Top 20 Colleges With Interesting History or Finds

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Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: March 22, 2024, Reading time: 41 minutes

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Every history major will agree that many colleges with exciting histories are the first colleges founded in the United States. After all, with a centuries-old history comes many fascinating stories!

This is true for every four-year college established during the colonial period – Harvard University, College of William and Mary, Yale University, Princeton University, and Columbia University.

Colleges With Interesting History or Finds - fact
College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Great for History Buffs

Most of these early colleges with interesting stories were originally founded by religious denominations as a venue for training ministers and were modeled after British and Scottish universities, particularly Cambridge University and Oxford University.

The students who completed secondary school usually came from wealthy Puritan families and focused their studies on general education and Christian character formation. 

Indeed, the transformation from the spiritual to the secular among these colleges and universities is a fascinating subject for history students. But even non-history majors will find the following stories fascinating, too; perhaps even make a visit to every university mentioned here and check out the stories for themselves. 

Colleges With Interesting History or Finds

Harvard University

Among the best colleges in American history, Harvard is the oldest US institution of higher education, established as Harvard College in 1636. Named after John Harvard, its first benefactor, the Ivy League private research university has established an enviable reputation for its wealth and influence, as well as its academic excellence and research capabilities. 

Every history major interested in Harvard University and its history knows that it’s the site of many medical advances. The smallpox vaccine (1799) and the electrocardiograph (1914) were introduced by Harvard scientists, among others. 

But Harvard isn’t just about the serious stuff, either! 

The Tunnel 

Known as The Tunnel, the network of underground tunnels running under the college campus and its buildings carry the utility lines that make the lives of Harvard’s students, faculty and staff, and visitors comfortable. Think power cables and transmission lines, steam pipes, and telephone cables under the three-mile network. 

Most of the tunnels are ten feet high and ten feet wide, meaning several students can traverse the route if they are allowed to. While it’s well-lighted, it’s hot for obvious reasons. The Tunnel can be accessed from the basement of many of Harvard’s buildings, but there are also access points on the surface, and it connects several buildings, including the Houses, Law School, the Yard, and the Business School. 

Indeed, once you’re inside the Tunnel, you can quickly gain entrance into many of the buildings – and that’s exactly how a German spy eluded arrest by the FBI! It’s for this reason, too, that the entrance points remain locked at all times. 

Book Bound in Human Skin 

History students with a fascination for the bizarre will find the book, Des destinees de l’ame (Destinies of the Soul) right up their alley! Scientists at the Harvard Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Resource Laboratory believe that it’s found in human skin, a practice known as anthropodermic bibliopegy with early 16th-century origins. 

Dr. Ludovic Bouland was said to have bound the book, which discusses life after death and meditation, in the skin of an unclaimed female patient in the late 1800s. He has even left a note that stated the cover wasn’t ornamented with stamps to “preserve its elegance.” 

Furthermore, Harvard University has many bizarre objects in its 50+ collections that have been accumulated over its 350-year history. Don’t forget the ghost sightings, too, such as at the Memorial Hall, where the ghosts of Civil War soldiers are said to roam to this day. 

College of William and Mary in Virginia 

Founded in 1693 and named after its royal benefactors, King William III and Queen Mary II, the Virginia-based College of William and Mary is known for its academic excellence, an attribute that strengthens its reputation as a Public Ivy.

Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, the public research university is also known as the Alma Mater of the Nation because it’s the alma mater of many key figures in American history. These include three presidents – Jefferson, Monroe, and Tyler, among four other signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

It Could Have Been the First University 

William & Mary may be considered the second-oldest college in the country, but it may have beaten Harvard University for the honor of being the first college if its plans had pushed through earlier. There are original 1619 plans for the university with a planned college campus at Henrico. 

But William & Mary has many firsts, too, not to mention being the first and only American higher education institution with a charter from the Crown and a coat of arms! It’s also the first university in the United States to feature a full faculty, confer medals as prizes, establish an intercollegiate fraternity (Phi Beta Kappa), implement an honor system and elective system of study, and establish a law school, and offer programs in modern history, modern languages, and political economy. 

With such a centuries-old history, William & Mary also boasts the oldest college building still in use today – the Wren Building was completed in 1699 and featured classrooms and a library, as well as a chapel and dining hall for students. 

End-of-classes Traditions 

While students love learning, there’s also a feeling of exhilaration and excitement when the end of classes draws near – and it’s true among William & Mary students, too! There are three notable traditions that mark the end of classes. 

First, seniors ring the Wren Bell, a ceremonial bell, which results in cheerful peals ringing throughout the campus the entire day of the last day of classes. Then, students gather at the Sunken Garden for celebratory feasts and games. 

