Students of UCLA understand very well that there is plenty of talk about remaining strong within the Bruin community during the global pandemic. Still, it has disrupted the balance between students, their college experience, and their place within Bruin community. The True Bruin Traditions Keeper Challenge is a program meant to guide the Bruin experience for both fourth-year and transfer students, tailoring an experience that is uniquely UCLA. However, due to the pandemic, students are forced to create their own version of what a UCLA college experience is, and by extension, what a Bruin should be. Attempting this challenge could be the answer for students are looking for if they are hoping to get their unique college experience.
During new student orientation, freshmen and transfers are introduced to the True Bruin Traditions Keeper Challenge, a series of 156 different traditions that are meant to draw students into the culture of being a Bruin and the life they will get to experience exclusively as a UCLA student. For freshmen, finishing 75 traditions (40 for transfers) will earn them the True Bruin Traditions Medal. With tasks ranging from rubbing the Bruin bear paw for good luck during finals week to jumping in the inverted fountain and becoming “Bruintized” for orientation to donating blood to the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center, the foundation of the program and traditions themselves is to enrich the college experience and give students a community to be a part of.
As a result of the pandemic halting in-person learning, UCLA students have retreated to their homes to engage in online learning for their own safety. The school administration actively prevents social gatherings to take place in person. Some of these events are part of the True Bruin Traditions Keeper Challenge, such as Bruin Bash or the Beat ‘SC Rally in the fall. The administration lowered the requirements to 55 traditions and 30 traditions for freshmen and transfers respectively, stating that traditions can be completed online if screenshots are taken. This disconnect from in-person activities has created a rift within students and their perception of what a college experience can and should look like, especially when students are trying to navigate their place in the UCLA community.
Since the global pandemic has prevented students from being on campus, finding a connection to college has proved to be daunting. Since being a transfer student leaves little time for social impact and inclusion under normal circumstances, trying to finish the Traditions Challenge experience at UCLA made students like Emily Vose feel more connected to her community. She recounts her two short but impactful in-person quarters during her time at UCLA.
“Being a transfer comes with a lot of imposter syndrome, but being able to check off all of these ‘benchmarks’ of being a college student at UCLA really made me feel like I was part of the community. I really think the journey is what defines the Bruin experience and completing all of these traditions helped me feel like I was part of the larger Bruin community.”
Having two quarters in person could make the difference in having a college experience versus one that is solely tailored to an online experience. But whether or not UCLA resumes in-person learning is besides the point, as we can still establish a sense of community nonetheless.
“I completed most of the traditions in my two quarters on campus, and I was able to get verified because they lowered the requirements due to COVID-19. But I went to a virtual USAC meeting last spring and used that to count as part of the challenge. Everything else I had already done except for ones like join UCLA ONE, make the Dean’s Honors list, or ones I could just screenshot on my laptop.”
Vose’s positive attitude in spite of the circumstances stems from her enthusiasm and eagerness to be a part of the community. Emily’s senior year should be filled with in-person experiences, and yet she makes the most out of a mostly online situation, never losing sight of what the traditions mean to her as a UCLA student.
“I feel like it really helped me get the full experience that I desperately wanted. I don’t look back on my physical time on campus with regret because I really did so much, but I just wish I had more time.”
Emily’s desire to have more time to engage with the campus is completely understandable. Many students complain about online learning and the emotional and physical toll it can take. The True Bruin Tradition Keepers Challenge isn’t meant to be a mandatory checklist for students dying for an experience, but it offers a list for students to explore during their time at the school.
Instead of focusing on the negatives of remote learning, students, faculty, and the university itself should be asking what defines the Bruin community and how the effects of COVID-19 aren’t going to stop the UCLA community from doing extraordinary things and taking the tradition challenge to heart.
“Bruins are optimists and Bruins are resilient. We find community no matter where we are, and we thrive.”
While the traditions challenge can act as a checklist for those looking for a full college experience, participating in the virtual traditions exemplifies a central Bruin value: persevering through hardships. Those who are looking to escape the confines of online life and mesh with the community can find some solace in knowing the challenge itself is more than just chasing a medal for bragging rights, but rather finding one’s place within the Bruin community, which has and will always be a UCLA tradition.