Playing Pyro: Why Mudders Like to Burn Shit
By Nicholas Rowe
Copy Editor, CMC ‘13
The Claremont Colleges abound with mysteries whose answers most of us cannot fathom. Why is the Hub Store always closed? Why does the Motley hang paintings of female genitalia on the walls? What started Pomona’s ruthless obsession with the number 47? And most recently, where did TNC go? While the latter issue probably concerns Claremont students most right now, I must address another pressing question: Why do Mudders burn shit?
My interest in pyromania at Harvey Mudd began last year when I visited Claremont McKenna as a prospective student. On one of the last Thursday Night Clubs of the year, CMCers were running around in traditional weekend revelry, coming to and from the loud music emanating from one of the North Quad lounges. After thoroughly examining the scene at CMC, a fellow prospie and I decided to stroll through Pitzer, Harvey Mudd, Scripps, and Pomona to experience the weekend social life at the other colleges.
As we expected, Scripps and Pomona were relatively quiet, with the occasional students passing by on their way to visit friends in other dorms or grabbing a bite to eat. At Pitzer, we found students sprawled across the mounds and in hammocks, happily chatting while listening to acoustic guitar ballads. After joining in to sing some kumbayas, we proceeded to Mudd. At first the campus was relatively quiet, but as we headed west we came upon a sight I had never imagined to see in Claremont: a group of 20-25 people closely huddled around a raging fire in the middle of a dorm, continually adding wood to the fire to keep the flame going strong into the night. The scene was surreal – something straight from Animal House, an absurdity I had only seen in movies and other depictions of college life.
Walking back to CMC, I could not help but wonder: CMCers live the stereotypical college life, partying late into the night, but why do Mudders burn things? Of course, characterizing all Mudders proves impossible, but we certainly have no fire rings at CMC. Before flying back home, I asked around to figure out why. Everyone seemed to know about the fires Mudd so loves, but no one knew why.
So, naturally, I headed up to Mudd to investigate and hopefully appease my curiosity. “West Dorm has always had a fire pit,” says resident Matthew Phillips ’11. “It has a long history. We’ve had one for at least twenty years.” According to West Dorm lore, the college began regulating the fire only a few years ago, when the dorm bought fourteen pallets of wood, enough to set a fire ablaze higher than the dorm itself. Thinking the dorm was burning down, a Scripps student called the Claremont Fire Department. The fire department responded and found the fire, despite its size, still contained. “There’s really no danger. The entire dorm is made of cement, so it can’t catch on fire,” says another West resident. Nonetheless, the fire department and HMC administration now demand that students contain the fire at least six inches off the ground and that the pit cannot exceed nine square feet in area.
North Dorm and Linde Dorm also have fire pits, it turns out, but students rarely use them. Phillips explains, “West Dorm is unique in that it has a personality of pyromania, good parties, and a social aspect.” According to Phillips, this social aspect propels Mudd’s fires: “Sometimes you’ll have two people watching it for fifteen minutes as a study break, sometimes thirty people around a huge fire.” A fire is a versatile tool for uniting diverse students. “It acts as a catalyst for conversation because when people are around a fire it keeps the conversation going,” another West resident commented.
On the downside, Harvey Mudd’s administration has had its fair share of problems with the fires, aside from the Claremont Fire Department’s visit. “It’s a balance between the social life and the perceived image,” Phillips says. Nonetheless, while the Board of Trustees and the Office of Admission have sought to eliminate the fire pit, which they consider an eyesore, former Dean Jeanne Noda and students have fought relentlessly and successfully to keep it.
So why do Mudders burn shit? Well, it’s quite simple. As Phillips puts it, “You get people together.”