Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Bacow ends Naked Quad Run

The university will no longer sanction the annual Naked Quad Run (NQR) due to concerns over participants' safety and the risk of student death, the Daily has learned.

The decades-long tradition, in which students partake in a large-scale, clothing-free sprint around the Res Quad to celebrate the end of fall semester classes, will no longer be permitted to take place, University President Lawrence Bacow revealed to the Daily.

In both interviews with the Daily and an op-ed published today, Bacow said the university can no longer tolerate the event in light of the inherent dangers it presents, particularly the serious risks to student safety from a combination of dangerous levels of alcohol consumption, icy roads and cold temperatures.

The president has directed Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman, along with Tufts Community Union President Sam Wallis and Programming Board Co-Chair Sarah Habib, both seniors, to drive a search for an alternative event to replace the naked run.

"Given that we can no longer manage the run, we cannot allow this ‘tradition' to continue," Bacow said in the op-ed. "Even if I did not act now, NQR would end some day. The only question is whether a student has to die first."

"We cannot allow this to happen, and the Naked Quad Run will not continue," Bacow continued.

The announcement comes as the university continues to handle the fallout from this year's event. Officials ended the December run earlier than usual, resulting in the arrest of one student amid accusations by attendees of police misbehavior. Alcohol abuse also increased, Reitman said in January.

In his op-ed, Bacow said the university has tried to manage NQR, but that it ultimately had become too big to control, putting students at a greater — and potentially even fatal — risk.

The university president told the Daily on Friday that he originally consulted with senior administrators and members of his leadership team in a debriefing after December's run, but that it fell to him to make the call.

"In the end, it's my decision," Bacow said.


Trustees express concerns

NQR was one subject of a Board of Trustees discussion last month on the topic of alcohol and risk, which took place during the trustees' regular meeting on Tufts' Medford/Somerville campus. The plenary session brought in university health officials, student leaders and administrators.

At the discussion, trustees learned of increases in both the number of instances of student alcohol abuse and the levels of intoxication health officials have encountered, according to Stacey Sperling, a physician at Health Service who is the medical director of Tufts Emergency Medical Services. Sperling presented data on alcohol abuse at Tufts, including numbers from Spring Fling and NQR.

The trustees listened and asked thoughtful questions of many of the presenters, Sperling said, but left any decision about a potential course of action to be determined by the president.

"By the end of the meeting, there was no consensus from the board, but they were clearly very interested and concerned," she said. "They were not either condoning or not condoning the Naked Quad Run."

Ian Wong, the director of health education, spoke at the session and said that, in addition to NQR, the discussion touched on how to best prevent alcohol abuse, particularly among freshmen.

Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler last month said that the monitoring of alcohol use on campus falls under the trustees' duties.

"It's one of their responsibilities to keep an eye on potential risks at the university and make sure that things are being handled appropriately and so forth," she said.

At that meeting, Wallis and Habib spoke to the trustees about NQR. Wallis spoke of the changes to the university's alcohol policy, while Habib focused more on the programming aspect of the event, she said.

"I think the trustees were surprised to hear about some of what went on during NQR," Wallis said.

Habib said the event was valuable in that it raised school spirit. Though the trustees acknowledged her concerns, some of her exchanges with the trustees on the topic were "heated," she said.

"At the end of the day, [school spirit] concerns do not outweigh student safety, so we lost," Habib said.

Both students were made aware of Bacow's decision last Thursday, according to Wallis.

"I was disappointed," Habib said of the final decision, "but at this point I just want to make the best of the situation."

Wallis, too, expressed disappointment, but looked for an upside.

"We view this as an opportunity to come up with something really cool," Wallis said.

 "Clearly, the administration feels that it's not safe enough," Habib said. "At the end of the day, we're not going to debate the decision the administration made."


History, tradition, alcohol

NQR, which has traditionally taken place on the evening of the last day of classes in December, has long been steeped in controversy.

The university officially began providing support for the run in 2003 in order to ensure student safety, and Tufts University Police Department officers and those from other departments have over the years policed the event.

