Parts I–IV of “The Complete History of Renn Fayre” by Brian Click and Alejandro Chavez were published in the Grail in the spring of 2016. The series recounts Renn Fayre’s fifty-one year history, from its humble beginnings as an actual Renaissance Faire to the infamous property damage disaster of RF2K and everything in between. Now, in the Grail’s latest installment of “Complete History,” Guananí, Lauren, and Claire pick up where Brian and Alejandro left off, diving into how Renn Fayre has changed from 2008 to the present.
“A lot of weird shit,” a student commented, “happens at Renn Fayre.” It’s a phrase many first-years repeated when asked what they’d heard about Reed’s annual end-of-the-year festival, with a combination of excitement and nervousness evident in their response. There seemed to be an anxious, unsure, yet captivatingly curious attitude in Vollum Lecture Hall, where Renn Fayre Czars had called first-years, transfer students, and other first-time Renn Fayre attendees to congregate and learn, whether for the first time or the hundredth time, what Renn Fayre is all about. It was a Tuesday night, at the point in the school year when time on a school night seems to exponentially increase in value, but even so, an impressively large crowd filed into the auditorium. The Grail asked groups of first-year students about their perceptions of the three day festival before the meeting began.
You may find yourself tailgating in Eliot Circle on an absconded piece of furniture. You might find yourself streaming into Vollum with the wailing crowds into seats that are familiar from many a lecture, only this time things are different: there are togas. There are people screaming. There are memes. This is HumPlay. You may ask yourself, how did we get here?
A cloud of heavy vapor spills over the table and onto the sidewalk in a chilly plume, slowly clearing to reveal homemade ice cream. Reedies chatter and bob up and down in the nearby bouncy house. Making your way across the quad, you might encounter shards of onion or a used whippit canister on the ground. It’s Nitrogen Day!
In preparing to write this entry, I consulted a book of aphorisms to get my mind brewing. The author recommended reading no more than four at a time. For the first two that I read, I thought deeply about how I would apply what I was reading to my life. In other words, I thought, “if I were to focus on this saying for a full day, or a few days, what would be the effect?” I continued on and read, well, I don’t know how many more. Suddenly I realized that I no longer remembered what the first few sayings were. I had read a few pages, and if I had waited another fifteen minutes, I could not have told you a single line.
“More people should know that diatoms exist and are responsible for a large amount of the photosynthesis that goes on, globally,” says Eli Spiliotopoulos, a biology senior thesising on diatoms and the microbes they host. Diatoms are a kind of phytoplankton, single-celled photosynthetic organisms known for their unique ability to create shells made of biological glass in a mesmerizing variety of crystal patterns. They are also one of the most diverse eukaryotic lineages on earth, with over two hundred thousand species, each sporting a distinct, intricate silica shell. Marine diatoms are incredibly efficient at reaping energy from sunlight. Diatom photosynthesis is responsible for as much as a fifth of the Earth’s biologically available energy, while producing oxygen for one of every five human breaths.
“I have too much to do. I just feel overwhelmed! What should I do?” When we ask for advice, we tend to ask for positive advice, not negative advice. What’s the difference? Positive advice tells you to do something; negative advice tells you not to do something. In the gym, people always ask what they should add to their workout. We want to make more money, instead of spending less. We want to know what healthy foods to add to our diet, not which bad foods we should subtract. We don’t want to disappoint anyone, so we agree to hang out with everyone, instead of focusing on a few friendships. We don’t want to be missing out on anything.
“[Science Outreach] has these two epic goals and is completing them together. It’s self-perpetuating awesomeness, basically,” explained Presence O’Neal, the newest staff coordinator of the science education program. Presence is the latest coordinator in the program’s 22 year history, and the first to not be a Reed alumnus. As for the two epic goals? “Reed students get teaching experience in the real world ... and simultaneously elementary students get mentors and exposure to science from people who look like them and care about their learning,” said Presence.
The first things I notice upon entering the Cooley Gallery are the balloons. There are about fifty of them clustered throughout the room, each one bearing a two-word phrase in stylized black script that stands out against the dark yellow rubber. I pick one up and peer at the lettering, which reads “Valiant Guardian.” Another is inscribed with the words “Urgent Fury.” Not until I find one labelled “Enduring Freedom” do I realize that each phrase is the name of a U.S. military operation carried out overseas. Near the back of the room, loud popping noises ring out as a television placed on the ground plays a video of a group of formally-dressed women puncturing yellow balloons. A glass case mounted at the side of the room displays a small vial of dark liquid; a card in the case informs viewers that the bottle contains “a new fragrance derived from ... materials described in the Book of Revelation.” On the wall opposite the door, an immense screen plays real-time webcam stills from locations as near as Idaho and as far as Thailand. The images from each place are organized into horizontal bars layered atop one another; the cumulative effect is of myriad landscapes seen simultaneously through the compound eye of an insect.
“I tell everyone to take dance classes their freshman year,” says MacKenzie Schuller, improvisational dance enthusiast and one of three dance majors graduating this spring. For most of its existence, dance at Reed was offered as an interdisciplinary major in conjunction with other departments, including theater, anthropology, sociology, and history, not unlike a minor at other institutions. “At that time, we didn’t have enough depth and scope of class- es to support a major,” explained Reed dance professor Carla Mann ‘81. In 2014, an $80,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation transformed the department, providing funding to hire new professors and expand existing positions.
