' Each year on Halloween, members of the Baker 13 cover their bodies in shaving cream, run around campus, and try to leave as many bodyprints on campus as possible. This tradition also met with severe consequences. In 1992, Rice freshman John Hunter, while attempting to leave the imprint of his buttocks on a glass door of the library, jumped backwards and landed on his ass with enough force to shatter the glass. He sliced his derriere and was taken to the campus emergency clinic. Funds for the door's repair were raised through the sale of t-shirts that read "Save John's Ass."

These traditions are, by nature, designed to draw the ire of campus conservatives and administration, and therefore have always been controversial (okay, maybe ‘designed' is too scientific a word for the image of drunken, naked collegians sliding through campus on frozen grass). But today there is a growing sentiment among students that most of these traditions are - gasp! - ridiculous, have no place on campus today, and should be ended.

Stanford's ‘Exotic Erotic Ball,' a party in which the attendees arrive wearing very little and leave wearing even less, was banned from campus after 36 years. This ban was due in large part to student complaints, as groups ranging from women's rights activists to Christian organizations decried the Ball as a degradation of humanity.

At Purdue, where its own Nude Olympics are run at Cary Quadrangle, the student-run media has sensed the uselessness and recklessness associated with the event, and turned against the tradition:

"No matter how tempting it may be to take off all your clothes and run around Cary Quadrangle in the snow, don't do it," the Exponent, Purdue's newspaper, cried out. "Exposure to the elements is a health risk, and the faithful photographers of the Purdue Exponent may catch you at your coldest - not to mention having to explain why you ran at the Nude Olympics at your discipline hearing."

Princeton's Nude Olympics, despite their age and inspired passion among the student body, have garnered some influential opposition in the student ranks. Justin Luciani, president of Princeton's freshman class and a member of a presidential committee formed to study and reform the event, changed his stance on the Olympics after examining the facts before him.

"…I was completely against the banning of the event - I did not want to see the tradition ended with my class. However… after looking at all the atrocities and dangers of (the) Olympics, I was stunned," Luciani said. "I came to the realization that, with all of this year's publicity, it would be impossible for the Nude Olympics to be held again

"With the entire country reading about Princeton's Nude Olympics," Luciani continued, referring to unfavorable stories in the New York Times, Newsweek, and several Internet sites, "a future injury would be viewed by all as complete and blatant negligence on the part of the university."

As the tide of anti-nudity sentiment rises, it would appear to the casual clothed observer that naked college traditions are more threatened than ever. But as far as many students are concerned, that couldn't be farther from the truth.

Kristerfor Mastrondari, a senior at Princeton, refused to attach any greater symbolism to what he considers good clean (okay, maybe not exactly clean) innocent college fun.

"It was a blast," Mastrondari said. "Pure fun. In an unexpected sense, it was the ultimate feeling of comfort and freedom. Nothing to worry about, in a spiral of energy and emotion, tradition and friendship, it was all good."

And even the public-access airing of Michigan's Naked Mile drew its share of supporters.

"(The tape of the Naked Mile) has redeeming social value," Richard Naden, an Ann Arbor resident, was quoted as saying. "I think they should do [the run] three times a year at least. It's the happiest time I see in Ann Arbor." Which doesn't say much for Michigan's football season.

Matt Spewak is a senior at Michigan, and he evidently agrees with Naden's approval of the Naked Mile.

"It felt really, really liberating," said Spewak of the Mile, which he ran as both a freshman and a sophomore. "It was just a new experience. It's like jumping out of an airplane - it was really intense…. It was liberating in that ‘freshman college' way. No one really expects you to do it. Everybody says they'll do it, but it takes a lot of courage to go out and run in front of the school."

Spewak seems to grasp the bizarre, intangible root of these traditions' appeal when he speaks of the freedom college students feel when they run naked and wild on the hallowed campus grounds. All these reasons seem to fall under the vague blanket heading of the catch-all phrase, ‘the old college try.'

"I was looking to do the ‘college thing,'" said Rice student Mike Considine, a proud member of the Baker 13. "I was just a freshman - I was doing stuff for the sake of being in college. You think, this is college, this is what you're supposed to be doing."

Michael Lasker, a junior at USC, had perhaps the ultimate justification for his two Row Runs.

"It was the most liberating experience of my life," Lasker said. "There's nothing like flapping in the wind…"


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