Second, students celebrate the close of the academic year with the Royal Ball, a formal party filled with food, music, dance, and toasts and choruses. Third, the candlelight ceremony is conducted the night before the commencement exercises, and it’s filled with nostalgia. 

Yale University

A top-rated New Haven-based university, Yale is among the best colleges for history, political science, and economics, among other fields. Founded in 1701, it’s one of the nine colonial institutions of higher education. Then and now, high school students must be aware of its highly selective admissions – its acceptance rate is 4.46% for the Class of 2026.  

Over its 320-year history, Yale University has been the site for many medical and health inventions and innovations. These include the first chemotherapy treatment and the identification of genes for many disorders like Lyme disease, hypertension, and Tourette’s syndrome. 

Yale’s Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library 

History students will love the collection of rare books and manuscripts in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book Library! However it has a high-tech security system designed for the protection of these valuable books and manuscripts. 

In case of a fire, for example, students, faculty, and library staff only have 30 seconds to exit the premises before fire-suppressing gas is released – and the gas is lethal for humans. If that’s not enough, the cube structure descends to an underground vault, too, in case of more serious threats – and the vault sucks out all oxygen. 

Among the rare manuscripts found in the Beinecke Rare Book Library is the Voynich Manuscript, considered among the world’s most mysterious manuscripts. The 240-page vellum manuscript has been studied by the best mathematicians, linguists, and code breakers in vain. 

Yale University also boasts many internationally-renowned libraries with impressive collections, such as the Sterling Memorial Library, the Harvey Cushing-John Hay Whitney Medical Library, and the Yale University Art Gallery. 

The “Saybrook Suicide Suite”

If you’re on Saybrook’s Wrexham Tower’s fourth floor, you may want to see the Saybrook Suicide Suite. There’s usually no lock, so it’s easy to enter a small room with an old chair smack in the middle and a thick coat of dust over the floor, too. According to Yale lore, three students committed suicide in the room, and it has become a haunted place. 

But there may be a logical explanation for the Saybrook Suicide Suite. In 2001, renovations were made in the area, and the room may have been abandoned in the process. 

Princeton University

Founded in 1746, Princeton University is the country’s fourth-oldest university. Over the years, it has changed its location from Elizabeth to Princeton, New Jersey, and changed its name, too, from College of New Jersey to its present name (1896). 

Princeton University is among the best colleges for the study of engineering and architecture, social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. With its comprehensive university libraries, every history major will have a field day, too!  

With its status as an Ivy League private research university, you’d expect it to be an elite school open only for the rich – and it isn’t! Princeton University was the first university that gave grants – not loans – to financially needy students in its no-loan policy, thus making it among the best colleges for ambitious students. 

Princeton is also known for its emphasis on the community service experience. Students can participate in long-term projects intended to build a stronger and healthier on-campus and off-campus community.

Rowdy Is the Name of the Game 

But Princeton University isn’t all prim and proper! Take, for example, the Cane Spree, a university tradition that started in the 1870s when sophomores snatched from freshmen their fancy canes; apparently, the freshmen strutted around the college campus, and it irked the sophomores. These cane-snatching events were full-on riots, but these were considered the first organized intramural event. 

Even with the intervention of the administration in the mid-1870s – the Cane Spree became limited in terms of the number of contestants and location – students still committed abuses. The Cane Spree was abolished in 1891, but the students were soon using hickory sticks instead of canes. 

The current incarnation of the Cane Spree freshmen and seniors battle it out at the Princeton Football Stadium but not with canes or hickory sticks – obstacle courses, relay races, and other sports determine class supremacy.  There’s a vestige of the old Cane Spree, however – traditional cane wrestling. 

Howling Is Heard Among Students 

The college experience at Princeton isn’t complete without howling, and there’s a good reason for it, too, because of its rigorous curriculum. There’s the Holder Howl, a minute-long cacophony of cathartic howling that students enjoy at midnight before Dean’s Date. No, this isn’t a date per se but the university deadline when students must submit all their written work. 

While the Holder’s Howl is conducted at Holder Courtyard, there’s also the Whitman Wail. The cries of despair are made as a community by students at Whitman College. Like Holder’s Howl, the Whitman Wail is done at midnight before the Dean’s Date. 

But it isn’t all wailing at Princeton University, either! College cheers are more common. 

Columbia University

Established in 1754, Columbia University is an institution of higher education known for its crucial role in many STEM breakthroughs. These include the first nuclear fission reaction and nuclear pile, the development of the laser and maser, and the understanding of the brain-computer interface. The streak continues today with new discoveries being made by Columbia’s researchers. 

