Notes On Primal Harvard

Six editors bare their thoughts on last week’s Primal Scream


As if seeing an ex-fling isn’t awkward enough, seeing him naked takes the cake—so I realized at Primal Scream last week, when several former flames streaked by me. The weirdest actually stopped to say hello. Weirder still, I was arm-in-arm with my current boyfriend (who, thankfully, was clothed).

The etiquette manual really abandons a girl in that situation. It was difficult not to stare—one guy has improved tremendously in physique since we were together. In the case of another, I was glad to have let him go before he exposed his flabby form to Harvard Yard. Then again, the only thing more awkward than running Primal Scream is going as a spectator, so I suppose I deserved exactly what I endured.

—Lucy M. Caldwell ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history and science concentrator in Adams House.


Just before midnight, we count down from 10 and run. The countdown is a more energetic version of a New Year’s Eve countdown: contempt for the old and excitement about the new. But Primal Scream is more than a show of displeasure toward the old—those abominable reading period papers—it’s also an act of defiance toward the new—the dread of impending exams. The excitement for participants, and shock for spectators, comes not just from the sight of 500 screaming, naked students, but from our symbolic bird flipping to all the proud institutions nearby: to the stodginess of academia, to the sanctity of Harvard Yard, to the camera-laden spectators, and to our career ambitions. We may be naked, but the emperor is running naked with us.

—Matthew S. Meisel ’07, a Crimson editorial chair, is a chemistry concentrator in Currier House.


Harvard’s ritual deluge of flesh poured through the Yard without a hitch this reading period, heralding the usual frigid sausage fest. And as usual, there was a distinct lack of female participants.

While the Women’s Center puzzles over how to promote women’s leadership, and the Presidential Search Committee mulls over female candidates, Harvard’s women have made their own decision about one cultural feature of this campus: Nudity is more taboo for women than it is for men.

There is no particular reason such a taboo should persist. It’s true that jogging naked is not the most comfortable enterprise for a woman, but it’s hardly as if men relish exposing their own delicate parts to the perilous January air. Yet for women, taking part is seen as either an outspoken statement of liberation or as providing a special opportunity for voyeurs to gape at bare female anatomy. By contrast, for men, it’s just a bit of a laugh.

The only immediate solution I see is a mass takeover. It’s high time a large group of women staged a coup of this biannual penis parade.

—Juliet S. Samuel ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House.


I first ran Primal Scream as an anonymous freshman, before I gained ten pounds and started a sex blog that turned my attractiveness into a matter of public debate. Yet despite multiple qualms last Friday night, I somehow found myself wearing nothing but sneakers among equally unclothed peers. As the chanting began, I took a deep breath and started to reassure myself that I looked fine.

Public scrutiny or not, very rarely in my life have I felt completely at ease with my body. But somewhere between Holden Chapel and Matthews Hall, I started to believe the mantras I was mentally repeating in my head. By the time I rounded the corner to Grays, I felt better about my body than I had all semester. The three minutes it took to circle the Yard were a rare moment of comfort in my own skin.

That sprint, however brief, was a respite from an otherwise self-conscious existence. I regularly bare my soul to thousands online. But it wasn’t until I bared everything else that I made peace with my harshest critic: myself.

—Lena Chen ’09, a Crimson magazine editor, is a sociology concentrator in Mather House. She is also the writer of blog, “Sex And The Ivy,” at


Harvard students are not the most sexually adventurous bunch. But the conventional wisdom runs that sexual repression takes a biannual backseat for Primal Scream. Many of my friends remarked that the public nudity made them feel as though “we went to a real college.”

Yet as I caught my first glimpse of bare-skinned bodies on a frigid January night, it occurred to me that this was a bit of an impotent release of sexual tension. After being bottled up so long, we emerge from Lamont and Widener, and an intrepid few run naked in the freezing cold. No one touches. Meanwhile, the rest of us watch, giggling like schoolchildren who have just heard someone say “penis.”

Primal Scream has remarkably little to do with hedonistic urges. It’s a further desexualization of an already desexualized place. I hear at Stanford, one mid-trimester tradition entails an hour-long make-out session between strangers under the full moon. Now that’s what I call primal.

—Daniel E. Herz-Roiphe ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Straus Hall.


Primal Scream, like so many other features of Harvard life, is filled with tradition. And symbolic traditions—ranging from the state (anthems, flags), to religious creeds (Mecca, Stars of David)—keep institutions alive.

But primal scream is a symbol of more than just tradition. It seems fitting that such a salient symbol of Harvard tradition should be comprised of several hundred nude Ivory Tower dwellers who, eager to escape their daily, uptight, and proper image, throw off the repression with their clothes and take to the Yard.

—Pierpaolo Barbieri ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Eliot House.


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