As many nostalgic seniors reminisce about the good ol’ days when Pub Nite was a necessity and the DJ fund was limitless, one tradition that seems to fade into the background is possibly the craziest tradition of them all. A tradition that involved public nudity, hallucinogenic drugs, and public sex all taking place on Swarthmore’s campus. The annual spring tradition of Crunkfest encompassed everything daring and out the ordinary.
Most people have heard of the crazy traditions that took place on Swarthmore’s campus back in the day, such as the rugby teams’ “Dash for Cash,” a fundraising event where both women’s and men’s rugby teams ran naked through Parrish while people threw money at them. But the most recently disbanded tradition of Crunkfest has caught attention of current students and alumni. For all us young people who have only heard rumors, the question really is, what the hell was Crunkfest?
“Crunkfest was actually one of the reasons I decided to go to Swarthmore,” commented Swat alum Rebecca Contreras ’13, whose team won Crunkfest when she was a senior. “It was a much bigger event in those days than it was by the time I competed as a senior. It seemed like the entire school was in Worth courtyard, playing games, laughing, having fun.”
At its core, Crunkfest was a competition about pushing boundaries. People split up into teams and received a list from the Crunkfest judges — the winners of Crunkfest from the year before — and have 24 hours to complete challenges on the list, passed down from previous Crunkfests. The challenges included everything from folding laundry in Renato’s, to dropping acid, to orgies in academic buildings. Each challenge was allotted an amount of points for completion, and completion of the challenges had to be documented or proven in some way to get full credit. The team with the most points at the end of the 24 hours was named the winner, and got to add challenges and serve as judges for next year’s Crunkfest. Thus the cycle continued into generations and generations of Crunk.
Each spring a mysterious looking email would be sent out to all of campus in strange, confusing font calling for Crunk participants. Students would sign up and submit 10 dollars for Crunk judges to buy any supplies needed for the event — spices to snort, laxatives to help dislodge objects up people’s butts — all things completely necessary. The day would come and Worth courtyard would be transformed.
“The courtyard was littered with homemade tents and forts of every size and color, with fairy lights and lanterns lighting the scene. It was magical,” Contreras described. Crunkfest would officially begin with an opening ceremony in which each team would create a flag and present it in the most Crunk way they could think of, such as using the flag as bondage or pulling it out of their butts. Then the challenges would begin. Perhaps your team would start by having a member lose their virginity in the courtyard under a mattress, whatever kind of virginity that may be, or doing improv theater in front of the Springfield mall and maybe later in the day your team would roll down Swarthmore’s hill naked. Group competitions took place during the day as well, where all the teams would gather and compete in things like naked yoga, a naked dance off, joint-rolling competitions, lip synching competitions, or skinny dipping in the Crum.
“The initial gut reaction to Crunkfest, it may not seem like it’s a space for queer people or a space for people who don’t want to do drugs and alcohol or be involved in the challenges,” commented Doriana Thornton ’16, one of the only participants in Crunkfest still on campus, “but I soon came to learn Crunkfest was a very, very consent-oriented space.” Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can be terrifying, especially when it involves being naked or on hard drugs, but the people involved in the activities set the space for that to happen safely.”
“For the most part I think there is a huge misconception about Crunkfest,” Contreras commented. “One of my teammates was completely sober the entire time. I never did anything that made me remotely uncomfortable yet I still pushed the boundaries of my creative thinking.” A space fueled by adrenaline, a few drugs, and radical consent, Crunkfest served as a small haven for the creatively adventurous.
The competition was, for obvious reasons, somewhat controversial. Many students never chose to participate in Crunkfest and simply continued their everyday lives at Swarthmore, allowing both Crunk-ers and non-Crunkers to live in harmony on one campus. Some people on campus are comfortable with dropping acid or having sex publicly, and others aren’t, and both preferences were completely heard and respected. To Crunk or not to Crunk, either way was totally cool.
Obviously, Crunkfest no longer exists. Whether it was the questionably legal nature of some of the challenges or the administration’s general fear of something going wrong, Crunkfest was canceled in 2014. The few the decision affected felt it was a great loss to the environment of the Swarthmore campus.
“It was the best time I’ve had at Swarthmore, ever,” commented Thornton.
The canceling of a beloved tradition, as well as the lack of institutional memory of this tradition, may symbolize the shift in Swarthmore’s campus to a more tame, controlled version of its former self.
“Many of my close friends participated in Crunkfest at Swarthmore. Most of them came away from the experience with a deepened love for their minds and bodies,” commented Contreras. “Crunkfest helped me build confidence in myself,” she added.
Especially in the midst of a dying Pub Nite, it’s hard to see a bright future for student traditions — traditions that make Swarthmore more than just a large endowment and rigorous classes, but rather a place with some dirt on it, not completely polished and pristine, but where all students are accepted and respected regardless. Hearing the stories of what Swarthmore used to be could leave some students wishing they had arrived on campus a few years earlier.