Longest Losing Streak 

History students will also tell you that Columbia University doesn’t always finish first, so to speak. In fact, the football team has the second-longest losing streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision – Prairie View A&M holds the dubious record. Between 1983 and 1988, the football team experienced 44 losses that prompted its then-coach to remark that “there’s not a lot of talent here.” 

The five-year losing streak started with a Bucknell tie and was marked by the Columbia band playing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song when the football team came out on the field. Yes, it was that bad. The Lions team was, at one point, among the worst college football teams, according to ESPN. 

On October 8, 1988, the Lions’ losing streak was broken, and it was sweet, too – the win was over Princeton, its archrival. Such was the joy among the students at Columbia that the marching band with their musical instruments joined the pileup! 

Student Activism in the 1960s 

History majors with a special interest in American history will point to the student occupation of Columbia University and its subsequent lockdown in 1968 as proof of student activism in the Ivy League private research university.  The so-called Gym Crow student protests sparked among the largest mass arrests in the history of the Big Apple and many student uprisings around the world. 

The reason for the student uprising: Columbia University proposed a new gym construction in Morningside Park. But while the intention was good, the design wasn’t – the proposed gym featured two doors – one for Columbia’s predominantly white students and one for the predominantly black residents of the Harlem community. With the battle for civil rights and the assassination of Martin Luther King the year before, it was a bad move, to say the least. 

University of Pennsylvania

While the status of the University of Pennsylvania as either the fourth-oldest or the fifth-oldest higher education institution in the United States is under contention, there’s no doubt that it’s among the best colleges! The Ivy League private research university was founded by Philadelphians under the leadership of Benjamin Franklin in 1749 and established as a college for leaders in business, education, and public service. 

This is among the most selective colleges, too, with an acceptance rate below 6% for the Class of 2025. Students must live up to the world-class curriculum with an emphasis on innovation and leadership. This isn’t surprising as the University of Pennsylvania is a trailblazer – the first university with a medical school and a teaching hospital, the first student union, and the first law school with a law journal, among others. This is among the best colleges for medical studies, too, with many of the most important discoveries in medicine made here, such as the dialysis machine, the vaccines for hepatitis B and rubella, and the genes behind many disorders. 

Rowbottom Riots 

History students will also point out that the University of Pennsylvania has a wild side, too! Take, for example, the Rowbottom tradition, where civil disorder takes over the campus. 

While the first Rowbottom riot was recorded in 1910, its exact origins are debated. Most accounts, however, state that it started when UPenn students started calling the attention of Joseph Tintsman Rowbottom by calling outside his dorm room’s window. Such was the raucous that other students started throwing objects out of their windows. The call ”Hey Rowbottom” became the beckon for mischief among the student body. 

In a Rowbottom, nearly everything goes – smashed windows, overturned automobiles, and trolley trucks set on fire – and it can quickly spill out into the neighboring communities. Fortunately, the last Rowbottom occurred in 1980, although there are a few calls to bring it back. 

1960s Student Protests 

History students will also point to the 1960s student radicalism at UPenn, although it wasn’t as radical as at Columbia University and at UC Berkeley. UPenn students also staged sit-ins and other campus uprisings against the issues of the day, such as the Vietnam War, civil rights violations, and assassinations. Among the most notable protests was against the involvement of UPenn in chemical and biological warfare research. 

Student radicalism has continued in recent times, too, such as the Teach–in 2018 inspired by the 1969 Day of Conscience. 

Brown University

Established in 1764, Brown University was originally named “College in the English Colony of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations.” The Ivy League private research university was the country’s first college to codify a non-discrimination policy in its charter (i.e., students are to be accepted and instructed regardless of their faith). 

Brown University’s long history means that it has accumulated quite a few feats – Ivy League’s oldest engineering program and among the oldest medical and doctorate programs in New England. Students agree, too, that Brown University is among the best colleges for modern liberal arts education, thanks to its undergraduate Open Curriculum – and it’s among the university’s distinguishing features.

Students become the architects of their own program of study by allowing them to complete 30 courses and complete a concentration. Brown University also requires students to demonstrate fluency in writing in the English language. 

Blueno, The Blue Teddy Bear  

Brown’s college campus formerly featured Urs Fischer’s 23-foot sculpture, “Untitled (Lamp/Bear),” a 23-foot, 20-ton sculpture of a blue teddy bear with an equally large lamp shape seemingly embedded in its head. But it was called Blueno because of its bright blue shade. Blueno was lent to the University by the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection. 

Did you know that it has a yellow counterpart? Yes, and it was worth $6.8 million at auction, so it’s safe to say that Blueno is worth in the same dollar area, too. 

