Scav Deserves to be Saved

Declining interest in quirky UChicago traditions like Scav represents a rather alarming transformation of campus culture.

By Brinda Rao

Until Snitchcock’s Scav Team began decking the halls of UChicago with their campaign’s risqué posters, I was not aware that UChicago’s Annual Scavenger Hunt (Scav) remained a vibrant part of UChicago’s culture. As a resident of Campus North Residential Commons, I spent two days walking past two teams’ headquarters and lacked the curiosity to enter one and see what the chaos was about. Many of my housemates had similar experiences, barely aware of—let alone contributing to—the collective efforts of Scav. Somehow, as UChicago’s student body becomes spatially more concentrated, its observance of a beloved tradition declines.  

In Snell-Hitchcock, the world outside the dormitory stops during the five days of Scav. Students jokingly say that residents of Snitchcock are at their physical and mental strongest during this time. After spending an hour in their Scav headquarters, I can definitely validate this claim. Entering the dorm, I was immediately immersed in all things Scav, surrounded by the very ingenuity and creative vision that attract many to UChicago. Half-finished creations were clustered in every available corner surrounded by groups of attentive students. The halls bounced with exclamations of ideas and active brainstorming as students worked together. The refreshing energy exuded by Snitchcock Scav headquarters truly makes it a microcosm of creativity, one devoted to celebrating several defining aspects of UChicago culture.

I met students who halted their academics in the name of the tradition, and alumni, spanning back as far as the class of 2011, who hit pause on their lives to return for the beloved festivities. It’s easy to scoff and judge this at first glance; however, after hearing some stories of past Scavs, I realized that there is something otherworldly to Snitchcock Scav, as the group is devoted to making the impossible possible. Alumni told me about a successful cross-Atlantic quest to retrieve pink chocolate from England and the feat of building a self-playing piano programmed to mix 12 unique drinks. Hearing tales of global quests for items and innovation taken to the utmost extreme, I couldn’t help but wonder if the rest of us are missing out on an intrinsically UChicago tribute to eccentricity and camaraderie.

As first-years, aren’t we supposed to participate in the quirky, traditional UChicago stuff that was discussed in every admissions event we attended? We’re not yet disgruntled seniors lamenting four years of exorbitant tuition, intense academics, and Chicago winters. But we’re somehow unenthusiastic about an event that we’ve never experienced before. Most of my fellow North residents walk past the two Scav headquarters in North with evident disdain and judgment. Sitting outside of Strongin’s Scav headquarters, I overheard conversations between passersby declaring, “They took our study space,” or, “It’s just unsightly.” The immediate rejection of Scav by many of my peers is perhaps a sign that the demographics of UChicago are transitioning away from the unusual and eccentric.

Many of the residents of Snitchcock and North that I interviewed cited the creation of megadorms, residence commons like North and South that house over 800 students, to be the ultimate downfall of Scav. Historically, UChicago’s residence life was defined by satellite dorms scattered around the Hyde Park area. The Snitchcock and Breckenridge glorification of Scav was a norm before the 2013–14 closure of many satellite dorms like Pierce and Shoreland, which previously proved to be consistent, formidable competition. Since the rise of megadorms, participation in traditional UChicago events like Scav has diminished tremendously. Currently, Snitchcock has had a five-year winning streak, counting this year’s tie with Breckenridge. Many returning alumni of Snitchcock note that while the spirit of Scav remains alive and thriving in Snitchcock, it has faltered over the past decade across campus at large.

However, Strongin remains a stronghold of Scav and house culture in North. As the only house in North to form its own team and to have alumni return for the tradition, Strongin embraces the historic celebration of the event. A resident of Strongin House explained to me, “Our team is mostly comprised of Maclean (the satellite dorm predecessor of Strongin) members. This is our last year with Maclean residents in the house and they’ve really instilled a strong house culture that has carried down in activities like IM sports. Almost 20 Maclean alumni returned this year for Scav and we placed third.”

UChicago has always prided itself on its offbeat, idiosyncratic identity that defines both its academic culture and social life. The sharp decrease in participation in traditions like Scav is a prime indication that the College is losing its unconventionality. While there are concentrated bastions of Scav in Snell-Hitchcock and in select houses across campus, a majority of students no longer partake in or care for Scav. The whimsical and quirky nature of it is something that we should champion and try to reinvigorate, not ignore and criticize. Scav reminds us that while we are a growing student body home to a plethora of interests and backgrounds, we can remain connected by long-beloved UChicago traditions. Whether or not we participate in Scav specifically, we must care about upholding the distinctive, unapologetically peculiar culture that drew many of us to this school.

Brinda Rao is a first-year in the College.