This Gallaudet University Ritual Is One Of The Weirdest College Traditions

Every college or university has its traditions. Some universities insist all freshmen throw a penny in a fountain, while other traditions may dictate you stand under a rotunda and turn three times. Each of these is slightly magical, slightly superstitious, and difficult to explain to outsiders. In this category, we have the Rat Funeral.

In Gallaudet University's official Student Organization Manual, the school explicitly outlines regulations and ceremonial procedures for a unique Gallaudet tradition: the Rat Funeral. That's right — a funeral for rats. The Rat Funeral is part of what is known at the school as Slab Day, a ceremonial occasion involving the ritual placement of slabs. The Department of Public Safety is notified, a eulogy is involved, and there are even flowers. It's evidently an occasion of great gravity.

According to the instructions laid out in the Student Organization Manual, participating students must form a line, then approach the burial site of the rats, ritually placing a slab on the ground. The rats are presumably buried beforehand. (The university explicitly states that dead rats may not be used — stuffed animals only.) After the laying of the slabs, the manual says a sermon or eulogy for the rats may be given. The participating students (who are, of course, freshmen) traditionally wear black (via Gallaudet University on Facebook).

The rat funeral and its origins

Gallaudet University's official Student Organization Manual claims the funeral began before the 1900s, and the use of rats was inspired by the term "preparatory students," which contains the letters "R-A-T." Allegedly, the Rat Funeral was preceded by a similar ritual with ducks, presumably derived from the "duck" sound in "introductory students."

Clearly, the Rat Funeral must have a checkered past, as the university instructions explicitly state students must "conduct themselves in a manner befitting [a] college student." The rules also say that the Rat Funeral must take place during daylight hours, may not exceed two hours in length, and that there will be no "watch" over the rats. The rule forbidding the use of real rats is mentioned twice.

Unusual rituals or traditions have long been common at institutions of higher education (according to The Chronicle of Higher Education). The presence of these traditions underscores both a sense of belongingness and group membership, as well as a form of elitism and ceremonial initiation into the adult world, where you now belong among the educated elite. They also create a sense of shared identity. Sometimes that involves a ritual with pennies. Sometimes that involves a eulogy for rats.