Cheers interrupt the steady silence of the library before most of the students can see what’s happening. They lift their tired eyes from their study guides and watch as a group of their peers erupts from the stacks — most of them completely naked.
During dead week, Main Stacks in Doe and Moffitt libraries is full of students running out of time, running out of motivation, and, on one day, running naked through the aisles.
The UC Berkeley Naked Run occurs each semester during the week leading up to final exams, during which a mass of students bare some — or in most cases all — and take a few laps through the stacks, much to the amusement or horror of the students studying. The run, which lasts about 20 minutes, culminates in a crowd gathering in the center of the library and cheering.
Most spectators watch with bemused looks as the naked students stream past while shouting and blowing horns. While many complain about the temporary disruption, most are ultimately put off by the smell that lingers after the runners leave. It’s not uncommon for the runners in the back to carry air fresheners.
UC Berkeley has a longstanding tradition of nude activism, stemming in large part from a push for sexual liberation on campus that occurred around the same time as the Free Speech Movement. Since the 1960s, students have used nudity to make statements on a variety of issues, ranging from rape culture to the clearing of trees near campus.
“Berkeley is already open-minded, but it’s that times 1,000 at the Naked Run,” said junior Kat Furman.
Furman has participated in the run each semester since she got to UC Berkeley, except for one, when she didn’t get the memo about when the run would take place. She said she understands that participating seems daunting but that it is an experience everyone should have at least once during their time on campus.
For some, the traditional run through the libraries pays homage to a time when nudity was a prevalent form of protest, but for many, it is simply a way to alleviate some of the stress of the impending finals.
Similar pre-finals traditions with the intention of relieving stress exist at other schools. Students at Columbia University participate in a coordinated primal scream at midnight before finals begin. At the University of Southern California, the school’s band plays outside of the campus’s 24-hour library for 20 minutes each night during the week of final exams. UCLA’s “undie run,” a fairly recent practice, came under fire in 2009 when the campus tried to ban the run, citing safety concerns as the number of participants reached nearly 10,000.
At UC Berkeley, the practice of streaking to relieve finals stress has been traced back to Lothlorien House, a UC Berkeley co-op. Each semester, members of the Berkeley Student Cooperative system coordinate the run, which is typically held at night toward the end of dead week.
Library staff and UCPD could not be reached for comment.