Blueno was made of electric blue lacquered bronze but didn’t seem like it from a short distance. From 2016 until 2020, it was displayed in all its glory – ugly glory, if its detractors have their say – on Simmons Quad, in good weather and in bad. Students made the most of it by taking photos, becoming inspired for their art and poetry works, and featuring it on social media, lovers and haters both.  

Electroencephalograph Recordings Are Made 

Brown University is also known for its medical breakthroughs, and among the most notable is the first electroencephalograph (EEG) recordings made of the intact human brain. In 1932, noted psychologist Dr. Herbert H. Jasper made the breakthrough that paved the way for EEG’s widespread use in the diagnosis of brain disorders. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Founded in 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has become among the world’s best schools for the study of science and technology. The private research university is one of three land-grant universities in the country – Tuskegee University and Cornell University have the same distinction.

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, its mile-long urban campus spans the length of Charles River and many off-campus facilities like the Haystack Observatory and MIT Lincoln Laboratory. 

MIT is well-known for its wide range of inventions and innovations, many of which have changed the world as we know it and many of which are used on a daily basis. Examples include the disposable razor, wind tunnels, nuclear fission, Open CourseWare, and PET scans, as well as companies founded by MIT alumni like Texas Instruments. 

The MIThenge

And MIT has a few aces up its sleeves that point to its clever architecture. Take, for example, the MIThenge, also known as the Infinite Corridor, which has become an annual tradition among students and faculty, and staff. The MIThenge was originally discovered and publicized by Department of Architecture students in the mid-1970s. 

The MIThenge is so named because of its similarity to Stonehenge. The 251-meter hallway runs through MIT’s main buildings – from west to east, buildings numbered 7, 3, 10, 4, and 8. In mid-November and late January every year, the Infinite Corridor aligns with the sun’s position and causes sunlight to fill its entire length. 

Hack Culture

MIT is also among the best schools for pranks and pranksters! Known as hacks in MIT culture, these practical jokes are innovative and irreverent – and the Infinite Corridor has been the venue for many of the most memorable hacks, such as the 1985 Mass Toolpike hack. These hacks are also intended to showcase the students’ technical cleverness – it’s MIT, after all – and to commemorate significant pop culture references. 

The Great Dome simply being there – think Mount Everest – has made it the target of hacks through the years, with unknown individuals placing various objects on top of it or decorating it. There’s the Pac-Man reference, the half-scale Apollo Lunar Module replica, and the R2D2 character, among others. Even Cambridge’s tallest building, the Green Building, was turned into a playable Tetris! 

Caltech and MIT aren’t just rivals in higher education! Their pranks rivalry goes all the way back to Spring 2005 and has continued to this day. 

California Institute of Technology

Known for its long history of scientific and technological innovations, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is considered among the best colleges and universities in the world. The private research university is known for its robust emphasis on teaching pure and applied sciences among its students – the cream of the crop with under a 4% acceptance rate. 

Caltech’s scientists and engineers made a wide range of significant discoveries, from seeing inside the brain and body to understanding the universe. The more recent discoveries include changing bacteria’s DNA for humankind’s benefit, discovering a new class of supernovae and super-bright pulsars, and creating solar-powered toilets. 

And, yes, Caltech and MIT are prank rivals, but they are also partners in several scientific and technological projects. These include the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Climate Modeling Alliance. 

Here Comes Tinker, Thinker, and Stinker! 

Founded in 1891 by Amos G. Throop as a preparatory and vocational school, the California Institute of Technology attracted many of the best minds of the time.

Three of these notable scientists were George Ellery Hale (astronomer and astrophysicist), Robert Andrews Millikan (physicist), and Arthur Amos Noyes (chemist), who made influential contributions to the STEM field during their time at Caltech. Caltech students were clever, and the trio was named Tinker, Thinker, and Stinker for obvious reasons. 

The Honor Code Is Unparalleled 

Caltech, just like MIT, has a strong tradition of pranks, but most of these practical jokes occur within the college campus – with the exception of its pranks on MIT, more than 2,500 miles away. The prank started the Caltech-MIT prank rivalry and included a laser show, a Caltech blimp over the Great Dome, and a sign that read “That Other Institute of Technology.”

Despite the strong pranks culture, Caltech’s student life has an overriding aspect: the Honor Code. The Honor Code enables students to actively participate in their learning, from taking assignments at home to participating in faculty-led research projects. 

In fact, Caltech is among the best colleges for undergraduate research for both students and junior faculty. Students interested in research will benefit from the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program, too.  

