Each quarter at Northwestern takes years off each of our lives. The academics are no joke and stress is not a foreign feeling to students on this campus. Sure, we all love this place dearly (just me? okay, cool), but for the sake of sanity, letting loose every once in awhile is a must – enter the Primal Scream.
At 9 p.m. on the dot the Sunday before finals week, screams can be heard across campus. One of Northwestern’s long-standing traditions, the Primal Scream is one last-ditch attempt to blow off steam before we willingly allow finals to once again consume our lives. The tradition was originally introduced by Communications Residential College, also known as East Fairchild or CRC, in 1982 and took place in the old Library Plaza.
The Primal Scream is one of Northwestern’s many traditions encouraging #PurplePride (March through the Arch, anyone? Wildcat Dash?).
“[Northwestern’s traditions] are a great way to make it through even some of the toughest time on campus. It shows how strong our campus culture is,” says Noah Star, president of Northwestern’s Associated Student Government.
While the idea behind the Primal Scream sounds glorious, many students at go-to study locations on campus are reluctant to partake (not so #PurplePride). After all, it can be a little awkward belting out your feelings in the middle of a silent library. On the other hand, some locations put their all into the Primal Scream and those who wish to participate always congregate to the Rock, Norris, Willard and other campus dorms.
Louisa Wyatt, Medill sophomore, joined in on the tradition beginning with the Fall Quarter of her freshman year. Wyatt went with two seniors at the time, Kayla Hammersmith and Peter Cleary, who had been documenting each scream for the entirety of their Northwestern experience. Following their graduation, these two seniors passed their project along to a handful of underclassmen, including Wyatt. “We usually just sit in CORE and film ourselves on Photo Booth,” Wyatt says. “We never take part in the scream, but rather sit and take it all in with our viewers—we post the video on Facebook.”
Although Wyatt documents participation in the Primal Scream, CORE was hesitant to partake in the Primal scream at first. “There's always a delay as people work up the courage to start screaming,” says Wyatt. “No one wants to break the ice and end up screaming alone. There's definitely a group mentality to it that we, as documentarians, never have to deal with.”
Senior David Cohen has always been a huge fan of the Primal Scream. So much so, in fact, that he almost got arrested for it in periodicals the Winter Quarter of his junior year. “At 9 p.m. I shouted as loud as I could, expecting all of my friends to be doing it with me, but they left me out to dry,” says Cohen. Minutes later, a librarian came over and threatened to call the police, having never heard of the tradition. After researching the Primal Scream, she let Cohen off with a warning. He plans to never partake in the scream again. “It was my understanding that this is supposed to be an entire community event,” Cohen says. “Clearly this isn’t the case, and I was punished for trying to maintain a dying ritual. In my ideal Northwestern, at 9 p.m. each Sunday of reading week all of the building and outdoor spaces of Northwestern’s campus will be filled with the screams of Northwestern students.”