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
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.
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
has even been at least one Naked Row Run undertaken by a runner'
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
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
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
"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
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
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