100 years of tradition

Starvation Gulch at the University of Alaska Fairbanks celebrates a century of existence
Starvation Gulch celebrates a century of tradition.
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 10:20 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A time for gathering and belonging. One hundred years of tradition was celebrated at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) on Sept. 23, 2023, as Starvation Gulch reached the centennial milestone.

It all began in 1923, with a festival comprised of activities and a massive bonfire. The university was opened in 1917, “only six years after that Starvation Gulch started,” said Dan White, the chancellor of UAF. According to Chancellor White, Charles Bunnel, the first president of the University of Alaska system, wanted a symbol for the passing of the torch of knowledge. Hence a bonfire began after the first student graduated in 1922 with the first celebration of the event a year later.

“This university started as a mining school, mining and ag and Starvation Gulch was a fictional town, fictional mining town in an imaginary place that kind of represented some of the challenges of the early miners,” said Chancellor White. “So, the students built this town, Starvation Gulch is what they called the town and that would turn into the bonfire.” Since then, the event has evolved into competitions and a time for students to bond with each other and their community.

“My fond memory of starvation gulch was the dean of students being dumped into a dunk tape my very first one,” said Oz Oszustowski a UAF alumni. That first Starvation Gulch she attended was in 1973, the 50th anniversary of the event. “UAF is about a lot of traditions and a lot of traditions that started so long ago are still going on and that’s the part that I like the best.”

For some students, the event is what led them to attend UAF.

“Being a club that helped build the piles, it was really cool to put a little bit more time into Starvation Gulch and it wasn’t just an event you go to, it made the event so much more to attend,” said Hannah Greene, a current student at UAF and president of Ground Squirrel Improv, which built one of the burn piles for the 2023 bonfires. Reflecting on the fact the Starvation Gulch has been around for 100 years, “it’s an honor,” to be a part of such a long tradition she said. Greene also said it’s unique to be able to say you were a part of a tradition that’s 100 years old.

As far as the future of the event is concerned there is strong support for the event. “One hundred more years of Starvation Gulch I think, it’s in the offing,” said Chancellor White.