It’s a cool, crisp night on Grounds. Lawn residents begin to tuck in for the evening, switching off their lights and shuttering their windows. The enormous Rotunda yawns before the expansive field, its lights gleaming under the equally bright stars. Between the drowsy night routines, laughter and shouts of joy shatter the silence. On ground designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, students cast off their clothes at the base of the Rotunda and partake in an equally historical tradition — streaking.
The basic idea is simple — students disrobe at the historical Rotunda steps facing Old Cabell Hall and run down the Lawn to the Homer statue before returning to the Rotunda to don their clothes and go home.
The tradition of streaking the Lawn can be traced back to 1937. The Cavalier Daily, then called College Topics, reports a group of first-year men rushing back to their room from the Corner in “Adam and Eve” fashion. Nearly 90 years later, running naked down the Lawn has turned into a tradition — a silly one, perhaps, but one that is widely recognized as part of the fabric of what makes the University unique.
For students like second-year College student Eleanor Fox, streaking the Lawn is a must-do college bucket list item.
“I've always heard of people doing it, and I know it's a tradition at U.Va,” Fox said. “I'm not going to wait four years like everyone else so I'll just do it once in my four years… not that I wanted to get it over with, but I just wanted to say that I've done it.”
For students nearing the end of their college careers, streaking is on the bucket list, too —Makana Brooks, fourth-year College student and Lawn resident, said the Class of 2024’s “124 Things to do Before We Graduate” poster has a list item called “How fast can you run from the Rotunda to Homer and back?”
“Obviously they can't say, ‘Did you streak the Lawn?’ because this is a poster, [but] basically if you know, you know,” Brooks said.
But streaking is not just haphazardly running naked down the Lawn. Rather, it has a set of well-established, unwritten rules that students must accurately follow to be considered a successful streaker. Not every streaker follows every step, but most believe that it’s very important to be completely honest to this tradition — something as morally weighty as following the honor code on Grounds.
“People do it in underwear and they say that counts — I disagree,” Fox said. “You have to be 100 percent naked, and you have to run around [Homer] three times and kiss his butt and then whisper ‘Goodnight, Mr. Jefferson’ into the keyhole [at the Rotunda] when you're done.”
Besides these rules, running au naturel in the pitch-black night down the tiered hills is a lot more difficult than people expect — at 740 feet or a third of a mile, the Lawn is longer than two football fields.
“I tripped because there's tiny little hills,” Fox said. “I had a huge bruise on my knee. I don't know if I pulled my hamstring, but it was tight for the next couple of days.”
One second-year College student admitted that he felt tired, sick and “puked every single time [he has] done it.”
“I think it's a cool piece of U.Va. tradition that kind of binds all U.Va. students together, because for the most part, everyone has experience with it, and has for a long time,” this anonymous student said. “I think it's like one of the reasons why when people come to U.Va, they stay and love it. Because of these traditions people have a sense of connection to the school.”
Serious and seasoned Lawn streakers, however, are not daunted by these challenges. Some record their naked runs on Strava — an app that tracks and recommends nearby trails for runners— where a segment called “running up and down the Lawn” exists. Athletes can not only record their time for streaking the Lawn, but also can compete with others to be the top 10 Lawn streaker on the leaderboard. Fox said she would like to be one of those serious streakers.
“I'll get [on the leaderboard] one day,” Fox said. “I need to just get my pacing around, train a little bit — like practicing running naked.”
For students who are not looking to streak at the peak level of athleticism, the tradition offers an opportunity to bond with friends — certainly bringing them closer than working on a group project or eating a meal in a dining hall together.
“You just ran naked with someone — that’s almost as close as you can get,” Fox said. “[I] recommend doing it with someone you feel comfortable with, and that it’s just like you both can be nervous, like don't do it alone.”
Brooks doesn’t think Lawn streaking is too unique to the University itself, but she agrees that streaking the Lawn offers students a “fine and freeing” feeling, a way for them to celebrate their freedom and youthfulness.
Other universities have similar traditions, but not as detailed or sustained in student culture at the University. For example, the University of Michigan had the “Naked Mile”, but it was abolished by university administrators in 2004. Living on the Lawn for only a month so far, Brooks confesses that she has already seen many people streaking it, especially in “very big groups”.
“[Streaking] is a quintessential college sort of tradition,” Brooks said. “There's this association between like college students and kind of reckless behavior, kind of goofiness.”
Nearly 90 years old, the tradition of streaking the Lawn is indeed a tale as old as time. Although the Lawn streakers are unsure whether this tradition will persist in the future, for now, nowhere else in the country can you run up and down a UNESCO World Heritage Site naked — and not get arrested for it.