No Shoes, No Problem: Macalester’s Barefooters

Christian+Smith+enjoys+barefoot+lifestyle+on+Bateman+Plaza.+Photo+by+Maya+Rait17.

Christian Smith enjoys barefoot lifestyle on Bateman Plaza. Photo by Maya Rait’17.

Christian Smith enjoys barefoot lifestyle on Bateman Plaza. Photo by Maya Rait'17.
Christian Smith enjoys barefoot lifestyle on Bateman Plaza. Photo by Maya Rait’17.

Bare feet are not a common sight at Macalester, especially in the winter when the sidewalks get icy and the quad is filled with snow. However, there are a select few students who practice barefootedness at Macalester. Here we interviewed Christian Smith ’14 and Alejandro Cervantes ’15 on how shoelessness manifests itself in their lives.

Christian Smith

As a kid, barefootedness was second nature for Christian Smith. Born in the Yucca Valley of California, there was nothing more comfortable than the firm dusty ground of the Mojave desert on his feet. Provided he didn’t encounter the occasional cactus or choya, his feet were his preferred mode of transportation across the hot sand of his backyard.

Smith is one of the few students who wears nothing on his feet whenever he can. For him, it’s instinct, a tradition that is rooted in comfort and convenience. For Smith, it’s not a political statement, it’s just a way of life.

When Smith moved to Menomonie, Wisconsin at age seven, the cold weather did not phase him. The eighth of 11 children, he was never alone in his bare feet. But as they grew older, most of his siblings opted for shoes.

Smith walked barefoot through grade school and high school when he could. Because he goes barefoot solely for the sake of comfort, he’ll make exceptions when discomfort arises, usually in the form of snow or frigidity. In these instances, he’ll wear flip-flops or closed toed shoes, depending on the level of discomfort. But he will never wear boots. “They’re too uncomfortable,” he said.

Smith wears shoes in situations where it is required. For example, one of his teachers does not allow it, nor does Café Mac for the sake of what he is told to be “health concerns.”

Smith deeply disagrees with this reason. “The whole ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service’ phenomenon was not related to health. It was resistance to counter-cultures where people deemed ‘hippies’ were often barefoot and shirtless. Having these hippies would often deter the more affluent people from returning… It was economic,” he said.

Although his barefooted tendencies did not play a role in his decision to attend Macalester, Smith believed that it would not be a place where he would be pressured to change. He thinks this may be a reason he can strut his barefeet in almost all places across campus.

The unwritten rules that keep Smith’s feet from freedom become a perpetual nuisance for him. In his opinion, the reasoning behind these rules is full of flaws. He said, “I want to reiterate that it’s important to critically analyze social customs instead of taking them for granted.”

As long as being barefoot is comfortable, Smith plans to leave his shoes off his feet. “I’m currently applying for a PhD in mathematics education,” he said. “I see myself walking around barefoot in professional environments to the extent that it is allowed and to the extent that it won’t infringe upon my opportunities.”

The absence of shoes has become part of his character. “My barefootedness often is symbolic of the irreverence with which I live my life,” he said.

Alejandro Cervantes

Raised in a small town in Michigan, Alejandro Cervantes’s barefootedness was not born out of necessity or comfort, but defiance. “It was fun to rebel against my mom,” he recalled.

Cervantes said his barefootedness is mostly the result of his larger tendency towards questioning the system. It is political and an integral part of Cervantes’ character in the sense that it embodies his radical spirit.

His barefootedness did not reach its height until the latter part of high school, when Cervantes found it was fun to run and hike barefoot when it wasn’t too cold. From that point on, it stuck with him.

Though much of his decision to forgo shoes is spurred by his rebellious nature, a certain amount of it does stem from comfort. “I love the sensation,” he said. “It feels nice not to be cooped up in shoes all day. I’ll take off my shoes anywhere there’s grass. If I’m walking on safe ground, I don’t need to worry.”

But Cervantes has not always walked on safe ground. He has suffered a few injuries. He recalls one special incident: “At Oberlin College, in 10th grade, I stepped on a ground bee colony and one of them stung the side of my foot. I’m allergic to two things: penicillin and ground bees. So my foot swelled up to twice its size. It was terrible.”

At Macalester, Cervantes occasionally sports shoes. Because of classes and formalities, Cervantes chooses not to go barefoot all the time, as he does almost exclusively over the summer.

Cervantes has not encountered limits on his barefootedness besides the rules in Café Mac.

But Cervantes has found loopholes in this system. “I’ve actually gotten away with walking into Café Mac a couple times. I was Bilbo Baggins for Halloween freshman year and that required bare feet and some brown marker on my toes to look like hobbit hair. And I didn’t get kicked out of Café Mac for that.”

The societal expectation of shoes is perplexing to Cervantes. “We have these things called immune systems. Yeah, there are [diseases] that can be passed foot-to-foot but I think there are a lot more serious things spread between the majority of college students.”

In terms of the future, Cervantes wants to be a professor in ethnomusicology. He’s always wanted to compose or be a journalist so he also sees himself ideally maintaining those passions as an amateur.

Either way, Cervantes never sees his passion for shoelessness dying. “One day,” he said. “I would love to be known as the barefoot professor.”