After online year, some students experience Rivalry Week traditions for the first time

Incoming students and underclassmen have felt confused when they see campus traditions, like duct-taped statues and Helenes and Trojan Knights’ watch, for the first time.

Tommy Trojan statue is covered in plastic on Nov. 15 2021 at the start of Rivalry Week in order to deter vandalism from potential errant UCLA Bruins' fans.

When sophomore Maya Thamer-Nall came to campus for the first time after a year of online learning, she was not familiar with any of USC’s Rivalry Week traditions.

She did not know that the Helenes and Trojans Knights camped out every year to protect Hecuba and Tommy Trojan from vandalism and was shocked to see past videos of Trojans burning a replica of UCLA’s mascot.

“This is my first semester actually walking on campus,” said Thamer-Nall, who is studying psychology. “This is the first time I’ve even seen these statues and this whole tradition, let alone, been to a football game in general. So, yeah, this is like my first time doing everything.”

Even though Thamer-Nall is technically a second-year student, her fall semester has been full of firsts like the USC-UCLA game and the various traditions that come up when the rival schools face off

Statues are duct-taped, a ferris wheel has sprouted up in McCarthy Quad and students are wearing “FUCLA” gear on all corners of campus. As activities resume, students are navigating the struggles of being fully engaged in the various campus traditions.

Talitha Callan, a freshman studying the business of cinematic arts, thinks that there are adequate resources for new students to learn these traditions, however they can be difficult to find.

“Some of it requires more digging,” Callan said. “I wish that it was kind of like all on one page instead of there being like multiple pages that you have to figure out because different places are hosting events.”

Students who experienced the on-campus rivalry before the pandemic have also noticed a change in commitment to the traditions.

“I think the main difference is the attention to school spirit overall,” said Rachel Grode, a junior and Song Girl. “Zoom left a lot of people feeling distant from USC.”

Events such as “Conquest!” an annual pep rally and concert the Thursday before the USC-UCLA game, have been known to showcase school spirit. This year, these events are back in action and the entire student body is able to attend.

After attending the University of Michigan for his undergraduate degree, graduate student Owen Pyper was left with high expectations in terms of a lively football culture. After taking a few strolls on campus and recognizing the school spirit, Pyper said that “with the statues being taped up and everyone selling T-shirts, it seems like it’s definitely a bigger deal than I thought it would be.”

While many aspects of campus life have returned to some level of normalcy, COVID-19 still presents barriers for many students. Allison Chang, a freshman majoring in neuroscience, said her parents’ concerns about the pandemic have hindered her from attending the game in person this year.

“My parents are more cautious about COVID and so they were like, It’s a tradition you can still go the other years,” she said. “So, I’m a little bit disappointed.”

As the USC Trojans gear up to take on their crosstown rivals at the Coliseum Saturday, new and returning students are able to fully experience all of the rivalry traditions in person.

“If I had been here freshman year, I would definitely know what was going on more,” Thamer-Nall said, “but I am excited for the spirit and the rivalry of it all.”