It's Halloween Weekend on Campus

October 27, 2006

At colleges across the country, students will be dressing up and downing drinks this weekend, engaging in any number of tricks not for kids. Traditions, new and old, die hard on Halloween. One legendary party is being resurrected, another lives on, while others on campus use Halloween as an opportunity to do good -- and even, strange as it may seem, to address the country’s challenges in science education.

At Stanford University, the legendary Mausoleum Party is slated for tonight after a five-year hiatus. About 1,000 students are expected to show up to dance in front of a tomb containing the remains of the institution’s founders, with a D.J. set up on the mausoleum’s steps, said Ken Bates, deputy sheriff for Stanford’s Department of Public Safety. The alcohol-free event, formerly funded by the university’s alumni association before the group decided to focus on other priorities, returns after student government organizers spearheaded a revival of the tradition, securing dollars from the President’s Fund for the party, which could cost as much as $10,000, The Stanford Daily reported.

The student newspaper has lauded the return of the party, ostensibly one of Stanford’s great traditions -- item number 19 on a list of 101 things “you must do” that appeared in Stanford’s alumni magazine in 2000. The “Mausoleum Party should live again,” The Stanford Daily’s editorial board titled an opinion piece in 2003, the second straight year Stanford went without the macabre tradition. The newspaper’s board argued a similar point in 2004 and 2005.

Meanwhile, at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the infamous city-sponsored celebration scheduled for Saturday is a thriving tradition that needs no resurrection -- probably to the chagrin of some of those in charge of maintaining law and order. In 2005, 70,000 to 80,000 people showed up, 468 got arrested, mainly for alcohol-related offenses, and one 22-year-old UW graduate was found dead the day after the party, according to a summary compiled by UW’s communication’s department detailing the long history of the event.

While the city celebration is not affiliated with the university, many students participate in the Madison event, said John Lucas, a Wisconsin spokesman, and officials are concerned about student safety. The interim dean of students, Lori M. Berquam, sent an e-mail message to all students urging that they follow certain safety procedures if they choose to attend the city celebration. College officials have also endeavored to increase the number of alternative Halloween activities, which include several athletic events on campus.

But Halloween is not all about drinking, debauchery and property damage. At Northern State University in South Dakota, students will trick or treat Tuesday for canned goods to be donated to food pantries, The Aberdeen News reported, while Rowan and Wake Forest Universities are among many institutions that are hosting trick or treating events for children, according to local news accounts. The Rocky Horror Picture Show should be a common sight on film reels at college campuses, and six University of Arizona students will be among those showing their original “three-minute thrillers” at a Saturday short film competition sponsored by the Independent Film Association of Southern Arizona, said Jill Bean, a spokeswoman for the University of Arizona’s media arts department.

One University of Central Florida professor has even used the holiday as an excuse to address a need for greater scientific literacy among his students and the general public. Costas Efthimiou, an assistant professor of physics there, developed a Fermi equation demonstrating that vampires and humans could not coexist for any sustained period of time. Given the assumptions that each vampire would attack one human per month and that the first vampire struck in 1600, vampires would have exterminated the human race by 1602, Efthimiou calculated.

Efthimiou uses such pop culture-inspired Fermi equations to increase the scientific aptitude of non-science students enrolled in a course he teaches that uses movies as a basis for scientific inquiry. “There’s a lot that we can do to make the public understand science,” Efthimiou said. “That was my plan.”

But Efthimiou said he’s been “depressed” by the responses he gotten to his equation, which was picked up by the Associated Press. Rather than encouraging the general public to think scientifically, not pseudo-scientifically, he said his work has provoked angry messages from people, including some with “.edu” in their e-mail addresses, who cling to their conceptions that vampires exist and knock his numbers accordingly.

One person, Efthimiou said, criticized his failure to account for Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s role in keeping the vampire population in check.

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