Academic cult in plain sight at UNCG


photo courtesy of UNCG

Harrison Phipps
  Opinions Editor

A trip through UNCG will offer a wide variety of experiences. From carnivals to ultimate Frisbee games and protests, UNCG is known by many for its activities and customs. However, few know the extent of the strange cultic underbelly of the students at UNCG.

I first encountered the practices of the academic cult upon my first visit prior to enrolling. It was strange. “Tradition,” they called it—it was of little importance, I was assured. For those who were superstitious, they adjured participation. “It couldn’t hurt.”

They guided the tour group around the spiritual grounds whereupon the totem sat. It was a strange thing. It doesn’t serve its purpose any longer, and exists solely as a sacred object to the cultists. When the guide had gathered us around, they urged us, “Do not walk under here. If you do, you won’t graduate on time.”

The clock tower.

No context was given as to why or how this consequence would be, but the guide assured us it was real. I wonder what possessed someone to construct such an amalgamation of concrete and steel solely for the purpose of cursing others. Sure some sort of power must be in the concrete, something to channel the spirits to twist our fates should we walk underneath.

Many have assured me that there is little effect for walking underneath it, and I have taken their advice, walking through the sacred space without fear of bad spirits coming upon me. Others look on in shock, laugh, or speak in hushed tones, asking one another, “Did he really just do that?” Often they will comment on the effects of defiling the space, attempting to empower the alleged curse: “Someone doesn’t want to graduate on time.”

This practice might seem strange, and even altogether avoidable. However, there exists another practice in this cult of academia. This, too, I was invited into before enrolling.

Many years ago, the benefactors of the school saw it right to construct an idol to the pagan goddess Minerva. Strange as it may be to have a goddess from a dead religion on campus, many saw the idol still fit for worship. While some sit and meditate at the base of the idol, hoping to gain insight in their studies with the goddess’s aid, others choose to give it an offering.

As many reading this may know, there is a proper and an improper way to give a fruit offering to the idol. Firstly, it must be an apple. Whether it is red or green does not matter. Then, in an act of attuning oneself to the goddess’s wisdom, one must take a bite from the apple and leave the greater part at Minerva’s feet.

Once the ritual of fruit sacrifice is complete—according to the guides leading tour groups—it is said that it will bring good fortune with tests, quizzes, and other examinations. In a similar way to the aforementioned sacred space, it appears as though one is openly inviting spirits into their lives. I have taken no part in this.

No student ever touches the apples again, and many are uncertain as to how they disappear. There have been numerous reports of the apples showing up at the edge of Peabody Park, only to be consumed by the wildlife. While many assume that there is mystical power at work, transporting the apples far away from the idol, it has been seen that members, undoubtedly high on the spiritual leadership of this cult, will take many of the apples there themselves. The purpose is unclear. Perhaps it is another sacred space for UNCG’s academic cult.

The origins of these practices, and indeed the cult as a whole, are unclear. There seems to be no correlation between cult membership; some students choose to participate and others—myself included—do not.

It all seems to lean on the obsession that many attendees of the university have with career goals and academic success; perhaps this is to an unhealthy extent, compelling many to offer fruit sacrifices and fear spirits in sacred spaces.

I would even wager to say that personal success seems to be the entire reason for this academic cult; indeed, its practitioners view their success here as the end goal of their existence, forming and practicing a worldview wholly foreign to them prior to entry.

While this is all understandable, it does beg the question of “What comes next?” If academic success is the ultimate reality that the cultists experience, then what becomes of their time after leaving the school?

While it is neither the religion I practice nor worldview I hold, I feel I am within the bounds to offer one small criticism: Perhaps instead of adopting the cultish principles for temporary and short-term help, the practitioners of the academic cult might better put their hope in something a little more permanent.

Categories: Opinions, Uncategorized, UNCG Students

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1 reply

  1. So this is the first time I have ever read anything from the Carolinian and I cannot say I am impressed. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be satire but if it is not the author is reading way too much into university traditions. Do sports teams become religions when fans develop superstitions they believe will turn the tide of the game in their favor? Is Los Vegas a holy city for some kind of gambling cult since the drive to gamble is largely driven by superstition? Any rational person would say no, and anyone you ask around UNCG will say the same thing about the clock tower and, aside from maybe a few Hellenistic pagans, no one would consider the Minerva statue an idol to be worshiped. A few silly traditions do not make a cult. I do not know what religion or worldview the author subscribes to, but I personally find his conflation of superstition and religion to be an insult to those of us who are religious and take our spiritual paths seriously.


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