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5 Unusual University Rituals

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Many universities around the world (especially in America) have time-honoured traditions for students to take part in. From naked jaunts around the campus to ghost stories and superstitions, lots of students will take part in at least one of these rituals during their university careers.

Although a not-too-surprising number of these rituals involve nudity in some form or another, many do not and these are the slightly more interesting and unique of the bunch. For that reason, we have not included any stunts that feature nudity in this, our top five strange university rituals.

#1 The Fence – Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University has a low fence that students are allowed to paint themselves. The only conditions are that the entire length of the fence must be painted between midnight and sunrise and that no tools may be used other than a paintbrush (no sprays etc.) Originally made of wood, the fence was entered into the Guinness Book of Records for “the most painted object in the world.”

The original wooden fence collapsed under the weight of hundreds of layers of paint, and it was remade in concrete in 1993.

#2 Ascension Day – Lincoln College and Brasenose College

Lincoln College and Brasenose College are rival colleges in Oxford. The rivalry dates back to Oxford’s town and gown riots, where scholars battled with the non-academic population and many people were killed.

It was during these riots (according to the legend) that an angry mob of civilians were chasing two students (one from each college) through the town. Upon reaching the doors of Lincoln College, refuge was only offered to their own student. The Brasenose student was then promptly beaten to death by the pursuing mob.

In order to make amends for this callousness, an inter-connecting door between the two colleges is unlocked on every Ascension Day and the Lincoln side serve pints of beer to the Brasenose scholars.

#3 The Seal – High Point University

North Carolina’s High Point University has its opening ceremony and its commencement ceremony in the same building. This building also contains the university seal.

Once the opening ceremony has finished, students must walk across the seal to symbolise their entrance into the university. However superstition states that, if a student crosses the seal again before the commencement ceremony, then they will fail to graduate.

#4 Rafinesque Week – Transylvania University

Disappointingly, Transylvania University is not located in Dracula’s fabled home, but rather in Kentucky, USA. However, the significance of the name combined with the fact that not one, but two 19th century professors have their bodies entombed on campus, has led to a huge Halloween festival known as “Rafinesque Week” (or “Raf Week,” colloquially).

Named after the botanist, inventor and professor Constantine Rafinesque (one of the aforementioned corpses). Rafinesque drew much controversy from the scientific community for his views on the way that plants should be named. He also was rumoured to frequently miss classes and that the lectures that he did deliver were of a level far beyond his students’ comprehension. These factors, combined with an apparent affair with the university’s president led to his sacking in 1826.

According to the legend however, Rafinesque placed a curse on the university that persists to this day and it is this curse that “Raf Week” seeks to appease. Therefore the week leading up to Halloween is packed with unusual and spooky events and traditions. Most prominent of all is a lottery draw for one lucky student to spend the night in the legendary professor’s tomb.

#5 James W. Dooley – Emory University

“Presidents may come, presidents may go; professors may come, professors may go; students may come, students may go; but Dooley goes on forever!” – Dooley’s Motto

James W. Dooley is a biology lab skeleton who safeguards the indomitable spirit of Emory University in Atlanta. Every spring, in a week dedicated to his honour, he comes to life and wanders the campus, flanked by his sunglasses and white-glove-wearing bodyguards. With his signature top hat, cane, cape and medallion, if Dooley arrives at your class, the lesson is immediately dismissed.

The identity of the person under Dooley’s mantle is a closely guarded secret and the chosen one is selected from within a special society. His appearance on campus heralds the beginning of a whole week of fun and unusual activities.

So, there you have five of the more interesting and unique traditions that take place at various universities and colleges. Please understand that we didn’t include nudity based rituals not out of moral outrage, but rather because they are not usually particularly imaginative, usually involved taking your clothes off and running across and/or around something.

However, we may think that the five above are shining examples of weird, historic and unusual traditions, but maybe you can do better? Do you know of any weird and wonderful rituals that take place at your local university, or that you have taken part in yourself? As always, please let us know in the comments. Have fun.


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