Tufts no longer a quirky paradise?

Once a source of trick-turning joy, Hodgdon has tightened its belt, squelching another Tufts tradition. Courtesy Nicholas Pfosi

Like it or not, Tufts University seems to be closely associated with a quality that has become quite the buzzword in recent years: quirk. Though some students resist and even resent this association, more still cling to it as the deciding factor in their college decision and a key component of the atmosphere that Tufts has afforded them as students. Many, however, are left wondering what the “quirky” label means and how it manifests itself in the day-to-day functions and traditions on campus. In the past, it appears that many students, faculty and staff members would point to traditions like the Naked Quad Run (NQR), casual nudity at the Loj — Tufts Mountain Club’s (TMC) cabin in New Hampshire — and even “trick -turning” as evidence of Tufts personality.

However, in recent years, these traditions have been systematically eradicated from the campus zeitgeist. Though the university is still known for YouTube supplement videos and late-night cannon painting, it is hard to set aside recent changes to Tufts’ campus culture. Indeed, many first year students may be confused when reading this piece, since NQR was officially banned in 2011 and trick-turning saw its final days last spring. They will never experience these quintessential Tufts experiences.

Due to this gap in experience, it is important now to explain these former Tufts traditions and the impact they have had on many students. The NQR was a Tufts tradition which began in the 1970s and was passed down through many generations of Jumbos. The idea behind the run was simple: Right before finals, students of all years would gather in uphill dorms like Houston and Hill and, in unison, burst out into the freezing cold to do laps around the Res Quad sporting their finest birthday suits. As would be expected, this event was strongly associated with drinking alcohol and, because of that, many students would do the Naked Quad Run drunk. Alumnus Benjamin Helm (E ’14), who was a freshman the year that NQR was banned, was a part of the last group lucky enough to participate in the tradition.

“I had heard about [NQR] as a prefrosh and was super excited to do it. The night itself was crazy; they set up a huge fence and hay bales around the Res quad and tons of people would come to watch — students and townies and probably professors too, I have no idea,” Helm said.

In fact, between 2002 and NQR’s final year, 2011, the administration and Tufts police force sanctioned the event. In an opinion piece titled “NQR reconsidered” written to the Tufts Daily on Mar. 14, 2011, then-president Lawrence S. Bacow cited worries from Deans and the Tufts Police that NQR was unsafe. Many students were in danger of alcohol poisoning, sprained ankles and broken bones due to the extremely low temperatures and slippery sidewalks of the late-autumn night. In order to establish some semblance of safety during the event, Bacow said the administration had worked with Facilities and the Tufts Police to provide some supervision and safety barriers.

But, according to Bacow, these attempts had proved futile. He ultimately banned the event in the spring of 2011, a decision he defended in the aforementioned article. In his opinion piece, Bacow wrote, “Even if I did not act now, NQR would end some day. The only question is whether a student has to die first. We cannot allow this to happen, and the Naked Quad Run will not continue.”

One need only google “Tufts NQR” to find a slew of news articles about Tufts’ banning the event — including blurbs in the Huffington Post, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. Unsurprisingly, the cancellation of the event sent waves throughout the Tufts community and even across the country.

When asked to shed light on the campus atmosphere surrounding the cancellation of NQR, Helm said, “I think they announced they were going to ban it in the spring of my freshman year and people were pretty upset. That night a bunch of people, myself included, did an impromptu NQR which was awesome.”

This kind of attachment to campus traditions has manifested itself once again following the elimination of trick-turning. Trick-turning, for those first-years who were once blissfully unaware, was a clever way to bypass the meal time restrictions between Dewick-MacPhie and Carmichael dining halls and the Hodgdon On-The-Run options. In the days of trick-turning, students with Premium (commonly called Unlimited) Meal Plans could swipe into Dewick or Carmichael and then, in the same meal period, swipe into Hodgdon without incurring any additional charge. Many students could only begin to imagine the joy that trick-turning brought. What’s more, trick-turning was not just a fun tradition to be a part of — many students viewed trick-turning as a pragmatic choice to find food on a campus with few late-night dining options. The frustration at the loss has been exacerbated this year by the renovations in the Commons Deli & Grill in the campus center.

In an interview with the Tufts Daily last April, Patti Klos, the Director of Dining and Business Services, suggested that “trick-turning” was not intended as a permanent element of the Tufts Dining experience. With the countless upgrades and renovations that Tufts has been making, things like trick-turning seem to be relegated to the archives of memory and legend for future Tufts students.

All of this is not to suggest that traditions like NQR and trick-turning were not dangerous or expensive to maintain. Of course, the thought of inebriated students running over frozen sidewalks paints a dangerous picture. Of course, trick-turning is an expensive glitch in an already expensive dining system. Of course. But maybe, on a campus that has recently had trouble living up to its “quirky” label, it seems like the cost of losing these traditions is impossible to calculate. The constant alterations to many Tufts institutions (think of Tufts Dance Collective, Fall Ball and Winter Bash) due to overhead and liability for the University come as constant threats to  Tufts’ campus culture. These inheritable events that Tufts once proudly boasted — exciting moments that brought students from all disciplines, class years and groups together — have been lost to renovations and modernization.

So, Tufts students are once again left with an important question: Who are we as a student body and how do we engage with our campus? It’s hard to say. Thankfully, many students have found pockets of the undergraduate community to which they belong, carving out a niche for themselves despite Tufts’ cultural erosion. But, does that really make it okay?

“It’s just one more thing that all Tufts alumni won’t have in common anymore,” said Helm.  Campus traditions are an important way to build community. And while safety should be a paramount concern, so too should the experiences, desires and opportunities of Tufts students. Students continue to watch on as campus traditions are altered and replaced, changed and cancelled. And while the concerns of the administration are valid, it is easy to wonder whether their actions are beneficial to the Tufts community at large.

“It’s always unfortunate ending traditions that make a school unique and tie the people that went there together,” Helm said. “I know they say that it’s fun to start new traditions, but starting a tradition yourself never seems to have as much meaning as having one passed down to you.”