Stanford University

Officially known as Leland Stanford Junior University, Stanford University isn’t a junior college in the way that Canadians see it despite its name; in Canada, a junior college is usually a two-year trade college. Instead, Stanford University is a four-year private research university with a sprawling suburban 8,180-acre beautiful campus in Stanford, about 30 miles from San Francisco, California. 

Established in 1885 by Leland and Jane Stanford, Stanford University only admitted students on the first of October 1891 and accepted both men and women regardless of their religious beliefs. Since then, the world-renowned university has contributed several milestones in science and technology,, including the development of lasers, nuclear magnetic resonance, the ARPANET, and the Internet. 

Stanford is also among the best colleges for entrepreneurs, thanks to its robust venture culture among students. In fact, students can get funding for their startup companies! 

Favorites of Technology Companies 

Such is the reputation of Stanford University for academic excellence that it’s said students are hired on the spot at Google – no applications are necessary for summer jobs and internships. Many students, however, skip the Google route despite the strong possibility of lifetime employment because of their entrepreneurial dreams. 

Not surprisingly, Stanford University boasts the highest number of alumni in Google, Apple, and Amazon, among other top technology companies. The university is also known for being the birthplace of Silicon Valley, thanks to alumni who started their own companies and its instrumental role in creating the post-WWII Stanford Industrial Park. Notable examples include Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo!, Snapchat, and Instagram. 

Steam Tunneling 

College experience at Stanford University wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t go steam tunneling! Originally built in 1881, the subterranean tunnel system connects the college campus and carries saturated steam to its numerous buildings. The Stanford Steam Tunnels can be found primarily beneath the Main Quad – and it makes sense since it’s the oldest part of the college campus. 

There are multiple entrances, too, but most have either been padlocked or sealed off. But that hasn’t stopped the students from exploring the tunnels and doing monkey business down there! Unauthorized entry into the steam tunnels is not recommended, and students can be penalized for it, too. The main reason is its unsafe conditions – exposure to toxic gas and oxygen deficiency are risks associated with unprotected entry. 

University of Michigan

Located in picturesque Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan is a public university known for its excellence in academics and research. Founded in 1817, it’s the oldest university in the state and, in the process, has accumulated and continues to earn many superlatives – the oldest continuously running legal organization, laboratory for social sciences, and university hospital, among others.

Students interested in history will find abundant research resources in its research library, too – the second-largest of its kind in the country. 

UMich’s influence and leadership span a wide range of fields, from higher education to STEM, thanks to its significant contributions to science and technology and through the work of its researchers and alumni. The Apollo 15 mission, for example, featured an all-Michigan crew, and UMich itself has been a major astronaut training center since the 1960s. 

Tunnels Under the Diag 

Like Harvard and Stanford, UMich also has an underground tunnel system that was originally built to house steam pipes; in more modern times, it houses fiber optics. The steam lines are vital in powering the university’s heating and cooling systems, the hot water lines, and the mechanical systems. 

The tunnel system is located under the Diag and runs more than six miles. Staff from the Utility Department and construction crews are the only persons authorized to enter the tunnels for security and safety reasons. 

But as with students at Harvard and Stanford, these didn’t stop UMich students from making their own explorations of their university’s steam tunnels! In the 1980s, students often trespassed into the tunnels and played Dungeons and Dragons. The most notorious tunnel trespasser was Tunnel Bob, an undergraduate student during the 1971-1975 period who often trekked through the tunnel along with his pals, known as the Elliot Expeditionary Force. 

Fleming Administration Building

Completed in 1968, the Fleming Administration Building was a cube-shaped structure designed by Alden B. Dow and inspired by Piet Mondrian’s artwork. We say “was” because, in August 2022, the building’s exterior was demolished and, thus, ended an era – it was a familiar landmark in the Central Campus. 

Apparently, the Fleming Administration Building was built to resist damage from student protests and riots. Made of heavy brick, the windows were mere slits in the façade that resulted in little sunlight streaming indoors. But it wasn’t as protest-proof as was intended – students have occupied, so to speak, the building several times. 

Duke University

Founded in 1838 by Quakers and Methodists, Duke University has an 8,600-acre campus in Durham, North Carolina, that has been recognized for its beauty. Among the most selective colleges with less than a 6% acceptance rate, the prestigious university also maintains a strong presence in Asia through its Duke Kunshan University in China and Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. 

Student life is characterized by on-campus living with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors required to live in residential accommodations in the East Campus and West Campus. Seniors can choose to live on campus or off campus. Such a requirement – there are a few exceptions due to a lottery system – is intended to strengthen a positive college experience, including a stronger sense of community. 

Seeing into the Body 

Duke University is well-respected for its research capabilities, too, and it’s known for its track record in the field of medicine. Among its most significant contributions are the technologies that allow us to see into the body and, thus, achieve modern-day medical procedures. 

