Students recall strange Hillman sightings

By Julia Zenkevich, For The Pitt News

Claire Linder was sitting on the first floor of Hillman Library during one finals week when she saw a young woman walk in with the hilt of a sword peeking out of her tote bag.

“She wasn’t trying to hide it either. It was very much just sitting in her tote bag, exposed,” Linder said. “But she also wasn’t flaunting it. It was casual.”

Hillman Library is a hub for finals week mania, filled with the stress of looming deadlines and Red Bull-fueled all-nighters. But that stress doesn’t come without consequence —  according to the Mayo Clinic, stress can affect your body, thoughts, feelings and behavior. For some people, that means restlessness and social withdrawal. For others, stress manifests itself in unusual behavior — often seen in the library.

Linder, a senior studying music composition and film studies, said everyone was so consumed by their own work that normally attention-grabbing anomalies, like bringing a sword into the library, went unnoticed.

While the sword-carrying student may have brought weaponry to fight off finals week stress, others will bring in less dangerous, more delicious contraband to deal with the stress. Typically, the library staff is strict about enforcing the no hot food policy.  

“Last spring there were a bunch of McDonald’s bags lining [the service desk] because they were confiscated,” Linder said. “It was like, ‘Alright, if you’re going to let it sit until it gets cold, can you give it back at least?’”

But some students have figured a way around this ban.

“I had a bunch of friends last year sneak in hot food under coats,” Linder said. “They shoved McDonald’s into their backpacks, gym bags. Somebody brought in a personal pizza somehow. I think they just put it in a stack of books and walked by with it.”

Sometimes, people get creative with how they cope with stress. Abygail Paseos, a senior studying biology, saw a group of students stacking tables and chairs on top of other tables in Hillman Library late one night. The students proceeded to sit at the smaller table atop the larger one and begin working normally. According to Paseos, they studied on the mega-table for about ten minutes before they were asked to take it down.

“I was really shocked when they actually did it and then got away with it for a couple minutes,” Paseos said. “You could definitely see the library desk from right there, so there was no way that it would last very long.”

Sometimes, the strange behavior is more benign and not a violation of library rules. Amanda Kotze, a junior studying English literature and English writing, was in Hillman when she saw a young man wearing a bright red snowman-print holiday suit with a matching top hat walking around the ground floor.

“He comes in and he takes off his jacket, and he’s wearing a festive suit that is all red and has snowmen on it,” she said. “He continues to walk around and ask for things, just parading around the library.”

According to Kotze, people took notice of the man, laughing at him and wondering what he was doing. This instance in particular stood out for Kotze, who had not seen any notable finals week costumes in years.

“When I was a freshman, there was a person going around in a T. rex suit … I was just kind of laughing at it,” she said. “That’s one way to dress to study for finals.”

As regular school routines morph into a frenzied race to the finish, behaviors that would have seemed out of the ordinary in August become common by December and fewer people question the unusual behaviors. Kotze said she remembered emotional times in the Hillman Library while prospective students toured the building.

“If you see someone crying, it’s not that big of a deal,” Kotze said. “I remember freshman year it was like we were all zombies and they had the tours coming in like, ‘Look at our campus!’ And we’re like, ‘Why are you doing this? We’re all dying.’”

But those who have seen bizarre behavior by others may not be immune to it themselves. Paseos said she did a number of strange things during past finals weeks herself. One morning, before a final, she lay down on the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning to take a nap when she was awakened by a concerned elderly couple who thought she was dead.

“I was super embarrassed!” she said. “I stopped after that when there weren’t a lot of people on the lawn or if I wasn’t with someone else so people didn’t think that I had keeled over and actually died from taking exams.”

A recent publication from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found stress may not negatively impact decision-making and judgment skills. But Linder said she thinks there may be a correlation.

“[People are] so busy that they’re not functioning normally, so they have more of an excuse to act out and do weird stuff. I think some people just use it as an excuse to go wild,” Linder said.

No matter what the true connection between stress and behavior is, eccentric behavior during finals week holds some value for students.

“It was kind of like a weird stress relief to see it,” Paseos said. “People aren’t completely dead yet.”