Walking Under the Arch: Fact or Fiction?

Walk under the arch if you dare.

The famous Washington Square Park arch is a must-see sight on NYU’s no-wall campus. Not walking under it has also been the one tradition the university shares for years. (Staff photo by Jake Capriotti)

One of the most unique aspects of NYU is its fast pace of life on and off-campus. NYU students are an independent and motivated breed, well-adapted to their campus without walls. The personality of our student body doesn’t lend itself to a typical college culture of traditions and superstitions. Except one.

“Basically, if you walk under the arch, you supposedly won’t graduate in four years,” CAS first-year Nadia Cowan explained. “And I found out about that after I’d walked under it. But it’s okay because I’m supposed to graduate in three years anyways.”

“It’s the only NYU superstition,” CAS sophomore Graham Harris added.

Harris said that he heard of the myth during Welcome Week his first year.

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“I […] was about to walk under the arch or was walking under the arch and someone said, ‘No! Don’t do that!’” Harris said.

Cowan shared a similar experience.

“I think I was just talking with my friends and they were like, ‘Oh yeah, you can’t walk under the arch,’” Cowan said. “And I was like, ‘What do you mean, you can’t walk under the arch? I was standing under the arch for like, half an hour one day.’”

It seems to be a trend that upperclassmen warn first-years not to walk through the arch within their first few weeks in Washington Square, and an NYU student who breaks this code is a rare sight indeed. But do students actually believe in the power of the arch?

“I don’t know!” Cowan confessed. “Lowkey, I feel like it might be a little true because obviously I haven’t walked under it since.”

Others don’t buy it.

“I’ve walked under the arch many times,” CAS sophomore Kenan Anderson said. “Both before and after hearing the superstition.”

“I think that recognizing that it is a superstition takes the power away from it,” Harris, who hasn’t shied away from the arch either, added.

However, enough students believe in the myth, or at least play along with it, that the superstition is ubiquitous. Anderson thought that some of NYU’s characteristics might encourage students to embrace the tradition.

“I think NYU has a reputation as being a really difficult school, and people sometimes do have to take an extra semester, so I think that doesn’t help with superstition,” Anderson said.

He also reflected that NYU students may be general believers in the mystical.

“I think there’s a big cohort of students that are very into the sort of astrology side of spirituality and superstition,” Anderson said, “and I think that and superstition are kind of two sides of the same coin.”

Perhaps the strangest part of this story is the lack of other legends. While the arch seems to be a story everyone has heard, it’s apparently the only one in town.

“Whenever I toured state schools before coming here, they were like, ‘Oh, don’t walk here,’ but there were also things that you rub for good luck on tests. I don’t know of anything like that here,” Cowan said.

“I think it speaks to the lack of singular culture at NYU. We don’t have, for example, one building or one campus tradition, and so it’s very difficult to get everyone on the same page about a superstition or to pass student culture easily,” Harris said.

“We’re surrounded by so many other New Yorkers, I think that breaks down the NYU sense of inner community a little bit,” Anderson added. “I also think that New York has an attitude of, like, ‘Shut up and get to what you’re doing,’ and that makes it hard to spend a lot of time on superstition as well.”

So does the spooky arch spark Violet pride, or is it an afterthought?

“I feel like it’s a cool thing that brings people together,” Cowan said. “It’s like NYU culture.”

Harris disagreed. “I don’t know if it’s a uniting factor so much as it’s a common factor,” he said. “It exists.”

“I think we have enough things to worry about as students that we don’t need superstitions about whether or not we’ll graduate or whether or not there’s a ghost in one of the dorms,” Anderson said. “I think there are better things to bond over as well.”

So whether you believe in the supernatural landmark or not, you’ve probably heard the tale.  You may have tested the arch’s will and suffered its wrath — or not. But if your GPA ever drops, you know what to blame. 

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, print edition. Email Sabrina Choudhary at [email protected]

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