Halloween at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) is a big deal.
A really, really, really big deal.
In a tradition that dates back to at least the early 1980s, as many as 80,000 people — students and out-of-towners alike — flood nearby Franklin Street every year on October 31 to celebrate at an open-air party that attracts visitors from across the Southeast. Elaborate costumes are common, as are alcohol-related incidents and other not-too-surprising troubles, so the community has been trying to dial down the unsanctioned event for years. (As is the University of Colorado at Boulder, home of another epic Halloween celebration. This year the university sent out a memo urging students not to wear costumes that could be considered racist or offensive, after a series of recent controversies at the school.)
But UNC is far from alone when it comes to less-than-traditional college traditions.
Dance marathons: Northwestern University near Chicago holds claim to what is considered to be one of the largest student-run philanthropies in the country: the Northwestern University Dance Marathon. Now in its 40th year, the event raises money for a rotating roster of charities, and in 2013, more than 1,000 students danced for 30 hours to raise $1.2 million for the Chicago-based Danny Did Foundation, an epilepsy awareness organization. Not to be outdone, Penn State University hosts its own two-day dance marathon — aka THON — every February in what it calls the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.
Unicycle tours: What is the Foster’s Run, you ask? It’s a nearly 20-mile round-trip unicycle ride from the campus of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., to a local doughnut shop. Students have been completing the challenge annually since the 1970s.
Art rentals: Students and faculty members at Oberlin College in northern Ohio are able to rent original artwork from the school’s art museum — including more than 100 masterpieces from the likes of Matisse, Picasso, Warhol and Dali — to hang in their own homes for an entire semester. The cost? Just $5. The practice began in 1940, and to date, none of the artwork has been lost or damaged.
Trivia contests: Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., has been hosting the Great Midwest Trivia Contest, a 50-hour trivia marathon that attracts players from around the world, every January since 1966. Broadcast online as well as via the university’s student-run radio station, the event is also sometimes called the “world’s longest-running trivia contest,” because the last question from the current year comes up again as the first question the next year.
Picnics: Picnic Day has been a tradition at the University of California, Davis for going on a century now (the 100th edition will be held in April 2014), and is essentially a giant open house for the campus, with more than 150 free events that “commemorate the research, teaching, service, and campus life of U.C. Davis.” And it’s big — more than 125,000 people participated in 2013.
Bicycle races: The Little 500 bicycle race, held annually on the campus of Indiana University since 1951, has become such a big deal that it has been broadcast since 2002 on Mark Cuban’s television network AXS TV. (It was the focus of the 1979 classic "Breaking Away.") Organized by the Indiana University Student Foundation, the event pits teams of four against each other in a 50-mile relay race along a quarter-mile track. Think Indianapolis 500 ... on bikes.
Hash bash: In 1972, the Michigan Supreme Court struck down a law that had been used to convict an activist for possessing a small amount of marijuana, leaving the drug technically legal in the state for a few weeks that spring. Not surprisingly, students at the University of Michigan took notice, and a tradition was born. These days, the annual Hash Bash includes speeches, live music and various other activities centered around the reform of federal, state and local marijuana laws.
What did we miss? What unusual traditions does your own school celebrate?