Fish Camp served as the first collegiate and distinctly Aggie tradition for more than 6,500 freshmen in 2019.
Designed to welcome the incoming class to Texas A&M, this four-day, three-night extended orientation program at a conference center in Palestine, Texas, has become an established presence on campus with a distinct culture and reputation since 1954. Ask any student who has attended Fish Camp at Texas A&M, and they will explain the one stereotype that the organization strives for is for its counselors to stand out; this feat involves getting various styles of facial piercings.
This body-mod convention is so well-known that A&M’s satirical newspaper, the Mugdown, even published an article with the humorous and fictitious headline, “Fish Camp Leaders Raise Facial Piercing Requirement.”
But how accurate is the stereotype?
According to local tattoo and piercing shops, there exists a spike in piercing sales at specific times of the year, with clients citing Fish Camp as a motivation. For yearly trends, there is an economic correlation between increased facial piercing rates in Bryan-College Station and Fish Camp announcements.
Essie May, a piercing specialist who has worked at Legacy Tattoos for three years and has lived in Bryan-College Station her whole life, noted a spike in the number of piercings she administers at specific points of the year.
“With Fish Camp, I see a rise in eyebrow and septum piercings,” May said. “Also, during Howdy Week, there’s a jump in the demand for piercings with our clients. At those points, I would say we give about triple the typical amount of piercings. But honestly, there’s no real reason behind this behavior, it’s just tradition.”
Another popular spot among students for piercings is Tattoo Consortium. This shop goes as far as to host a page on its website devoted to piercings for Fish Camp students. This facet of the site lists a client’s various options of body modifications from “Gauging” to “Helix Piercings.” Additionally, Tattoo Consortium utilizes this page to explain the appeal behind piercings.
“Getting a piercing with your newly made friends from Fish Camp can be a great bonding experience,” the webpage stated. “While it can be scary, it’s also a fun way to try something new and different in an environment that doesn’t judge.”
Marketing junior Courtney Nix, who is a Fish Camp co-chair for the 2020 session, said Fish Camp’s number one priority is inclusiveness and diversity. Nix said despite the stereotype of bodily alterations by means of piercings in conjunction with leadership in Fish Camp, the organization has never pressured her to change to fit in.
“Personally, I love piercings,” Nix said. “But I do not believe that they are needed, and you don't have to get anything pierced at all if you don't want to. At the end of the day, as an organization, we are all about welcoming and supporting the incoming class here at Texas A&M, so piercings are not crucial to your success as a counselor.”
As far as the reasoning for the correlation between the spike in piercings in College Station before a camp session, Nix cites multiple possible theories.
“Some camps go to get piercings together for bonding,” Nix said. “Another thing is that sometimes people have memories of Fish Camp. Let's say their Discussion Group Dad had his nose pierced, and the person absolutely loved their DG Dad, like a role model. If that person gets to be a counselor that coming year, they would want to get their nose pierced just like their DG Dad.”
Going against the concept of campus stereotypes as a whole, Eric Muñoz, piercingless public health junior and Fish Camp co-chair, explains the history of the tradition.
“The unofficial traditions of getting piercings, dying hair and getting lip tattoos are fairly recent,” Muñoz said. “This behavior stemmed from counselors having the desire to have something to symbolize their camp experience and bond with everyone else from it. If a counselor chooses to do something like that for Fish Camp, it is completely voluntary and usually done in groups.”
Muñoz transcends the distracting physical aspects of his organization’s traditions and said Fish Camp aims to provide emotional support to freshmen. He said at the end of the day, the organization’s purpose is to exhibit compassion towards the newest students at Texas A&M, regardless of their walks of life.
“No matter what the incoming freshmen have gone through or are currently going through, counselors can be there for them as support systems,” Muñoz said. “I know that Fish Camp will be there for the Class of ‘24: next to them at the first football game of the season, having lunch with them, going pond-hopping and just making sure they get to see Texas A&M for the amazing school that it is.”