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

Tufts no longer a quirky paradise?

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.”

5 Responses

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  1. Albino Squirrel
    Sep 25, 2014 - 12:44 PM

    the quad run was doomed as soon as the university took control, that was immediately clear. let’s also talk about how 21+ used to be able to bring their own 6-packs into spring fling! or how you used to never get in trouble fopr caling tems for friends, until you did. but now you don’t anymore. the memory hole here is absurd, and the daily does not read enough of their own archives to bring this realization to the student body.

    Reply
    • Troy Landry
      Oct 15, 2014 - 09:56 AM

      The pattern is clear, and the realization that we should bring to the student body is this: the administration doesn’t like it when we binge drink (for obvious reasons). Whether or not we like this seemingly parental relationship between the student body and the administration, in which we have to prove our responsibility in order to maintain privileges, we have to adjust to this reality if we really want to hold on to what is important to us. Imagine the student body collectively (seriously, just imagine) deciding to attend NQR without having consumed any alcohol. Sure safety concerns are still in the picture, but they don’t attract nearly the same amount of attention as it might when everyone is drunk.
      TDC was not mentioned throughout all of this. Even though it is still around, we have to remember that that wasn’t a given a few months back. Who knows, we could experience TDC for the last time this semester, but it entirely depends on how much we really care about it being a part of our collective Tufts experience.
      It’s pretty clear that we having a drinking problem (not in the traditional sense of the term). Seeking out alcohol and consuming it in our free time is pretty normative behavior around here, even when acquiring it is grossly inconvenient. You can see it on any given night, in the lines outside of fraternities, or students hopping frantically from one fraternity to another, in hopes of getting their fix of the goods (and we all know that the goods is actually pretty awful). And to be entirely honest, I don’t know anything past the facade of these man houses, since I’ve never been to a frat party, but I can’t imagine that sweat+yelling men+swarming the bar+maybe getting touched or looked at in a way that makes you feel gross=fun.
      So when the rare opportunity comes around that the student body can rally around, our instinctual pallets start to salivate, and we drink. And we set the mood. And we set the fate of that tradition.
      TLDR: more quirky less drunky

      Reply
  2. Bob Loblaw
    Sep 25, 2014 - 01:54 PM

    If you have to rely on a loophole in the food plan and an ill-advised naked run in unsafe conditions (in which townies gawk and post picture on the internet) to maintain “quirky,” you have a bigger problem. Tufts has plenty of other traditions which make it quirky, but the real measure of that oft-referred to quality is the people and what they do throughout the school. How about you start something new and stop complaining?

    Reply
  3. The truth
    May 02, 2016 - 08:28 AM

    It’s called saving your own ass so your college won’t be in a lawsuit for rape or sexual assault in the long run. As I’ve gotten older now I realize that college is a place where kids from 18-22 just do everything except get a job and get the most out of their education. so by the time you graduate you have a bad liver, 100,000 in debt and no job to obtain because there’s videos and pics of your dong or boobs flopping everywhere doing a stupid run. Not trying to be a buzzkill, but just telling it like it is.

    Reply
  4. TuftsAlum_89
    May 02, 2016 - 10:16 AM

    The history of the NQR as presented in this article is not correct. An annual streaking of the quad began, I think, sometime in the 1970s, but the participants were only those who lived in West Hall, the last remaining all-male dorm on campus. The men would streak a lap or two around the quad, unannounced, one night during the three-day reading period before final exams, and the event was only witnessed by those who happened to be out during loud hour. I lived in West Hall for the 1985-86 school year and took part in the run, along with about half of the guys who lived there. A few of us ran the following year as “West Hall alumni.” After West Hall became co-ed (I think starting the 1987-88 school year), the streaking became co-ed as well, but was still limited to residents of the dorm. I’m not sure when the event turned into a campus-wide, if not town-wide spectacle known as NQR, but in the 1980s, the naked run around the quad was simply a break from studying, and there were never any problems. Most students ignored the event. And no one was ever drunk and disorderly – after all, we had final exams to take.

    Reply

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