After your first quarter at UChicago, most of your friends will approach you with a very serious question about the school you’ve chosen to attend: “Is it really where fun goes to die?” While UChicago wasn’t included on The Princeton Review’s list of top 20 party schools this year, there are still several traditions that spice up the life of the mind.
Kuviasungnerk Kangeiko (Kuvia)
To be considered a UChicago student, it’s almost a requirement to be so sleep deprived and mentally checked out that you end up worshiping pagan gods. If you’re not quite there yet, Kuvia is COUP’s helping hand. Held at Henry Crown Field House for a week in January, students wake up before sunrise, braving the cold to dance, do yoga, and do martial arts together. The exercises are supposed to help students keep their minds sharp in the dead of winter. The weeklong festival—named after the Inuit word for “pursuit of happiness” (kuviasungnerk) and Japanese samurai exercises (kangeiko)— concludes with a walk to the Point. Assuming you survive, you are rewarded with a chic Kuvia shirt, a hot beverage, and donuts.
Overheard during Kuvia: “I’ve gotten more sleep this week than I usually do.”
Polar Bear Run
In the afternoon of the last day of Kuvia, in the freezing cold, a group of students gather in Harper and take off all of their clothes. No, they aren’t University Theater performers experimenting with existential performance art: They’re getting ready to run from Harper Memorial Library to Hull Gate in nothing but their birthday suits. Students line the walkway and cheer on their friends in a gauntlet of speed, bravery, and shrinkage.
Overheard during Polar Bear Run: “I’ll never look at him the same way again.”
Heaven and Hell
Hosted by the Delta Upsilon (DU) fraternity, and called one of the most popular parties in the country by The New York Times, the Heaven and Hell party is no Dante’s Inferno. DU divides the three different floors in its house into heaven, purgatory, and hell for the dance floor, decorating each level accordingly. Apparently, the $10 that students shell out for the event does not cover alcohol; a DU spokesperson has said in the past that the fraternity has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking.
Overheard at Heaven and Hell: “I heard that there’s a long line for the bathroom in heaven, so I’m just going to hang out in purgatory and see how things shake out.”
For one evening during each of the last 66 years, some of the University’s most brilliant faculty have come together to debate the universe’s fundamental question: Which is the superior food, the latke or the hamentaschen? Those who have debated the merits of the traditional Jewish potato pancakes and cookies have ranged from professors who went on to be top advisors to President Barack Obama to philosophers to biologists. The event is so popular that when it was in jeopardy last year after staff changes at Hillel, students from the AEPi fraternity stepped in to organize the debate.
Overheard at the Latke-Hamentaschen debate: “True philosophy leads to the latke.”
For the past 27 years, hundreds of students have spent four days in May working together to build anything from a nuclear reactor to quirky octopus sweaters in a campus-wide scavenger hunt. The weekend can be polarizing—die-hard Scavvies are known for skipping classes, showers, and sleep, while other students avoid the hunt altogether. Teams generally consist of houses banded together in an effort to find or construct the most items possible from a top-secret list compiled by a team of mysterious Scav judges. Among the 318 items on last year’s list were an aquagraphic water curtain, Glenn Beck’s interpretation of Glee, and functioning piano stairs. A team consisting of students from Pierce, Stony Island, Broadview, MacLean and Max Palevsky won last year, taking the crown from Snell-Hitchcock, which has won five of the last seven hunts. Scav has also garnered attention beyond the University; the 2012 hunt was profiled in The New Yorker, and in 2011 Scav officially took the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest scavenger hunt, snatching the title from a few hundred Canadian school children.
Overheard during Scav: “Does anyone have connections at the South Pole?”
After months of hibernation, students celebrate the arrival of spring with the Summer Breeze festival. Hosted in May by the Major Activities Board (MAB) and the Council on University Programming (COUP), the festival features a carnival with tons of free food, rides, and games and a huge concert in the evening. Rapper Nelly headlined last year’s concert, with supporting acts from Lunice and the Smith Westerns. Crystal Castles, Nas, Spoon, Broken Social Scene, Run DMC, Psychedelic Furs, and U2 have played at the concert in the past. Unless you live in a frat, there’s no other way to get free cotton candy, go to a beer garden on campus, and ride a mechanical bull in one day.
Overheard during Summer Breeze: “Why isn’t every weekend like this?”
Hosted by the wrestling team on the day of Summer Breeze, students drink so much that they have absolutely no idea where they are by the time they show up for the concert. If you have yet to drink vodka from a mini ice luge, Bonanza is your chance.
Overheard at Bonanza: “Where am I?”
Legend has it that Einstein Bros. Bagels could move into the Reynolds Club only on the condition that they sold $1 milkshakes each week, a tradition established in the prior coffee shop. Years of inflation later, there’s consistently a line of students stretching out the door every Wednesday—more commonly referred to as Shake Day. Different flavors are served from morning to night, so it’s best to schedule your whole day around when they’ll be giving out cookies and cream.
Overheard at Shake Day: “Are these really milkshakes?”
Being Socially Awkward
If you’re walking across the quads and someone from class avoids eye contact with you, don’t take it personally. UChicago students may be able to do delta-epsilon proofs and understand complex price models, but small talk isn’t always their forte. Take any chance you can get to talk to new people. Even if it takes a little coaxing, they’re probably just as eager to talk to you.
Overheard being socially awkward: “Do you want another beer, or would you rather talk about the problem set?”
Don’t Step on the Seal
In the Reynolds Club lobby sits a gold version of the University seal. The legend goes that if you step on the seal, you won’t graduate in four years. While it might seem annoying to avoid the seal at first, you’ll soon find yourself snickering at the hundreds of prospective students who step on the seal during their tours, dooming their fate at the University. Spoiler alert: The tradition was started by faculty who didn’t want students to wear away the engraving.
Overheard while stepping on the seal: “I don’t know if these are tears of sadness or tears of joy.”
Loving/Hating the Core
You knew about it when you applied here, and you knew about it when you decided to attend, but you won’t truly understand the Core until you’re up at 3 a.m. writing a Sosc paper on Durkheim, surviving on a sugar rush from Bart Mart gummy bears and Red Bull. The Core can be what you make of it; writing seminars can be an opportunity to work closely with your Hum TA, or to peer-edit the work of that cute classmate that sits across from you. Before it’s all over, you will have six classes in the humanities, six in math and sciences, and three in social sciences under your belt. Those courses, in addition to the language requirements, will teach you how to approach ideas that you completely don’t understand and how to casually drop Foucault and Freud into conversation. If you think the Core is bad, you’re lucky that the University dropped its swimming and P.E. requirements last year.
Overheard while loving/hating the Core: “My parents have never heard of any of the writers I’m reading.”
Houses often raise money for bonding events by selling T-shirts with the University logo on the front and a self-deprecating slogan on the back. Regularly sold during prospective student weekends, the shirts make parents think twice before sending their children to UChicago. Some of the most famous slogans are “Where fun goes to die,” “Hell does freeze over,” and “Where the only thing that goes down on you is your GPA.” But, as you’ll hear again and again, don’t take them seriously; the only thing the slogans reflect is the wit of the student body.
Overheard while selling self-deprecating T-shirts: “It’s funny because it’s true.”
Every Wednesday night, students rush to finish their homework early (or skip it altogether) so that they can go to Bar Night at Alpha Delta Phi. Held in the fraternity’s basement, students can enjoy beer and other drinks for less than $5. It’ll leave your clothes reeking of cigarette smoke and is the reason why no one will show up to your 8:30 class on Thursday morning.
Overheard at Bar Night: “Was that my TA?”