These medical technologies include the development of the real-time phased-array imaging system by Fredrick Thurstone and Olaf von Ramm, which laid the groundwork for real-time ultrasound imaging. Olaf von Ramm and Stephen Smith, were the brains behind the first real-time 3-D ultrasonic scanner.

In 2002, Gregg Trahey and Kathryn Nightingale advanced the technology behind real-time detection and diagnosis of prostate cancer and liver scarring without an invasive procedure. 

But it isn’t just seeing what Duke University scientists are good at! In 2006, David Smith and Steve Cummer led researchers in demonstrating the so-called invisibility cloak. 

Burning the Benches

The Blue Devils have a reputation for living up to their name, and it’s demonstrated in the tradition of burning benches! According to the  Duke University Library, the tradition began in 1986 when Duke lost to Louisville in the National Championship. Students reacted to the loss through vandalism and even assault, a situation for which the police department was unprepared. 

In 1990, the police department was more prepared – a bonfire was set up in the Card Gym parking lot, and it started a beloved Duke tradition. Nowadays, whenever Duke wins against the University of North Carolina (UNC), there’s a bonfire on Abele Quad.  

But there are still bench-burning activities at Duke. In February 2022, many students attempted it after Duke’s win over UNC. However, the administration has sanctions in place for unauthorized fires. 

Emory University

Founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1836, Emory University is a private research university with a sprawling college campus in Atlanta, Georgia. Such is its excellent reputation for research, and it received $894.7 million in funds from external agencies in 2021! 

Emory University is also the number one producer of students, and it has been awarded the prestigious Kirschstein-National Research Service Award by the National Institutes of Health. The university has also played crucial roles in the containment of the Ebola virus in the United States and the treatment of HIV. 

Coca-Cola and Emory Culture

Emory isn’t all serious either! In 1915, The Coca-Cola Company founder Asa Griggs Candler donated land for its new campus, and the soda has been considered Emory’s unofficial drink since then. In fact, there isn’t a single Pepsi product in and near the Emory campus, not to mention that it’s in poor spirit if Emory students, faculty and staff, and even alumni drink any other soda except Coke! 

It wasn’t just the land donation that strengthened the ties between Emory and Coca-Cola. In 1979, Robert Woodruff donated Coca-Cola stocks to Emory, and the investment has been used in funding advancements in education, sustainability projects, and research, even the school traditions and spirit. 

The Coke experience starts from the first day of your freshman year at Emory, too! On freshman move-in day, you and your family members will be given your choice of flavor in Coke. You will then proceed to the center of the campus, where the university president welcomes freshmen with a Coca-Cola toast. Then, on the nights before graduation, Coke figures prominently in the gatherings and toasts. 

Role in the Civil Rights Movement

In September 1962, Emory was officially desegregated, with the first African American undergraduate students admitted during the Fall 1963 term. Marvin S. Arrington Sr, the first full-time African American student admitted to the university, graduated from its law school in 1967. 

Emory University wasn’t just a passive participant in the civil rights movement either! In 1962, it petitioned the courts to declare certain provisions in the Georgia laws unconstitutional, and it was ratified by the Supreme Court of Georgia. 

Oberlin College

Every history major worth their salt knows that Oberlin College is the oldest coed liberal arts institution in the country. This private liberal arts college and conservatory of music was among the first colleges that admitted African American students (1835) and the first to admit women (1837). 

As a conservatory of music, Oberlin College is also known for its impressive collection of orchestral and baroque instruments that students can use. The 1,500-strong collection of musical instruments also includes organs and Steinway pianos. 

Student Political Activism

Progressive student activism has been part of the Oberlin College student life since its founding. Indeed, it was a hub for abolitionist activities that past presidents embraced and encouraged among its students.

Oberlin, for one thing, was part of the Underground Railroad, a series of safe houses and routes through which escaped slaves were kept and transported on their way to freedom in the North and Canada. Such was the instrumental role that Oberlin College and its students played in the abolitionist movement, and the incident known as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue became the catalyst for the American Civil War. 

The student political activism continued into modern times, so much so that its liberal politics made it among the top-ranked “Colleges with a Conscience.” In the 1950s, among the country’s first student-run coops was created due to the students’ campaign for alternative food services in the residence halls – and Pyle-Inn was born.  

In the 1960s, when student activism was at its peak, Oberlin’s Memorial Arch became the hub for student activism against the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Oberlin students also participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer and other protests. 

And where Emory University has a love affair with Coca-Cola, Oberlin once implemented a campus-wide ban on Coca-Cola products in 2004—the reason: To protest Coca-Cola’s human rights and labor rights violations. The ban was in place for ten years before being lifted in the spring of 2014. 

