O-Issue 2012: Campus Rivalries

While it may resemble Freaks and Geeks more than Biggie & Tupac, we still have our share of heated competition

By Gio Wrobel

U of C rivalries are waged with wit rather than physical contests, and with novel rather than orthodox arguments, drawing on wide-ranging authorities that mirror the diverse backgrounds and interests of the student body. But be that as it may, our brand of rivalries is no less weighty or heartfelt due to the unique style we bring to the field of (intellectual) combat.  Rather than take our word for it, challenge yourself to enter the field, and thus to taste the thrill of victory and the utter agony of defeat.

Before we begin, let’s set the record straight. Despite what you may hear from the ill-informed, there is little in the way of true rivalry between U of C and Northwestern.  Putting aside petty subjective arguments over “college experience” and lake views, when it comes to applicants, rankings, and academic stature, the U of C leaves little room for debate.

U of C students have no star varsity team to pay seasonal tribute to and probably won’t for some time, but our annual Scavenger Hunt—now in its 27th year—offers the perfect combination of disorder, creativity, and inter-house rivalries to whet our competitive appetites.

For one weekend during spring quarter, cadres of students storm the University grounds—some even taking the game to neighboring states—trying to acquire, construct, or complete the 350 some odd tasks that Scav demands. These tasks have ranged from having the best side mullet, to presenting your appendix in a jar. But the University is hardly a harmonious front of Scavvies,  with dissent coming from those who choose not to participate for one reason or another, be it disinterest, lack of time, or complete disapproval. To counter, Scavvies will wager that most detractors have never felt the exhilaration of the contest.

Scav would be much less contentious if it weren’t for the pre-existing rivalries among houses (Snell-Hitchcock and Burton-Judson are perennial heavy hitters), but each house seems to excel in one intramural sport or another. And, of course, the other dimension to housing rivalries is the informal tension between off-campus and on-campus living. Not something to worry about as a first year, but it’s out there along with the dragons in Washington Park.

The University is a fierce and rising competitor in varsity and club sports, but these are rarely occasions that unite the student body as you might find at other institutions. Our biggest rival is Washington University in Saint Louis (usually growled “Wash-U”). If you want to see a great game, check out the men’s or women’s basketball team, which has had much more talent than fans (i.e., parents) in recent years, and games are always free for students.  Give them a try; they won’t disappoint.

Foodies debate culinary options along 57th Street and beyond. Just east of campus you’ll find Z&H Market Café, an establishment that sports gourmet (i.e., expensive) sandwiches, fine imports, and fresh brewed coffee. Next door is the Medici restaurant and bakery, a longstanding Hyde Park institution that offers fresh baked goods, pan pizza, burgers, and everything in-between. However, when lines are long on weekends or in the morning, neither may be a good choice.

Those who venture a bit farther to East 53rd Street may find a favorite among Valois, an historic cafeteria style eatery that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; Mellow Yellow, a breakfast and lunch joint with a liquor license (a rare find in these parts); and Clarke’s, a 24-hour diner that just moved into the neighborhood last year.

Other rivalries that surface on campus draw on the wider city—Cubs vs. Sox, bikes vs. cars, and the gamesmanship among fraternities and sororities.  You can best find your rightful place on these spectrums of opinion by observing rather than reading, and better yet, by direct field research, particularly during your first year.

As we say at Chicago, the unexamined life is not worth living, but the un-lived life is not worth examining.  So get out and live a bit! In Chicago, your own contributions to our rivalries will be as informed by experience as they are by your powers of reasoning and argument.