Reed in the Nude

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.

The Naked Tree

Located on the southwestern corner of the main quad, the Naked Tree is a pleasant little crabapple with easy-to-climb branches well worn by buttocks. For special occasions such as Noise Parade, Reed Admit Days, picting at Renn Fayre, and the first truly sunny days in spring, Reedies are known to strip down and climb up into the Naked Tree’s beloved branches.

Noise Parade

Noise Parade takes place on Friday night of O-week, when returning students come back to campus and welcome first-years via a very loud tour of campus. Low-budget noisemakers such as pots and pans are used to cause a ruckus as the crowd parades through campus and then returns to the quad for the ritual chanting of “Amanda Reed has to die,” and a mythological account of Reed’s founding. After proclaiming that Reed shall live forever, a naked student representing Amanda Reed stands on a picnic table as compatriots dump a bucket of red paint over their body.

According to a stream-of-consciousness style opinion piece published in the Quest in 2014, an anonymous student wrote about their experience of Noise Parade as a freshman: “I still remember how many naked bodies and how many same-sex and same-gendered couples there were making out in the SU. I felt so accepted and at home... it felt so empowering and so welcoming.  Every time I see naked people on Reed campus I think back to that moment and how magical and welcoming it was.” Sadly, recent Noise Parades have been relatively lacking in both volume and nudity.

Campus Skinny Dips

In 1967, Halloween was marked by a stampede of approximately 100 naked students flooding the Sports Center to cavort in the indoor swimming pool. The event was met with disapproval; the Sports Center manager, upset by this mass lack of attire and threatening that police intervention may be warranted, locked the pool doors, forcing the students to go outside in order to retrieve their clothes. All PE classes and events held in the building were cancelled for the rest of the day. Quest coverage photos of the "nude swim-in" were inked out on orders from the dean’s office, which considered the graphic coverage lewd.

The next school year, on May 20th, 1969, a community senate meeting was held to address the requests of students who wanted to swim in the college pools unclothed. The Senate came to the resolution that certain hours each day would be allocated to students who wanted to swim in the nude. Skinny dipping was a frequent event—both before and after the passed ordinance—at the concrete swimming pool located in the western end of the canyon as well as in the indoor swimming pool. According to archival papers, the ordinance was never officially removed and thus may be reinstated based on student demand.

 The Naked 8 posing for a 1968 edition of The Quest, courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.

The Naked 8 posing for a 1968 edition of The Quest, courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.

The Naked 8

On Wednesday, February 4th, 1968, eight students entered the Reed College bookstore, removed their clothes, proceeded to buy books in an orderly fashion, and then left the store. This was a direct act of rebellion against an initiative by Reed College to mitigate theft in the bookstore. A cubby system had been set up by the main entrance of the bookstore for students to remove any large jackets or bags that could facilitate robbery. These eight students thought this was overly intrusive and overbearing on the school’s part, and peacefully rebelled by removing all their clothes in protest. The bookstore staff was not pleased, but ultimately no one was punished. According to an article in the Quest recounting the protest, one of the naked eight said “we believe in personal freedom, not sexual freedom,” and reported that other students nationwide were inspired by this nude protest and rebelled in similar ways at their own institutions.

Humplay

One of the most outrageous events on campus, Humplay is a full-on assault on the senses that takes place the weekend before Renn Fayre. Directed by past participants and made up of an all-first-year cast, this theatrical production’s script changes every year to follow the current Hum syllabus, parodying Greek gods and packing in as many innuendos and pop culture references as possible. Usually there are two showings, one sub-free and one “rowdy.” They both feature golden spandex, line dancing, and oodles of scantily clad or completely nude characters parading and yelling their way across the front of Vollum Lecture Hall.

Picting at RF

Very little is to be found in the archives about the origins of picting at Reed, but the fundamentals are as follows: on Saturday morning of Renn Fayre, participants gather by the Sports Center and split into two groups, picters and copters. Copters fill water guns with orange tempera paint and lie in ambush while picters cover their naked bodies from head to toe in blue paint and proceed to streak across campus—all the way to the Meatsmoke station by the DoJo and eventually to the Front Lawn—while being pursued by their orange paint-wielding adversaries. Once gathered on the lawn, picters and copters make their peace and often engage in some naked yoga or a game of duck-duck-goose. Picters get to be first in line for Feast.

RKSK

Reed Kommunist Shit Kollectiv (RKSK) started in the early 2000s as a faux-Kommunist klub featuring various kommunity-based projects around kampus. “Reed Kommunist Shit Kollectiv: Heed the kalling for a better, redder tomorrow” was the title of an RKSK welkoming artikle in a 2003 Quest, a prime example of the tradition of replaking all (©apitalist!) letter ©’s with kommunist k’s. The artikle mentions an “army” of RKSK members ready to welcome the incoming klass with all sorts of schemes, including a mysterious initiation event for new Reedies interested in joining the red menake and partikipating in sekret missions, presumably involving the prokurement of kommunally-shared kids’ bikes, hammer and sikkle bedazzled umbrellas, and stuffed animals, krucial komponents of RKSK’s distribution of wealth in its early years. In addition to free kommunal goods, RKSK founded the Stim Table held in the liblob during reading and finals weeks each semester, which provides free koffee, peanut butter sandwich supplies, trail mix, and other foods while playing “Eye of the Tiger” every hour to fuel and inspire library lurkers.

