From sprinting to Franklin Street after a special men's basketball victory to drinking water from the Old Well to earn good luck — and a 4.0 GPA — UNC has established quite the selection of treasured rituals students and alumni alike have carried on throughout the school's 232-year history.
For new students and old, understanding these traditions are a critical element to becoming immersed in UNC's student culture.
Whether you’re watching from the Dean E. Smith Center, a friend’s apartment, one of the many restaurants on Franklin Street or even your own dorm room, Tar Heels always have their running shoes ready when it’s the night of a men's basketball game against Duke.
If UNC defeats its blue-blooded rivals, students from across Chapel Hill will dash toward the intersection of Franklin and Columbia streets to celebrate together.
“When there’s a Duke basketball game, you don’t do anything else during the whole day,” rising junior Kayla Nesbitt said.
For some students, this rush to Franklin Street after a win can stretch more than a mile, especially if they are starting all the way from the dorms on South Campus.
The long-standing tradition of rushing traces back to at least the 1950s, but was first documented in its entirety in 1981, when UNC played against Virginia in the Final Four and claimed a 13-point victory.
Since then, crowds have become so big that the Town restricts parking and closes some streets ahead of UNC-Duke and some NCAA basketball games in anticipation of a potential rush.
So if you happen to see a mattress on fire amidst a crowd on Franklin Street late at night in the middle of basketball season, do not be alarmed. That means Duke has lost, and North Carolina has won the biggest rivalry in college basketball.
Beyond sports, there are other traditions UNC students hold for classes and finals.
On the first day of class, students flock to McCorkle Place to take a drink from the Old Well.
This practice is based on the belief that if a student drinks from the well on the first day of the semester, they will have good luck in their classes and achieve a perfect 4.0 GPA.
A long line will always form due to the number of students trying to get a sip.
Some students even got up early in the morning to beat the line before everyone else, like UNC class of 2022 graduate Chris Rosario. He said this was his favorite tradition, even when the weather didn't permit it.
“My sophomore year, it was raining all night, and there were people huddling under the Old Well itself," Rosario said. "That was a great time."
While this Old Well custom takes place at the beginning of the semester, another well-known tradition happens right at the end.
During finals, on the night before the first day of exams, groups of exhausted students will take their clothes off in unison and streak through Davis Library, cheered on by hundreds of classmates.
Participants gather on the eighth floor of the library, ditch their clothing and begin the dash when the clock strikes midnight.
They run down the stairs of each floor all the way to the first floor, where they continue outside through the main doors and make a run for the next destination — the Undergraduate Library — before circling back to Davis to retrieve their clothes.
“You have to get seats an hour before it starts,” Nesbitt said.
It’s such a popular event that the library is packed shoulder to shoulder inside, with students also gathering outside to watch the commotion.
Streaking and other traditions at the University are not limited by inclement weather, as proven by the more informal tradition of sledding when snow occasionally falls in Chapel Hill.
At first sight of snow, many students layer up and find something to sled with, before barreling down whatever slope they can find.
“I remember my freshman year, it snowed and we were out of class for two days,” UNC alumna Sara Coello said.
Though first-year students may not fully understand these rituals immediately, participating in them can help make the transition to a new campus easier and get them more acquainted with their new home.
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