Painting the Fence: A CMU Tradition

When it comes to campus traditions, Carnegie Mellon has its fair share. From Scottish kilts to underground pipes, the campus is brimming with history, albeit relatively esoteric to its students. However one such tradition, the Fence, holds a place in the Guinness Book and in the hearts of the students.

A Walk Through History

In 1923, a bridge stood over a valley that served as the divider, and the meeting point, between Carnegie Tech buildings and the Margaret Morrison women’s school. However, once the valley filled in to become the infamous Cut, a wooden fence stood in its spot. Needless to say, the Fence did not have the same appeal as the bridge and officials nearly tore it down. Luckily, a fraternity used it to advertise an upcoming party, which was an astounding success.

A tradition was born.

In 1993, the old wooden fence collapsed under its own weight. At the time it had 6 inches of paint surrounding it, and held the record for the most painted object in the world. A new steel fence now stands in its place and it currently has 4 inches of paint surrounding it. Students are actively trying to break their own record, and it is only a matter of time before they succeed.

Fence Rules

The Fence has certain rules when it comes to painting and seizing it:

  • It can only be painted between midnight and sunrise.
  • It must be painted by hand with brushes; otherwise it is considered vandalism.
  • There must be two people from the organization guarding the fence for the day portion at all times; otherwise a different organization may come and steal it.
    • It is common for organizations to set up a tent and sleep in it while they are holding the fence.

Common Fence Painting Events

The fence is painted for upcoming events and announcements of course, but there are some annual reasons that merit the painting of the fence:

  • Fraternities generally make painting and holding the fence a bonding exercise for the incoming pledge class.
  • The winners of House Wars during Orientation Week paint the fence.
  • Scotch’n’Soda holds the fence to promote its upcoming shows.

The fence also serves as a unifying factor for the community. For example, following the tragic Tree of Life synagogue shooting, hundreds of students came together to paint the fence and offer their own support to the Pittsburgh community and remember those we lost.

Personal Experience

I painted the fence three times during my freshman year, and each one was a different experience in its own right.

  1. The first time was after my dorm building, Mudge House, won first place at House Wars. That night, we painted the fence purple to celebrate our first victory of many as members of the Carnegie Mellon community.
  2. The second time was following the Tree of Life Shooting. Hundreds of students came to offer their support to those that we lost, and paint the fence black in their memory.
  3. The third time was as a member of the Alpha Epsilon pledge class of Alpha Kappa Psi, the professional co-ed business fraternity on campus. As part of a bonding exercise, we painted the fence and held it for three days and two nights. The exercise made the members of our class extremely close, and allowed us to leave our mark on campus.

Each time I painted the fence, I felt the same sense of community and campus pride, regardless of the event. In my opinion, painting the Fence is one of those things that every student on campus should experience. Someone may come along and paint over your name, but you will forever be a part of Carnegie Mellon history.

Meet Wadhwa | Undergraduate Business 2022
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