It’s just before finals. Among the harsh lights and architectural blandness of Cross Campus Library, students are desperately reading Cliff’s Notes on The Odyssey or wondering why they didn’t study fractal geometry earlier. It’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Suddenly, the calm atmosphere is broken by cheers. It’s the “Finals Fairies,” organized by the Pundits, Yale’s senior prank society. They’re loud. They’re wild. And they’re naked.
“Could the naked people please tone it down just a little?” says a voice over the loudspeaker half-heartedly.
Carrying their clothes in backpacks, the pundits move through every study room in CCL and Sterling Memorial Library, tossing out candy to the weary students. Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the event however, is not the pure spectacle of naked students tossing out goodies. It’s that hardly anyone gives them a second glance.
“You’d be surprised about how unshockable Yale students are,” said a participant, who goes by the pseudonym “Buck Naked.” “I suppose you do get the occasional cheer or catcall.”
Groups like the Pundits may be out of luck if they want to shock Yalies. Perhaps the less than enthusiastic response can be explained by the sheer number of naked traditions that have sprouted up at Yale and the length of time public nudity has been an important aspect of the Yale experience for many students.
Buck Naked places the origins of the Pundits’ nude runs at around the time of the battle of Hastings. While not going back that far, many point to a long and prestigious line of Pundits who have added a little spirit to reading week.
“I know there are rumors that congressmen and prominent people were Pundits,” said a library employee, who preferred to remain anonymous.
In fact, the streaks of Pundits who now sit on Capitol Hill may have been wilder than the ones students see today. Previous streaks by the Pundits included a bagpipe player, who provided musical accompaniment to the festivities. New Pundits also are forced to walk, rather than run, for safety reasons.
Naked explained the purpose of the tradition.
“Why are there so many people bent on enslaving themselves under halogen lights?” Naked said. “Lighten up.”
The Pundits are also famous for their nude parties, part of the group’s dedication to removing inhibitions.
“People need to laugh a little more, get shocked out of their shit a little more,” Naked said.
Yale Women’s Center
The goals of some organizations that participate in public nudity are more ambitious than shocking “people out of their shit.” On National Love Your Body Day, the windows of the Yale Women’s Center are covered and members are placed at the doors to prevent gawkers. Then, the naked tea party begins.
Started three years ago, the YWC hosts the tea parties to improve body image.
“I know that a lot of women have never been in a setting where they’ve seen a lot of other naked women,” YWC business manager and event participant Cyd Cipolla ’04 said.
Cipolla pointed to experiences such as high school, where boys often have communal showers — while girls rarely do. She said such experiences leave many women with little knowledge of what the typical female body looks like.
According to participants, the absence of clothes is the only element that separates the naked tea parties from a conventional tea party.
“It’s not pornographic or anything,” Cipolla said. “People drink tea and eat cookies.”
Nevertheless, Cipolla expressed reluctance to share details about the naked tea parties.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate to write about that in an article,” Cipolla said. “I would prefer if you didn’t try to find out what happened.”
Though all Yale students, both male and female, are invited to the events, the Women’s Center tries to discourage those interested only in a cheap thrill.
“We don’t tend to poster for [the teas],” said Josie Rodberg ’03, head of political action for the YWC. “But we send [information] out over our women’s center e-mail list.”
Two years ago, members of the YWC took National Love Your Body to a more public level, moving out of the Women’s Center and onto Cross Campus. After one of the naked teas, three YWC members participated in another nude Yale tradition: sliding across the women’s table naked. Unlike other events however, this had no political message.
“It was just fun,” Rodberg said.
Though the center has supported nudity when it has been used to improve women’s body image, the YWC has not always been as tolerant of nudity for profit. In 1995, when Playboy came to campus for its “Women of the Ivy League” issue, students working with the YWC offered $500 to each of the women who had approached by the magazine to keep their clothes on.
“A woman can objectify her body in return for lot of money and attention, or she can keep her clothes on and get nothing. The power and money of the male establishment support the first option. No one and nothing support her decision to refuse to pose,” Sarah Haan ’95 and Susan Wetstone ’96 said in a letter at the time.
That year, the YWC made a more visible show of their discontent with the Playboy issue by streaking across old campus. Unfortunately for them, the Playboy photographer was on hand the day of the protest and managed to snap a few choice shots of Yalies in their birthday suits. Not only did eight Yale women finally appear in the October 1995 issue, tying for the most with Harvard, but three of the pictures of the streak, ironically airbrushed, appeared in the issue as well.
Neither rain, nor snow, nor the harsh New England weather can prevent another nude Yale tradition. For decades, the Saybrook Strip has entertained and shocked fans of Ivy League football. It began in the 1970s, when a single Saybrook student mooned the opposing fans at the Harvard-Yale game. The next year, some of his friends joined him. In the decades since these intrepid acts of anti-Harvard (or anti-clothing) rebellion, the Saybrook Strip has become a fixture at every Yale football game.
With two minutes left in the third quarter, a cry of, “Shoes,” rises from the fans underneath the Saybrook flag. As the third quarter winds to a close, the cry grows feverish as Saybrook students spin their shoes in the air in anticipation. Finally, with a cry of, “Bif, bop, bam, bip. We are Saybrook, watch us strip,” the strip is on.
