Berkeley Traditions: Down But Not Out.
Over Time, UC Rituals Vanish or Evolve

by Amy Graff, The Daily Californian, 19 September 1995

Parasol WalkDressed in white and with a parasol in her hand, Dorothy ROSS, class of 1935, walked through the UC Berkeley campus her senior year during the university's annual pilgrimage.

"The purpose was to say goodbye to the campus, and all your friends were there, so you said goodbye to them too," ROSS said of the tradition, which came to an end during the World War II years.

"The girls all dressed in white and carried little white parasols, and everybody walked around campus to all the prominent buildings. Of course, then there weren't as many buildings," she added.

While the senior pilgrimage eventually died out during the 1940s, it is part of the university's rich and colorful history. But although the campus has a legacy of strong traditions, including ongoing rituals like the Big Game, many have changed or disappeared.

Bill ROBERTS, the archivist at the Bancroft Library and former UC Berkeley graduate student, said the importance of tradition on campus has decreased over the years.

"I don't get the impression that there's a great deal of tradition that affects the students. It's a function of the size, or maybe it's a function of the way our society has changed," ROBERTS said. "Before it was a more cohesive society. After World War II, it changed a lot. There was a huge influx of students. A lot of the traditions disappeared."

But anthropology Professor Alan DUNDES, an expert on folklore, said tradition still exists and is important on campus because it is what college graduates most remember.

"We have a football team, the Big "C" up on the hill, fraternities and sororities, the chimes in the Campanile, and the Cal band. There are traditions everywhere we look. They're just different — some old ones drop and new ones form," DUNDES said.

"When people leave Cal, what do you think they remember? Do you think they remember the classes and exams they took? No, they remember the school's traditions, the school colors and the Cal songs," he added.

DUNDES, who has done extensive research on UC Berkeley tradition, also remembers many of the university's lost traditions.

He said that during the '20s and '30s, students met under an Oak tree in front of Wheeler Hall. ROSS said that she recalls the tree.

"The Wheeler Oak was there when I was there. It was a place to meet. We'd all say, 'Meet at the oak,'" ROSS said.

Now that the tree is gone, DUNDES said he believes Upper Sproul Plaza is where students congregate.

DUNDES said another faded tradition, which began in 1878, was the burning of books. This started when first-year students decided to place their required mathematics textbooks in a bonfire. As years passed, other books were burned.

"Books are too expensive now. They weren't cheap then, but they weren't $40 to $50. Plus, now you'd have to burn floppy disks and computers," DUNDES said.

Although many of the events no longer take place, DUNDES said he still sees a sense of traditional spirit on campus.

Leon SCHMIDT, a supervisor at the information desk in Sproul Hall, sees the annual football match against Stanford University as the event holding UC Berkeley tradition together.

"Around the Big Game, students come together to root against other students. The band plays in Sproul. You have these college rivalries, and students get involved because it's 'my campus versus your campus,'" SCHMIDT said.

Eric REINHARD, the administrative coordinator of the university's New Student Programs, said the axe is a Big Game custom that has remained strong throughout UC Berkeley's history since 1899.

REINHARD explained that the axe was originally used by Stanford cheerleaders in their 'Give 'em the Axe' yell until UC Berkeley fans stole the axe at one of the games. After years of changing hands without mutual knowledge, the axe became a trophy awarded to the winner of the annual Big Game in 1933.

"The axe essentially represents the rivalry between Cal and Stanford. It also represents student spirit and the history of both institutions," said REINHARD, a UC Berkeley graduate.

REINHARD said the Big "C" in the Berkeley Hills is another tradition centering around the Big Game. He said Stanford tries to paint the Big "C" red, but the Rally Committee guards it 24 hours a day throughout the week before the game.

Student-Athlete Advisor John SULLIVAN believes a renewal of tradition is necessary because of the changing student body.

"They need to realize things have changed. The student body has changed in terms of diversity. A lot of students from different backgrounds don't understand the traditions, and so it gets lost because a lot of students can't relate to it. A lot of the traditions are based on values that weren't in their culture," said SULLIVAN, a former UC Berkeley football player.

ROSS can testify to the changes in history and the university. For example, she recalls the rules in residence halls being much stricter.

"The cops came around and locked the dorms at night at 10 p.m. when you were supposed to be in. Whenever we left, we had sign-up sheets and had to say where we were going, even if it was the library," ROSS said.

On the other hand, DUNDES said tradition has adapted to the changing times.

"There's a lot of computer lore — the Internet and all that talk. It's no longer wisdom teeth, 'my grandmother's dead' or 'the dog ate my paper.' Now it's 'I spilled coffee on my disk' or 'the printer wouldn't print,'" DUNDES said.

Some traditions are kept alive through stories told by people, such as campus tour guides. Tour guides inform visitors and students about some UC Berkeley traditions.

"We always read a list of traditions on our tours, but we have to say this is what we used to do. This is what we did a long time ago," said Lynna TSOU, a tour guide and senior.

TSOU always tells the story of Pedro the dog on her tours.

"Pedro was a dog of one of the presidents, and one night the dog was lost. The community looked for the dog, but no one found him. The president said if the dog was found he'd cancel finals for that semester," TSOU said.

She added that the tradition says that near finals, students yelled the dog's name on campus hoping Pedro would respond.

REINHARD said the search for Pedro has never stopped.

"I've heard it occasionally late at night before finals. I've even said it before," REINHARD said.

TSOU blames the lack of tradition on student indifference.

"Student apathy is so great on this campus. First of all, because of the size, and also I don't think the classes are united anymore," TSOU said.

DUNDES advises that students hold onto tradition.

"Without tradition life is without meaning. If there were no tradition there would be no Christmas, birthdays, weddings, graduations. Everything that's meaningful is tradition. If you don't have tradition, you have nothing," DUNDES said.

©1995 The Daily Californian
Extremophiles Inc.