Art Rental Program 

Of course, Oberlin College is among the best schools for the arts! Oberlin makes it easy for students to study the visual arts, too, through its art rental program. Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Art Museum allows students to rent the original works of the 20th century’s most seminal artists, including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol, for a small fee – just five dollars per semester. 

This isn’t a new trend either, as the program started in the 1940s! Students, personnel, and community members are allowed to rent one work each. There are more than 400 original works of art in the collection. 

Texas Tech University

Founded in 1923, Texas Tech University is designated as a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), with more than 25% of its student body being Hispanic. Texas Tech is part of the state university system of the Lone Star State. It is the Texas Tech University System’s flagship institution. 

True to its name, Texas Tech is among the country’s foremost contributors to scientific and technological advancements. For one thing, it has the exclusive license for a human blood substitute (HemoTech). For another thing, it has maintained a strong partnership with NASA on several projects, including the Onboard Abort Executive software and vegetable cultivation in space and wastewater recycling.  

The Masked Rider 

Texas Tech has a fun-loving side with a strong touch of the Wild West, too, and among its most obvious demonstrations is the Masked Rider, the school’s official mascot. The Masked Rider isn’t an anthropomorphic character either – it’s a student selected for the purpose and dressed for the part! 

Every year, students audition for the Masked Rider position, with the best chosen by the Masked Rider Advisory Committee. The chosen student becomes the Masked Rider for a year and makes public appearances, particularly during games.

However, since the Masked Rider has to ride a horse and live animals as mascots aren’t allowed in most away games, an alternative mascot had to be made. This is where Raider Red comes in – and, unlike the Masked Rider, his identity isn’t known until the end of their tenure. 

Will Rogers and Soapsuds

Texas Tech continues the horse-centric tradition with its well-known landmark – Will Rogers and Soapsuds, his horse. Installed in 1950, made by Amon G. Carter, and called “Riding into the Sunset,” it has become part of school tradition in many ways. 

The Saddle Tramps cover it in red crêpe paper before home football games. Black crêpe paper is used to wrap the statue during national tragedies as a sign of community bereavement. 

West Virginia University

With its suburban 2,800-acre main campus in Morgantown, West Virginia, West Virginia University (WVU) is the flagship university of the WVU System, a state university system of colleges and universities. The public university is classified as an R1 institution with very high research activity, and among its sister institutions are the WVU Potomac State College and the WVU Institute of Technology.  

As a well-respected public research university, it maintains several affiliations, such as with the Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute for the study of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. WVU is also affiliated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in biometrics technology research.

Such is the wide range of its interesting finds that it spans earthly matters like cloning the American chestnut to space matters like discovering a double-star system.  

The Mountaineer Fires a Shot 

The sound of loud shots is common at WVU home games, but the firing of a period pistol is all in good fun! The Mountaineer, the official WVU mascot, fires their pistol with every score made by their team. 

Officially adopted in 1890, the Mountaineers only began their appearances at sporting events in the mid-1930s. Every year, a new Mountaineer is chosen, and the student selected for the job receives a scholarship and the distinctive Mountaineer costume. The Mountaineer wears a custom-made buckskin suit and a coonskin hat. Male mascots may or may not grow a beard. 

The Mountaineer travels with most of the school’s sports teams during the entirety of the academic year, too. When they fire a blank shot into the air, the crowd will start cheering during home games. 

The Student Section’s Reputation 

WVU may be known for its school spirit and achievements, but it also has its, well, unruly side! Such is the unruly behavior among some students in WVU’s student section that they have been compared to soccer hooligans. Case in point: Students throw cases of objects onto the field, sometimes at members of the opposing team. 

Like the Blue Devils, the Mountaineers have a penchant for igniting furniture and street fires. But it isn’t just in connection with sporting events either – there were fires when Osama bin Laden’s death was announced. 

Such a reputation for excessive enthusiasm can be attributed to the passionate support that WVU receives from the community in general. Note that West Virginia doesn’t have professional sports franchises, so it’s natural that the campus community and the Morgantown community throw their support behind the athletic teams. 

Lincoln University

While most of the student population at Lincoln University are African Americans, the public state-related historically black university has an inclusive admissions policy dating back to its early years. Lincoln University is also the first HBCU that granted college degrees in the country – indeed, a trailblazer in its own right. 

Notable African Americans Among its Alumni 

Such is its commitment to exceptional higher education for African Americans that in its first 100 years, the university’s alumni comprised 10% of all African-American lawyers and 20% of all African-American physicians in the country!

