House T-shirts: Where students come to buy

By Kate Shepherd

In a custom as unique as Scav Hunt or the Latke-Hammentashen Debate, U of C students have embraced a tradition of sardonic and self-deprecating T-shirts that both celebrate and bemoan some of the University’s shortcomings. For years, students have been proudly buying and selling shirts bearing these tongue-in-cheek phrases.

The most famous phrase, “Where Fun Comes to Die,” has become almost synonymous with the University, even appearing in recent application materials. Yet the actual origin of the slogan is mysterious—even John Boyer, dean of the College and a University and Hyde Park historian, was unsure of when or where the saying developed. One theory says that the phrase evolved from a 1993 Inside Edge magazine article that ranked the University the least-fun school in the country.

Today, many students associate the “Where Fun Comes to Die” slogan with Tufts house, which sells T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase for an annual house fundraiser. According to Agnes Mazur, a first-year and the organizer of the Tufts T-shirt sale, the motto is deeply ingrained in the history, pride, and spirit of Tufts House.

“It’s unofficial attire that everyone wants to get their hands on,” Mazur said. “We pride ourselves on the fact we can take that notion and completely turn it around—it’s self-deprecating but in good humor.”

T-shirts with quirky slogans have proven consistently popular with a wide swath of the University community; houses and student organizations see purchases from not just fellow undergraduates but prospective students, family, faculty, staff, graduate students, and alumni.

“Our College students are amazingly creative and entrepreneurial, so it does not surprise me that some students turned the slogan into a money-making operation,” Boyer said.

Flint House T-shirts gained similar popularity last quarter, adorned as they were with the phrase “University of Chicago…If it were easy, it would be your mom.”

According to third-year Flint House member Allison Gardner, there continue to be inquiries about the availability of the shirts. Rather than reintroducing the T-shirts this quarter, Flint hopes to start a new tradition by selling shot glasses. The glasses will feature a new phrase—“Chicago Life…Get One”—coined by Flint Fundraising Chair and first-year Jarrod Wolf.

“It is taking advantage of the reputation we have as a hard school academically,” Gardner said. “We are proud that we work hard when we’re here.”

Hoover House has proven a similarly influential fundraiser in recent years, with T-shirts touting “Where the squirrels are more aggressive than the guys” and “Where the squirrels are cuter than the girls” slogans becoming ubiquitous fixtures about the quads.

This quarter, Hoover is transitioning to a more weather-appropriate “Hell Does Freeze Over” T-shirt that has also proven to be a student favorite in past years. While many students revel in the ability to voice their gripes in T-shirt form, Boyer considers many of the slogans to be out of date, saying many students seem to be enjoying their experience in the College.

“It may well be that we should have a new slogan, describing how much Chicago-style fun our students actually have in this great city and great University,” Boyer said. “But such slogans can only be invented by the students themselves.”