Student Stories

Kuvia 2010

At 5:55 a.m. last Monday morning, Talia Penslar still couldn't fall asleep. But instead of burying under the covers and counting sheep, she put on a pair of sweat pants and ran from her dorm room to the gym.

Penslar, along with 400 other University of Chicago students, was heading to Henry Crown Field House to participate in the 26th annual Kuviasungnerk/Kangeiko—Kuvia, for short. Kuvia, a weeklong winter festival sponsored by the Council on University Programming (COUP), took place Jan. 11-15. 

"Since I wasn't asleep anyway, I thought I should just do it. I like doing this kind of ridiculous stuff," said Penslar, a second-year and first-time Kuvia participant.

The daily morning exercise routine in Henry Crown, Kuvia's most popular event according to COUP president Agnes Bugaj, drew crowds of over 400 on Monday, a number that tapered off to about 300 participants by Friday morning. Throughout the week, athletic clubs on campus volunteered to lead sessions in the pre-dawn glow of Henry Crown. Club members taught everything from Brazilian martial arts to Flamenco to swing dancing.

Each morning started off with a brief warm-up, led this year by such campus celebrities as former Dean of Admissions Ted O'Neill, who orchestrated a rousing rendition of the hokey pokey, and Dean of Students Susan Art. 

"Because the University of Chicago just isn't intense enough"

What brings students out from under the covers in the sub-20 degree Chicago winter weather?

"These really large-scale events appeal to me because it gives you a sense of school pride, community, and camaraderie," said Bugaj, a fourth-year and Kuvia veteran. "Kuvia's pretty crazy, so it's pretty fun to see everyone struggle in every morning, knowing you're all in it together."

"I love Kuvia, though I really don't know why," third-year Jayne DeBattista said. This was DeBattista's third Kuvia, and she plans on returning next year. "It's just magical."

Students who participated in the morning exercises all five days also received a free T-shirt for their efforts. This year's shirts are emblazoned with the phrase "Kuvia: Because the University of Chicago just isn't intense enough." The house that has the highest percent participation over the entire week also wins $100 for the house.

"My first year, I did it for house pride. I was in Alper, and Alper was the only house in recent years to give Dodd-Mead a run for their money in terms of highest Kuvia attendance," Bugaj said. "The other Alperites dragged me out, and once I made it to Wednesday, I just couldn't stop because it would have been a waste." Despite Bugaj's efforts, Dodd-Mead has won for the past thirteen years.   

Camaraderie and Craziness

Kuviasungnerk/Kangeiko began in the winter of 1983, when Emeritus Professor of Sociology and former Dean of the College Don Levine pioneered the event as a replacement for the University's annual winter retreats to Wisconsin.

The name Kuviasungnerk comes from the Inuit word for "pursuit of happiness." Kangeiko comes from the Japanese samurai tradition of winter training.

On Monday students learned the moves to the sun salutation, a series of yoga positions traditionally done at sunrise to welcome the new day, in preparation for Friday morning's yoga session by Lake Michigan. 

"The final salute to the sun on just gorgeous," Bugaj said. "The fact that we trek out there at 6 a.m.—walking down the street seeing everybody out there all together, it's a really good image." 

For those who would rather avoid pre-dawn calisthenics, Kuvia organizers sponsored afternoon events throughout the week as well, including a knitting competition and a professional ice sculpting demonstration on Wednesday afternoon.

COUP also organized three "Faculty Fireside" chats with three University professors: Robert Bird, associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures; David Archer, professor of geophysical sciences; and Orit Bashkin, an assistant professor in Near Eastern languages and civilizations.

Kuvia could not be complete without the annual Polar Bear Run on Friday, in which scantily-clad students run across the academic quad. The festivities ended with free s'mores and hot chocolate on campus that afternoon.

"Kuvia is really all about giving people an opportunity to get out in the winter, [to] try new things," Bugaj said. "The sense of camaraderie and craziness and trying new things is there, and I think that's what's important, really."

 See Avi Schwab's Kuvia slide show.