What RKSK is most known for, however, is its initiation tradition, which began circa 2009 and took place the Thursday night before fall break each year of its run. Several specific activities defined RKSK initiation: passages from the Kommunist manifesto were read aloud through a megaphone as students took off their clothing in the quad, people’s bare backs were stenciled with red hammers and sickles, water balloons were thrown, the entire naked crowd meandered into and through the library, filled the thesis tower for a moment of naked silence, and paraded across the Blue Bridge, with some revelers getting “baptized” in the Reed lake. The on-campus portion of the event coalesced in the Grove quad, where people made human pyramids and prepared to pile into a U-Haul to drive across the river and streak through Lewis and Clark’s campus. The ridiculousness and rowdy nature of the event were detailed and celebrated in the Quest, receiving comments like “This year alternative modes of transportation were considered, but were ultimately suppressed as kounter-revolutionary and entirely too sensible,” and proclamations of “The Revolution lives on!” During RKSK initiation’s run as a Reed tradition, the Quest reported as many as 80 “komrades” cramming into the sweaty U-Haul to Lewis & Clark, where they were reported to have received high-fives, barrages of flour, vegetable oil, and water, and, in 2013, a request to stay out of the dorms. RKSK resonated as a powerful bonding experience for many, in that it provided a unique context for publicly accepted and normalized communal nudity. “There’s a real need for people to get naked and commune with each other,” said alumnus Oleks Lushchyk, recalling their involvement as an RKSK participant and organizer fondly.

RKSK was not without its dilemmas, however. In the fall of 2013, a Title IX complaint was made about the Pantheon, a tradition in which nude students would welcome first-years to the first Hum lecture of the year by pouring libations and being rambunctious. The Humplay directors, who were also involved in planning the Pantheon, announced during an Honor Council Forum held that September that no one would be nude when greeting the next year of freshmen out of respect for those who might be triggered or otherwise harmed in an encounter with nudity on their way to class. “After that moment, it seemed like the amount of nudity on campus dropped drastically,” lamented Oleks Luchyshyk, ‘16. “It created the precedent for people to be afraid of being nude.” During that same Honor forum discussing the Title IX complaint, students raised concerns about its effect on nude culture at Reed, especially that nudity would come to be associated with harassment or other negative behaviors. Concerned student Ariana Remmel was quoted by the Quest: “The naked people on campus come to Reed to feel safe and at home,” while another student involved in planning various welcoming activities said that “Any tradition that makes people uncomfortable shouldn’t be a tradition at all.” In 2013, RKSK carried on—despite the Title IX complaint—for a particularly enthusiastic revelry, spurred by increased advertising aimed at making sure all students knew what to expect. The controversy continued throughout the revision of the DHSM policy that took place in 2014, and Reedies wrestled with issues such as how to keep the spirit of the tradition alive while avoiding the hypocrisy of streaking through the Lewis and Clark campus while complaining about Clarkies crashing Reed SU dances, as well as not triggering anyone and minimizing potential sexual harassment in a context where many first-years were inebriated. A Quest Senate Beat from October 2014 illustrates growing concerns about Title IX and various plans on how to teach new Reedies to behave honorably and navigate consent. Senator Jake Lovell commented, “It seems that there are so many things that need to go into preserving the tradition that it might not be worth it,” a notion that would ultimately prove true despite future RKSK organizer’s efforts.

In defense of RKSK initiation, student organizer Swede Pearson stated their reasons for caring about the tradition in a 2014 Quest op-ed. “...Solidarity, freedom of expression, uniting in what is for many people a vulnerable context and experiencing an overwhelming show of ubiquitous acceptance.” That was the last year that an initiation occurred, and it proceeded to Lewis and Clark despite the stealing of the keys to the U-Haul by a concerned upperclassman who believed the tradition was unsafe.

As concerns about safety, consent, and navigating potentially triggering environments grew, students who believed in the benefits of RKSK attempted to revive what had been a fundamental experience in their early years at Reed. RKSK organizers Oleks Lushchyk and Carter Thomas replaced the U-Haul with a party bus and required underwear to be worn on the Lewis and Clark campus. However, these suggestions were met with diminishing interest in keeping up the tradition when faced with all the problematic aspects of RKSK. The value of nudity at the event was questioned, while Lushchyk and Thomas defended nudity as a vital component of the intention behind RKSK: creating an empowering community bonding experience in which public nudity was normalized. However, discussions of making RKSK sub-free, hosting the event during daylight hours, or cutting the Lewis and Clark streaking completely came to little. RKSK’s presence on campus faded as organizers graduated, and initiation seems to have largely fallen off of the community radar.

At Reed there is a persistent paranoia, or perhaps an ambiguous sense of loss, as the community and its traditions change. This mix of feelings is often abbreviated as “Olde Reed is dead!” While RKSK initiation is no more, I remember the campus portion of RKSK’s last run my freshman year as a blur of bizarre magic. What stood out most was the moment of silence in the thesis tower, full of past student’s proud work and filled with nude new students, all sharing the space in complete awe. It was a spectacle of community and a thrilling freedom. It’s that feeling of camaraderie and daring, of participating in something ridiculous and realizing the potential of the community we’re all a part of, that I miss about RKSK’s endeavors in general. I hope that these things live on in other traditions, nude or otherwise, long after I’ve graduated.

 

Cover photo: 1989 Student Body Handbook cover courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.