What unites whipped cream with convocation? Socrates with Scav Hunt? Yoda with yoga?
During his address at the University’s 487th convocation, President Robert J. Zimmer remarked at how, if we took ourselves back to any point in our history, “we would know unmistakably that we were at the University of Chicago.”
President Zimmer—among many others—attributes these feelings of continuity and cohesion to our enduring tradition of open and intense inquiry, pervasive across all our divisions and schools. Indeed, one always knows when he or she is in a University of Chicago conversation, but even our seemingly nonacademic traditions have a unique UChicago quality.
Traditions and Superstitions
The phoenix, a mythical bird that is born anew from its own ashes, is the official mascot of the University of Chicago’s athletic teams. Confusingly, although our mascot is Phil the Phoenix, UChicago athletes and fans are actually referred to as "the Maroons." The phoenix also references the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the subsequent Second City. Chicago was rebuilt with new steel-frame construction after it burned to the ground, giving rise to the Chicago School of Architecture and the skyscraper.
Reynolds Club Seal
Rumor has it that if you step on the gold seal on the floor of the Reynolds Club, you will not graduate in four years.
Before the University held its first classes in 1892, the Board of Trustees had selected yellow as the school color. By 1894, however, Chicago’s legendary football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg believed that a change was needed. “The yellow ran, soiled easily, and had a regrettable symbolism which our opponents might not be above commenting upon,” Stagg wrote in his autobiography, "Touchdown!" Maroon became the official color of the University of Chicago at a mass meeting of students and faculty 1894.
Dollar Shake Days
Every Wednesday, students enjoy one dollar shakes at the Einstein Bagel in the Reynolds Club. Many use this as an opportunity to catch up with friends and relax.
Blues and Ribs
The first major event of the year, bands and ribs restaurants take over Ida Noyes Hall, organized by the Council on University Programming.
Study breaks aren’t really a large event, but more a frequent and ubiquitous way to get free food in the evening. Organizations that want more people at their meetings will host “study breaks,” and hungry undergraduates will flock to them and maybe sign up for the club’s mailing list. Houses will also host one or two weekly study breaks as a way to draw students out of the library or their rooms for some snacks and conversation.
Doc Films shows a movie almost every night, making it one of the most active film societies in the country. Aside from the weekday film series and the weekend second-run blockbusters, the free sneak previews of new releases are not to be missed, especially because the actors or directors sometimes show up unannounced.
University Symphony Orchestra's Halloween Concert
At the first University Symphony concert of the year (around Halloween), musicians dress up in costume, and children are welcome. The symphony, as well as the other performance ensembles, play throughout the year.
Kuviasungnerk, an Icelandic word that means “happy times,” and kangeiko, a Japanese word that means “calisthenics,” come together for a week-long January festival organized by the Council on University Programming. Hundreds of students wake up at 5 a.m. every day to do calisthenics and sun salutations. On the final day, students walk to the Point (a peninsula at Lake Michigan) and do their sun salutations by the lake as the sun rises. Afternoon festivities include ice skating, s’mores, and fireside chats with faculty. The festival ends with the Polar Bear Run, a naked or near-naked race across the quads.
Martin Luther King Week
Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gets a yearly commemoration at Rockefeller Chapel with a lecture and a week of workshops, film screenings, and activities.
George E. Kent Lecture
The Organization of Black Students (OBS) organizes the annual George E. Kent Lecture as part of Black History Month in February. The Chicago Society is another student organization that books lecturers and encourages lively campus debates with weekly meetings during Black History Month.
The clubs devoted to cultural and ethnic diversity, such as the Chinese Undergraduate Students Association (CUSA) and the African and Caribbean Students Association put on lavish dinners and shows every spring.
PanAsia is a yearly festival and conference in the spring, designed to raise awareness of social and political issues in Asia through art, performances, lectures, and workshops.
Dance Marathon, the largest collegiate philanthropy in the world, started at the University of Chicago in 2001. Every spring, hundreds of students dance for 12 hours, raising thousands of dollars for charity.
Scavenger Hunt is a tradition, an event, and a legend at the University of Chicago. During Scav, which has been picked up by major news sources across the country, students form teams with hundreds of members to finish a list of over 300 items. Part of the list is a road trip that has taken students to Canada, Tennessee, and Kansas; part of the list comprises the Scav Olympics; and the rest of the list includes items that are just downright weird, like turning a city bus into a bowling alley or building a stationary-bicycle-powered mocrowave that can fully cook a HotPocket.
Festival of the Arts (FOTA)
FOTA is a week-long festival providing funding and exhibition space to student artists across campus. It starts with a party and fashion show on the weekend of Scav Hunt and ends with Summer Breeze.
The Council on University Programming provides free food, bands, and an outdoor carnival on the main quad during the day, and the Major Activities Board provides a lineup of big music acts for an outdoor concert in Hutch Courtyard in the evening.