The last nights of reading period often trigger a mass movement of students to campus libraries — students lug multiple textbooks to their carrels for all-nighters and early morning cram sessions. But the libraries also draw students for a reason much sweeter than the prospect of upcoming final exams.
Secret until moments before it occurs, the Naked Donut Run has long been a source of excitement, intrigue and mystique for stressed students in libraries across campus. During the run, frequently held the last night of reading period, participants deliver donuts all over campus, from the Rockefeller Library to the Sciences Library to the Center for Information Technology. Once inside the libraries, the runners disrobe and hand out doughnuts in the nude.
Due to the secretive nature of the run and the possibility of legal repercussions or academic or professional consequences, most sources spoke on the condition of anonymity. Pseudonyms are assigned to these sources based on their first initials and marked with an asterisk on first reference. Real names are left unmarked.
Its origins are murky — “a lot of it is pretty muddled,” said Rose* ’13, one of the fall semester’s run coordinators, who requested that her name be withheld to preserve the shroud of uncertainty around the run.
But the run likely began in the late ’80s or early ’90s. Sarah Blair ’86 said the run did not exist during her time at Brown, while a librarian who arrived at the University in 1993 said the run has existed since she has been here.
There are two ways to become involved in the run, Rose said: to know someone already participating or to witness it taking place. Even participants in the run do not find out about the event until less than 30 minutes before it occurs.
Robin ’14, a recent transfer student, ran for the first time last semester. She said she learned she would be running mere minutes before the actual event.
Similarly, Dorothy* ’15 made the decision to participate the same night the run occurred.
“We’ve been accused of being exclusive,” Rose said, referring to the Naked Donut Run’s highly secretive nature.
The mystery surrounding the run makes it more fun for all involved, said Levi* ’13, a participant in the run. The Naked Donut Run is not conducive to a large crowd — even the current number of runners makes it difficult to coordinate, he said.
“We don’t have secret societies on campus, but it’s kind of similar to that,” Levi added. “It is kind of cool to feel like a secret agent.”
“It’s like the Ocean’s Eleven of desserts and nudity,” Dorothy said.
But subtlety is more than just a way to keep the fun alive. When Lillian Ostrach ’07 MS’08 first participated in the run, the students involved were careful to maintain secrecy. But when they arrived at the SciLi mezzanine, the floor was packed with students, leading the runners to believe the time and location had been leaked.
Some people had cameras, Ostrach said. The runners felt intimidated by the crowds and only gave out a small number of doughnuts before leaving the library, she added.
Ostrach, who became a run organizer during her sophomore year, decided with other coordinators to vary when the run would occur. Traditionally, runners would flood the libraries the night before finals began. But the Naked Donut Run is not intended to be a spectator sport, she said — the organizers randomized the time of the run. Very few students were privy to the time and location before the event.
During Ostrach’s time, the doughnuts were initially paid for by coordinators. They were refunded by the runners, who would contribute money after they finished handing out the treats, she said.
Originally, runners handed out pieces of whole doughnuts, Ostrach said. But cutting up doughnuts covered in icing was messy, and the stock of doughnuts by the end of a business day was far more limited than that of doughnut holes, which were added to the stock in Ostrach’s junior year.
Despite a lack of official sanction by the University, Ostrach said she and the runners never felt threatened by security or librarians and desk staff.
“The Brown police loved us. They got a kick out of it,” Ostrach said.
“We respected the fact that technically this is something we could be arrested for,” she added. The runners were never belligerent — Ostrach described the run as more of a “sedate walk.”
But a security officer did prevent the runners from entering the SciLi in 2010, The Herald reported. Participants were required to complete the run clothed under threat of punishment, including legal action, Rose said.
From bridges to bikes and back again
Many neighboring institutions have similar traditions. An event called the “Ledyard Challenge,” an unofficial graduation requirement at Dartmouth College, requires rising juniors in their summer term to swim across the Connecticut River to Vermont and streak back across the bridge to New Hampshire, in full view of passing traffic.
University of Vermont students streak across an approximately half mile loop of central campus the night classes end for the semester. Nearly all students partake in the event, entitled the Naked Bike Ride, though few actually bicycle the route, said Natalie Rowe, a UVM sophomore.
Tufts University also has a naked run down their main quad, Levi said.
Institutionalized streaking even becomes a sort of team sport — The Herald reported on Hamilton College’s varsity streaking team’s tour of the New England Small College Athletic Conference schools in 2004.
‘You’re naked, aren’t you!’
Students who find their studies interrupted by naked runners are generally very receptive, Rose said. Often, the students laugh, but students who are found in further corners of the library tend to be more surprised.
Ostrach recounted handing a doughnut to an unsuspecting girl deep in concentration in the stacks of the Rock.
“Oh hi! You’re naked, aren’t you!” Ostrach recalled the student saying in her initial response.
Dorothy happened upon students unfamiliar with the Naked Donut Run in the CIT, she said.
“The look on their face really made the experience worth it,” she said.
But some doughnut recipients are all too familiar. The first doughnut Levi gave out as a runner was to a good friend. He said he nearly always runs into people he knows in the libraries, who may later bring up the run in conversation — but Levi always denies his involvement.
The Naked Donut Run is just one more manifestation of the “naked culture” prevalent at Brown, he said.
Robin said she became involved in the run in order to challenge herself and to be part of an experience that might not be possible at any other time in her life.
“I thought it was very liberating,” she said. Prior to the Naked Donut Run, Robin had seen a Nudity in the Upspace performance and attended a naked party, but found the run to have a different dynamic — students from varied social circles all over campus can be found in the libraries, in contrast to the “intimate, safe space” emphasized by Nudity in the Upspace.
Levi said that he thinks nudity should not be stigmatized or judged, and the positive reaction from viewers reflects well on the student body.
“It’s not about being sexy,” Ostrach said.