Saybrook Master Mary Miller said she does not discourage the strip, though she would prefer if students didn’t go all the way.
“What do I think of the [Saybrook Strip]? The SY Master’s Office has had handsome navy blue boxers with SAYBROOK printed on them made up for SY students,” Miller said in an e-mail.
Nevertheless, Miller herself would rather keep out of the fray.
“My strategy at games: never be at the heart of the Saybrook section when the music starts,” Miller said.
Over the years, the strip has grown to become a central part of the Saybrook College experience.
“When we came to Yale the first thing we heard heard about Saybrook was one, that we’d won the Tyng cup the year before and two, the Saybrook strip,” Nick Brown ’03 said.
In fact, the Saybrook Strip has become such a central part of Saybrook’s identity that several Saybrugians were ejected from the game to keep the tradition alive. In 1996, Director Thomas Duffy of the Yale Precision Marching Band refused to play “The Stripper.” At the Yale-Columbia game, three Saybrook students protested the decision by stripping to their boxer shorts and running completely around the field before they were apprehended by police.
At the time, Dan Fingerman ’00, one of the strippers, explained his motivation for the act of defiance.
“The Strip’s not going to die because just one man wants it to,” Fingerman said.
Brown, who called the strip “the greatest football experience at Yale” without a trace of hyperbole, expressed excitement about the Harvard-Yale game this year.
“There tends to be more nudity at the Harvard game,” Brown said. “We will be freezing, and we will be naked.”
Nude a Cappella
Even the stodgy, tux-wearing world of a cappella gets a shot of indecent exposure with the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus. For the SOBs, weekly Mory’s dinners end with a final song and a dropping of pants.
“The SOBs have their own room in Mory’s,” frequent guest Amy Zinser ’03 said. “It gives them a little space to be themselves and be weird.”
For most SOB members, being themselves means being nude. At the end of the show, the lights go out. When they are turned back on, most of the group has dropped their pants. They then get in a circle, wrap their arms around each other, and sing, Zinser said.
Current SOB members are reluctant to discuss the full extent of the group’s nudity.
“Some of it relates to relationships we have with organizations here at Yale and with businesses,” Bobby Gravitz ’04 said.
Members of previous years, however, were not so tight-lipped.
“It has to do with that Greek Bacchic, whole Pagan ritualistic thing,” said Royce Chen ’01, a former SOB.
Besides the Pundits, many other groups have flirted with nudity at their parties. However, at least one of Yale’s nude parties seems to be going the way of the dinosaur. Timothy Dwight may have seen its last pair of edible underwear and spandex-clad underclassman. The college cancelled its annual Exotic Erotic dance, which gained fame for “the less you wear, the less you pay” policy. Like many attendees, Jonathan Cain ’03 had specific taste when it came to Exotic Erotic outfits.
“Bubble wrap’s always cool,” Cain said. “The rugby players with shoeboxes in front of them, that wasn’t too cool.”
The enormously popular and completely debauched party seems to have gotten too big for its own good.
“I and Dean Loge watched in dismay — as the party got bigger and bigger, to the point where last time [Fall, 2000] more than 4,000 were crowded in our courtyard,” TD Master Robert Thompson said in a statement announcing the cancellation.
The french club Faux Pas picked up some of the slack left by the absence of Exotic Erotic. Though not meeting the sheer number of half-nude coeds drawn by Exotic Erotic, Dangerous Liasons did continue “the less you wear, the less you pay policy.” Put simply, several students didn’t have anywhere to put their wallets and didn’t need them.
One prefrosh last year was treated to a sneak preview of nudity at Yale. On the first night of Bulldog Days, the juniors hosting Lucas Wood ’06 took him to a nude party hosted by Yale students off campus.
“There’s this weird etiquette to [the party],” Wood said. “You can’t ogle people obviously.”
Though he had already decided to attend Yale, Wood said the experience was encouraging.
“It made me think Yale was less uptight than other schools,” Wood said.
Other nude traditions seem to have little hope of being resurrected. The Morse Moon, a fairly self-explanatory tradition Ezra Stiles students held in the 1970s, seems to be permanently dead. The 1960s saw Skull & Bones holding a nude wrestling match for its new initiates, but this event was held while the society was still single-sex.
But for every tradition that dies, another rises to take its place. Just before Thanksgiving, six residents of “The God Quad” in Branford took their stab at infamy. After a night at Toad’s Place, the roommates ran through Branford, screaming at the top of their lungs. The chill of the night gradually peeled off the faint of heart. But two stalwart, or particularly inebriated, students ran through all of Branford.
“It was cold. It was damn cold,” Peter Walker ’03 said. “We ran pretty quickly.”
The roommates were not sure whether their benchmark God Quad streak would be a tradition.
“Maybe next year people will decide to do it,” Walker said.
But with all of the elements of a good Yale tradition — alcohol, a cold New England breeze, and of course, nudity — the next students to inhabit the God Quad should start working out now. n