Since its inception, Tir na nOg has beckoned to a certain type of Reedie. For many science-fiction fans at Reed, this setting—where role-playing games (RPGs) and immense, hand-sewn squids sprawl across the common rooms, showings of classic SF/F films and anime fill the evenings, and friendly-but-pitched discussions over the nuances of Tolkien’s Legendarium, the allegorical politics of Star Trek, or the continuity of H.P Lovecraft’s short stories can last well into the night—represents a community of like-minded peers that’s hard to find elsewhere. Kieran Sheldon, a current sophomore and two-year nOg resident, says of his first visit to the dorm as a prospie that, “looking in at all the Magic cards and role playing games was one of the things that made me decide to come [to Reed.]” A former Tir na nOg alum had this to say about his experience in McKinley and Griffin, “...The colloquialisms used [by Tir na nOg residents] tend to divide people into the high fantasy Tolkien nerds, the low fantasy Doctor Who nerds, the common Pokémon nerds, and the errant outsiders who don't belong.”
As the first shadow-puppet thesis show in Reed history, The Deluge combined incredible sound design, a whimsical cast of shadow puppets, and mythical storytelling to create an immersive half-hour tale of natural disaster, transformation, and courage. Violet McAfee, who created and directed the show as a component of her thesis, was inspired to create the project after taking a puppetry class in the theater department. “It was a combination of the puppetry class as well as my interest in lighting design that brought me to shadow puppetry. It's a very spiritual medium, and that lends itself well to the kind of art I want to make,” Violet explained. Violet switched to theater late in her time at Reed, and is proud to be directing an entire original show, something she never would have expected upon switching majors.
Outside the windows of Eliot Hall, the sky is gray against the orange and yellow trees that grow less orange and less yellow every day. I read The Oresteia, or my psychology textbook, or Thucydides. I watch faculty and staff eat their lunches out of carefully packaged tupperware and show each other pictures of their families. They walk by in the hallway and greet each other kindly. The wood around the windows and on the walls is old and unchanged from years of staging different and yet identical actors in its rooms.
In the summer of 2017, Guananí participated in an undergraduate research program at the University of Iowa’s Microbiology Department, where she was introduced to the ways of the research lab. This was accomplished by learning about the swarming of bacteria, how time works in a workaholic field, and why toothpicks are the most important tool in a bacterial genetics lab. But when all the experiments were said and done, she came to understand that beyond all the technicalities, science is about failing profusely and systematically, and the people you work with are as or more important than the subject being studied.
Nudity has played a major role in Reed community events, protests, and traditions of all sorts. The Grail went spelunking in the Archives to ask, how has nudity manifested itself at Reed over time, and how has its meaning changed? The events and traditions profiled here are but a few: there are mysterious unlabeled pictures of naked Reedies on the front lawn and reading on SU couches, acting independently from any Reed tradition, suggesting that nudity at Reed has meant everything from casual personal freedom to political statement to a symbol of community bonding to potential threat.
“You’re a failure.” “You just can’t do it.” “Give up.”
Though I was bullied until I began to lift weights in high school, and though I’ve been called many names, and been yelled at, laughed at, punched, kicked, ostracized, hungry for days, excluded, friendless, kicked out of a hundred spots when I lived in my car, dumped repeatedly, screwed over, stolen from, severely injured, and completely alone, I’m pretty sure that nothing has hurt me as deeply as the feeling of being a failure. I believe that much of the pain I listed above would fall under this sweeping characteristic, that of being a failure. Yet today, I will argue that failure, as you know it, is not a negative thing, and failure can be seen as success.
Think back to the year before you came to Reed, to finding those glossy brochures in the mail and pushing aside your Stanford and Berkeley applications to learn of that strange and wonderful liberal arts college nestled in the heart of Portland. Recall the education they promised, an education “characterized by close interaction between students and faculty in an atmosphere of shared scholarly concern and active learning.”
Reed has a lower percentage of its student body living on campus than most small liberal arts colleges, many of which house 90% of their student body or more. As housing in Portland has become increasingly difficult to find and afford, student demand for on-campus rooms has escalated sharply in the last few years. “We’re at a point of scarcity where every bed we give is taken away from someone else,” said Mike Brody, Dean of Students. “Reed has a relatively low graduation rate, and most of the attrition is happening in students’ first two years.” In response, Reed will be building a brand-new dorm with the intention of increasing on-campus housing capacity and seeing more students graduate.
Reed College will always celebrate its activists in hindsight. The popular history of Reed activism rarely acknowledges the bureaucratic opposition to activists that occurs behind closed doors, allowing the school to quietly silence dissenters even as it places them on promotional materials as champions of institutional progress. Any official statement regarding Reed in the 1960s will be quick to emphasize the success of the Black Student Union protests of 1968 and 1969 and highlight the peaceable establishment of the Black Studies Center in 1971. This narrative belies the powerful coalition of faculty and administrators who worked in opposition to the Center and played an active role in its collapse.