BLOWING OFF STEAM AU NATUREL
As coed Robin Carol recounts, no one bothers with clothes during Tufts University’s most off-the-wall ritual.
At staid and prestigious Tufts University, even the purest, most innocent freshman has heard of the Naked Quad Run. The origins of this unique event, recently renamed the Nighttime Quad Reception (NQR) by the Boston area school’s administrators, have become clouded over the years.
One prevailing story is that the Naked Quad Run began as a protest after men and women were allowed to share a dormitory. But Sergeant Robert McCarthy of the campus police department disagrees. “It started a long time before West Hall even thought of becoming coed,” maintains McCarthy, who has worked at Tufts for 35 years.
Seth Ammerman (Class of ’76) dates the Naked Quad Run as far back as 1973. “Streaking had been going on for a number of years around the country,” he recalls, “but with individuals or small groups. This was the first one at Tufts with hundreds of people—and coed, which was great.”
Ammerman believes that students took part en masse in the nude dash primarily as an entertaining outlet to relieve stress and “to tweak authority.” The Tufts alumnus recollects, “Some people said that they were protesting for peace or against war or changes at the university. That was picked up by the media, but really, it was just to do something fun.”
McCarthy remembers streaking episodes in the ’70s, but says that the Naked Quad Run in its current form as a release from exam nerves began later. “In 1980, [students] made a thing about the ‘Loud Hour’ [during a traditionally mandated 23-hour quiet period], to make as much noise as you can,” the police sergeant recalls. “Come ten o’clock, people were opening windows and putting speakers out. Noise travels on top of that hill, and we got complaints all over [the neighboring towns of] Medford and Somerville.”
To contain the symphonic deluge, the administration encouraged students to run around the campus’s quad instead. One particular group had a unique interpretation of these instructions. “Fifteen or 20 guys from West Hall came out naked, ran once, went back in the dorm, and that was it,” McCarthy says. “Then every year it was the same thing.”
When West Hall became coed in 1987, the event grew in popularity. “The quad was packed with people, and ten o’clock comes,” McCarthy continues. “At first there were probably 50 guys running. Then here comes 25 or 30 girls, and everyone starts cheering. It got bigger every year.”
Unfortunately, bigger didn’t always mean better. The Naked Quad Run’s existence was jeopardized in 2002 after several students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning and assorted injuries. University President Lawrence Bacow sent out a stern e-mail stating that “the combination…of alcohol with a mad dash through an icy, hilly campus at night cannot continue.”
However, support for the unabashed spree prompted various university organizations to examine how it could continue more safely. Police involvement and the sanctioned Nighttime Quad Reception have proven to be successful.
“A lot of people got involved, like the Senate and the Dean’s Office to make it a controlled event, and it’s gotten better,” Sergeant McCarthy points out.
Ammerman cites the presence of intoxicating beverages as the biggest change to the event over the years, but one current student understands the need to imbibe. “People drink alcohol to feel comfortable in situations where they feel awkward,” sophomore Ben Strauss asserts. “That is a problem, but I don’t think that’s any worse for the Naked Quad Run. It’s funny because I was sober last year for NQR, and I had a very fun experience anyway.”
A new chapter in NQR lore coincided with the ability to post pictures or videos on the Internet. “[In the 1970s] there weren’t people around staring,” Ammerman says. “Everyone who came out was involved. These days, with cell phones and everything, you’ve got to be more wary.”
“I get worried as years pass,” senior Katie Winter reflects. “With YouTube and Facebook, something may show up years after the fact. I make sure to run where there are lots of people running around too.”
Even with these technological drawbacks, NQR probably won’t be vanishing any time soon. “It’s evolved over the years,” McCarthy declares. “I don’t think it’s going to [disappear]. It’s hard to stop it, and if it’s going to happen anyhow, we try to do it as safely as possible.”
Looking back, Ammerman admits that during his college years he wouldn’t have expected NQR to endure as a Tufts tradition. “I thought maybe it would come and go like many fads do,” he observes, “but I think the moral of the story is that college kids like to run around naked.”
Sophomore Robin Carol has been writing for the Tufts Daily since she was a freshman. The international relations major remained completely dressed during her coverage of the Naked Quad Run.
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