Yes, it’s true: For over a decade the University of Maryland at College Park has sent incoming freshmen a welcome box that includes a container of Old Bay seasoning and a crab mallet.

Overall, the program has been a success, but occasionally there have been missteps, according to Dining Services spokesperson Bart Hipple: “In 2016 we thought it would be a nice touch to put a steamed hard shell crab in the box.  Unfortunately, the boxes were assembled three weeks before they were mailed, so the students received crabs that were not, to put it mildly, ‘digestion friendly’.  The aroma the students encountered when they opened the box should have tipped them off, but not all of them were aware that a cooked hard shell crab shouldn’t smell like a pit latrine in Calcutta during cholera season.  We documented about 400 cases of food poisoning around the country that could be traced to the welcome boxes.  Trust me, it wasn’t a fun summer for Dining Services. 

“The following year, 2017, we tried to regroup by placing a sedated live crab in the box, along with instructions on how to steam it.  The problem was that we didn’t realize Maryland blue crabs become REALLY agitated when they’re confined in a small space for an extended period, regardless of how much you’ve drugged them.  When the boxes were opened, these feisty little crustaceans came out fighting!  Most of the injuries to students were minor — scratches and small puncture wounds — but at least five students lost one or more fingers to a particularly strong set of pincers. 

“Well, that ended the crab-inclusion experiment.  We’ve returned to just giving students the Old Bay and the mallet.  Of course, a few of the more adventurous kids can always be counted on to use their bong to smoke the seasoning after lacing it with oregano and powdered kale, but I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t produce much of a high, and it leaves your throat incredibly raw.  Now we include a sticker on the Old Bay container warning folks not to do this.”

Note to Mom and Dad: It’s probably a good idea to be in the room when your offspring open their welcome box from the University of Maryland.  It might be your last opportunity to offer parental guidance before your child heads to college.