But logistical headaches, safety issues and liability concerns have marred the running of NQR — more formally recognized by administrators as the Nighttime Quad Reception — since its informal beginnings as an exam-week tradition in the 1970s.

University officials have over the years expressed displeasure with the run, which has been one of few campus-wide events that bring together a significant percentage of the undergraduate student body. In January, Reitman told the Daily that the university and police have never been comfortable managing an event in which they are effectively permitting public nudity to occur and in which they encounter an abnormal amount of alcohol abuse.

Because of the winter season in which it has occurred, snow and ice have historically made running the Res Quad course a slippery proposition, elevating the risk of injury.

As the event grew over the years, its association with dangerous levels of alcohol consumption intensified. Binge drinking in preparation for the run became a staple of the event, a phenomenon that not only exacerbated the potential for injury but also introduced the threat of alcohol poisoning. Several students were hospitalized following the 2002 run, which put the event's future in jeopardy.

Administrators elected to continue to permit the run, setting up barricades and hay bales along the course and limiting access to West Hall to assuage safety concerns from overcrowding.

Formal recognition of the run has had limited success in diminishing alcohol consumption from the event's function. This year, two students were hospitalized with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of greater than 0.3, according to Bacow.

In testing, a BAC of 0.25 amounts to a lethal dose in 50 percent of animals, according to Sperling.

More recently, an increased use of camera phones and cell-phone video has also heightened privacy concerns. In 2007, the Somerville Journal newspaper videotaped the event and posted it online, prompting concerns about publicizing participants' identities. A nudism website published photographs taken at that same run.


The end — and a new beginning?

Bacow's decision perhaps marks the final chapter in NQR's history, but the announcement should not necessarily come as a surprise. From the beginning of his tenure, the university president has never disguised his opposition to the event.

In 2002, he decried the run in an e-mail to the student body.

"The combination of consumption of alcohol with a mad dash through an icy, hilly campus at night cannot continue," he said at the time.

Asked on Friday about a potentially unfavorable student reaction, Bacow made no apologies.

"If this is all Tufts is to students, we have failed them," Bacow said. "Tufts is a hell of a lot more than the Naked Quad Run."

"It's very easy … [to] advocate for a position if you never have to take responsibility," he said. "It's really easy to argue that this thing should go on if it's not your responsibility in the end if a tragedy occurs."

Bacow said his concern lay in doing what he felt to be the right thing, however unpopular.

"This it what it means to have responsibility for making a decision — to have responsibility to the institution, to do what is right, not what is easy," he said.

Should students attempt to continue the tradition anyway, they will face consequences from the university, Bacow said. Reitman plans to convene a meeting of the Committee on Student Life, composed primarily of both faculty members and undergraduates, to determine what that punishment that will be, according to Bacow.

"Other institutions have faced this problem before and have taken actions and have brought to a halt activities that are remarkably similar to this one, so we'll do what we have to do," he said.

In his op-ed, Bacow envisioned establishing an alternate campus-wide tradition to replace NQR. Because of the relatively short time students spend at college, campus traditions can be established quite quickly — and can disappear just as fast, he said.

Bacow said the university would solicit student input in building a new tradition.

"I think that this is one where we could use advice and guidance from the student body, you know, what would make sense," Bacow said on Friday. "I think that's the whole idea that Sam and Sarah have suggested, is why don't we turn this into a competition and see what we can do — let students be creative."

Wallis said that at last month's meeting, the trustees had some ideas of their own, including reviving older school traditions that have fallen by the wayside in recent years.

"They were convinced that with the right resources, we can find another way to promote school spirit," Wallis said.

Habib emphasized the need for a replacement tradition to fill the void.

"We understand there are safety risks, but we don't want the removal of NQR to hurt the morale of the student body," Habib said.

"We are disappointed in the decision, but now Sarah and I are going to talk with Senate and [Programming] Board about moving forward," Wallis said. "At this point, the decision's made, so we just have to look forward."

A plan to do so is already in the works, with details expected to be announced to the student body this week, according to Habib and Wallis.