Lincoln University also has numerous alumni in colleges, universities, and churches in leadership positions, such as U.S. ambassadors, judges at the federal, state, and local levels, city mayors and managers, and prominent politicians. 

The Art of the Steal 

Lincoln University has also been involved in an art-related controversy, which was documented in The Art of the Steal, a documentary film released in 2009. Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a well-known art collector and pharmaceutical tycoon, possessed the best collection of post-Impressionist art with artwork by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Paul Cezanne—the value: $25 billion. 

Dr. Barnes entrusted the right to appoint the majority of the trustees of the Barnes Foundation, which controlled the fate of the art collection, to Lincoln University after his death. When he died in 1951, the legal battle for control over the artwork collection started despite Dr. Barnes’ express wish in the Barnes’ Foundation trust documents for it to never be moved, loaned and/or sold, not even rearranged. Even public viewing was limited. 

In the end, Lincoln University lost its right to name the foundation’s trustees and, thus, its dominance over the collection. Dr. Barnes’ collection has been moved into a new building just a stone’s throw away from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Rhode Island School of Design

Founded by Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf in 1877, the  Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) features its own museum where its impressive art and design collections are displayed. The extensiveness of these collections makes the RISD Museum among the largest college art museums in the country. 

Brown University and RISD have a close history, too. For one thing, RISD and Brown University have adjacent college campuses on College Hill in Providence. In addition, both institutions share their resources, allow students to cross-register, and enable students to enroll in dual degree programs. 

Student Activism Against the Vietnam War 

RSID students were as active as their counterparts at Columbia University and UC Berkeley in protesting against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. They put their creative skills to use by creating anti-war protest artwork between 1968 and 1973, as well as participating in a mobile artwork petition, among other activities. 

Student activism is still evident today, too! Students have produced artwork, including pop-up public art, posters, and videos in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

RISD Museum 

The Museum of Art at RISD was founded at the same time as the school itself, and thus, both institutions share several buildings. There are seven curatorial departments and more than 100,000 works of art and design spanning centuries, many of which are from ancient times. These works of art and design also come from across the world, from Africa and the Americas to Asia. 

Students interested in seeing these works can access the comprehensive online catalog. The RISD Museum also offers free access to its public domain materials. 

Washington and Lee University

Located in Lexington, Virginia, Washington and Lee University is a respected private liberal arts college considered among the oldest colleges in the country. Among its main attractions is its beautiful and sprawling campus sandwiched between the stunning Allegheny Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Honor System

The student-run Honor System at Washington and Lee University started in the 1840s. Then and now, freshmen vow to act in an honorable manner in all their academic and extracurricular endeavors at the university. 

The Student Body’s executive committee has administered the honor system since 1905. There’s only one sanction for students found guilty of violating the honor code: expulsion. While the provisions and sole sanction of the honor system sound harsh, students and alumni assert that it’s among the best experiences they gained from their stay at the university. 

The honor system allows students to schedule their exams and take them without proctors. Professors even assign students take-home, closed-book exams based on the trust that students will not cheat! 

Washington and Lee Mock Convention

Every four years, the Washington and Lee Mock Convention happens, and it’s among the most widely covered mock conventions in the country. The mock convention is for whichever of the two major political parties – Republican or Democratic – doesn’t hold the current presidency. 

And it’s an effective mock convention, too – it has made the correct predictions for the out-of-power nominee for most of the past national elections. There were a few times when it picked the incorrect nominee, such as Bernie Sanders in 2020. Washington and Lee Mock Convention are run entirely by the students, from the fundraising activities to the management of the $1 million budget. 

University of South Carolina

As the flagship university of the University of South Carolina System, a state university system, the University of South Carolina has an R1 classification, meaning it has very high research activity. Literature students will also love the extensive collection of Ernest Hemingway’s and Robert Burns’ works.

First School in Annual Public Funding 

While it was chartered in 1801, it was only in 1805 when the University of South Carolina opened as the South Carolina College. It was significant then as the college was the first state college, with 100% of its funds coming from annual public funding. It was also considered an elite college for its time and a pioneer in higher education, particularly in the study of political economy and geography. 

Slave History 

Slaves played vital roles in the establishment and development of South Carolina College from 1801 to 1865, and it’s a forgotten past that historians want to highlight. The primary buildings of the predecessor to the modern-day University of South Carolina were made from bricks made by slaves, and these buildings were also built from the ground up by slave labor. 

Known as the Horseshoe in modern times, many of these buildings still stand. There’s even a kitchen and slave quarters still standing, thanks mainly because it wasn’t demolished but used for storage purposes. The landscape of slavery is among the most well-preserved among American colleges and universities for this reason.

Key Takeaways

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