Tradition or terror? Naked students have run through UNC libraries for more than 40 years
To any bystander, the sight of college kids running naked through a library would be shocking. But at UNC, it’s just a beloved tradition.
“There is a certain degree of secrecy amongst streakers, so I can’t quite explain how we know where to meet and go,” graduate Justine Schnitzler said. “The idea is generally that folks hear about the event as UNC lore and find their way with friends who have participated before.”
Schnitzler has participated in the streaking for the past three semesters.
“I figure you only get a few chances in life to run completely naked through your university library, so I jumped each semester at the chance to be ridiculous for a few minutes.”
This semester, Schnitzler was able to convince her friend, junior Rachel Maguire, to do it with her.
“I thought it would be really fun to participate in like such an iconic Carolina tradition, and Justine had hyped it up a lot,” Maguire said. “Everyone was really, really excited and pumped, and once everyone had taken off their clothes, it was not uncomfortable at all. Honestly, it felt totally natural, which I was not expecting, and that was really cool.”
Graduate Daniel Farrell wasn’t a veteran streaker either.
“It was my first time and (it’s) senior year, so I said, ‘Why not?’” he said.
Farrell said the streakers met at the flagpole on the quad at 11:45 p.m, a meeting spot he said he heard about from a friend. They then head to Davis Library.
Apparently, undressing on the eighth floor of Davis isn’t as uncomfortable as it sounds.
“It’s really like body positive, and accepting of all body shapes,” Maguire said.
“It’s kind of laughable,” Farrell said. “Like once everyone gets naked, you’re just kind of all laughing, like this is kind of absurd.”
Despite the absurdity, he said that streaking through the library was exhilarating.
“It’s pretty freeing,” he said. “It’s just kind of like, ‘I’m actually doing this.’ It was kind of like a high.”
And once the high wears off, it’s still no big deal.
“Walking back after finishing the event is such an incredibly humanizing moment. Everyone is comfortable with each other at that point, and suddenly it’s no big deal to be naked in public. It’s like one giant taboo you get to break.”
This past semester marked the 40th anniversary of the tradition at Carolina.
According to Nick Graham, the University archivist, streaking first occurred at UNC on March 7, 1974.
“It was part of a national trend,” Graham said. “It was happening at college campuses all over the country, but it seems to have been especially popular in North Carolina and I have no idea why.”
There was a friendly streaking competition between North Carolina universities, such as Duke, Western Carolina University, N.C. State and Wake Forest.
UNC students decided they wanted to break the record for most streakers to turn out on a college campus. The evening of March 7, 1974, just under 1,000 students gathered nude in Mangum and Joyner residence halls and made their way down Raleigh St., through the Undergraduate Library and South Building, around the Old Well and back to the dorms.
However, that same night, students at the University of Georgia also broke the record. According to a 2005 article of The Red and Black, UGA’s school newspaper, 1,543 nude students streaked across UGA’s campus, beating UNC’s turnout.
“I think that UNC should try to get the record back from the University of Georgia,” Graham said.
In 1977, students started streaking for the tradition’s true reason — to honor finals. That spring, students from UNC’s chapter of St. Anthony Hall, the co-ed art fraternity, decided to streak through the Undergraduate Library on the last day of classes. Graham said as far as he could tell, students have been streaking in the library before finals every semester since.
Judy Panitch, director of library communications, said that the library neither sponsors nor plans the event.
“Our main concern is, as it always is, that whoever is in the library is safe, and that the people who are here to use the library for research and study are able to do so,” Panitch said.
She said if the libraries wanted to stop streaking, it would not be something they could decide or do on their own.
“That would certainly have more involvement from the University and Public Safety,” she said.
Graham said records from Chancellor Ferebee Taylor, who was chancellor from 1972-1980, include a folder designated only for campus streaking. The file contains letters from people in North Carolina complaining about the event. People were angry at the display of nudity, and that the University was not doing more to crack down on it.
“They didn’t want their taxpayer money supporting a school where people were gonna be streaking,” Graham said. “The letters were like that. They were pretty funny.”
Even after the letters came in, the University left the tradition alone. Administrators encouraged students to stay on campus and not to bother anyone, but other than that, they stayed out of it. In fact, Dean Boulton — Dean of Student Affairs at the time of the controversy — referred to streaking as “a big display of campus spirit.”
Since then, streaking in Davis the night before finals start has become just another norm at Carolina.
Junior Katy Harper took a study break to watch the streakers. Harper believed that the Davis streakers wasn’t too out of the ordinary in comparison to other Carolina traditions.
“I feel like it’s pretty similar in terms of like one of the things you know about,” Harper said. “You’re like okay, you’re gonna rush Franklin when we win and you’re also going to see streakers in the library.”
Her friend Kaitlyn Goodson, who watched the streakers with her, agreed.
“Even if it is streaking, it really brings everyone together,” Goodson, a junior, said. “I think it’s very much like a community thing.”
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