Why We Undie Run: Experts say the Chapman tradition is a display of communal rebellion

Merzia Cutlerywala didn’t know where she was running to during her first Undie Run in fall 2016. She didn’t know what to expect, or what everyone would be wearing, other than the name of the tradition being her only indicator. One thing she did know was that she was excited.

“At first, it was weird running around with no clothes, but then I got used to it and it was a fun time. It’s going to be my fourth Undie Run next week,” said the sophomore business administration major.

Wednesday of finals week every semester, thousands of Chapman students congregate under Schmid Gate for one of the universities most beloved – and infamous – student traditions. At midnight, the mass of half-naked students makes its way down Glassell St. Swarms of participants drunkenly weave their way to the Orange Circle and back, where many take the opportunity to stand, dance and take pictures on the Chapman University sign on Memorial Lawn. Surrounded by police cars and officers blocking entryways, random Orange residents playing lookeeloo, and makeshift fences shielding every fountain in sight, some say the Undie Run is a recipe for public lunacy.

A herd of students makes its way down Glassell street at the fall 2017 Undie Run – Photo by PEGGY WOOD

“It’s just a night to de stress from finals and it’s the idea of the college lifestyle,” said sophomore business administration major Queenie Li. “It’s not for everyone, but (it’s) a part of Chapman’s culture.”

For most Chapman undie runners, it’s an excuse to party during finals week. It’s both a stress reliever and act of rebellion, but experts claim the reasons run much deeper. The streaking movement has its roots in the 1970s, when in the spring of 1974 there was a surge of university students running across campus completely naked, according to a study from the American Sociological Association. Now, undie runs and events like them seem to have replaced the streaking fad, turning the bravery of one naked individual  into a group endeavour. Whatever appeal there is in hopping in your birthday suit, it seems to be all the rage.

The seemingly strange tradition is not unique to Chapman. At Arizona State University, “Bras and Boxers” is a charity event where students shed their clothes before running across campus, and all the clothes get donated to GoodWill. Cupid’s Charity is dedicated to fighting neurofibromatosis, a type of cancer, and the organization hosts undie runs all across the country to raise money. Then there’s the University of Santa Cruz’ “First Rain”, where students run butt-naked after the first rain of the school year.

Even those who don’t participate in the partying associated with the Run see the night as a quintessential part of Chapman social scene.

Folks employ nudity as a device for all kinds of reasons, purposes, and effects,” she said. “In any given scenario though, it becomes an image whose meaning – like that of any sign – doesn’t stand still.”

Even those who don’t participate in the partying associated with the Run see the night as a quintessential part of Chapman social scene.

Mass disrobing and the suspension of what is perceived as “socially normal behavior” is a reflection of society’s need to show empowerment, rebelliousness, and gender equality, sociology, said and women’s studies professor Clara Magliola, a women’s studies professor at Chapman said.

“In times of stress, reminders about ‘all being in it together and invitations to throw off caring for an hour or so can be very refreshing,” said Ruth Barcan, author of Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy. “These old ideas about nakedness don’t always match up to the far more complex embodied and gendered realities of nudity – people judging bodies, people feeling bad about bodies, feelings of not being safe, the threat of violence or stigma and so on.”

Barcan said the the physical experience of nakedness combined with the thrill of breaking a social taboo can be an “exhilarating combination” for people, and said nakedness has a deep historical legacy as a natural social leveler.

Despite this, some students have noticed that gender differences can become exacerbated at Undie Run.

“Boys see every event as an opportunity to get hammered and girls see every events as an opportunity to take pictures. Boys don’t tend to be concerned about needing a photo to post to Instagram, but everyone sees it as a drinking event,” said Caitlyn Jacquemart, sophomore health science major and two-time undie runner .

“It’s a strange tradition but everyone does it, so it’s okay,” Jacquemart said.

Jacquemart also said there is no shortage of creepy bystanders.  

A group of bystanders protested last semester’s run with signs that told students to “obey Jesus”. Some students got in verbal arguments with the protestors | Photo by PEGGY WOOD

Despite many runners complaining about those observing the Undie Run, particularly middle-aged and older men; but Li said there is still an underlying sense of empowerment because of the group mindset it creates.

“People are doing whatever they want during the event. There’s no stress just doing their thing without caring really. Since it is so carefree, I would say that’s empowering.” Li said.

In many ways, Undie Run is another item on the long list just one of excuses college students come up with to get drunk and go out with friends. For others, the fun comes from the rebellious mindset the run evokes. For about 15 minutes, maybe 20 if you’re lucky, all that matters is being part of the group. As Barcan said, this sense of togetherness is something nudity creates by levelling the playing field; in making themselves more physically vulnerable, students create a group comradery that is unique to the obscure tradition.

“Everything about undie run is unique. I mean everyone is running around in their undergarment,” Cutlerywala said.

+ posts

Write a Comment