Many have seen him walking around campus, always with a backpack on and a phone on his hand.
For those who play Pokémon GO around the college’s campus, he’s the level 38 Instinct trainer who takes down your recently captured gym.
The easiest way to identify student Raven Peer, however, is to look at his feet, which will most likely be shoeless.
Peer has spent most of his life without wearing shoes. He says that the habit began at an early age, back when he was around the age of four to eight.
“My father doesn’t wear shoes as well, and, as a child, you mimic your parents,” Peer said. “I just kept not wearing [shoes] because I didn’t feel like it, and clearly I could do it, so it wasn’t impossible.”
Besides the mimicking and a naturally rebellious attitude, Peer gives other reasons as to why he did not put shoes on as a child.
“I grew up in a car and shoes were quite uncomfortable because they would almost always get caught on something,” Peer said. “Because [my father] works in automotive, we’d have tons of parts all throughout his car and they always had these sharp little nicks. So, I took off the shoes because it would tear them up easily within a month, so it was quite the expense that we cut away too.”
To Peer, another reason to not wear shoes comes from the feeling that touching the ground with his feet brings.
“On the carpet, I can feel all the little strands and everything else; it feels really nice,” Peer said. “Same thing with the grass. It just feels more relaxing.”
During spring and fall, walking barefoot isn’t as difficult as during the extreme seasons of the year – winter and summer. According to Peer, it is all a matter of becoming used to it.
“Right around high school, we had a wood burning stove, so I had to chop-up wood,” Peer said. “The problem is, in the winter time, you burn through a whole lot more. Eventually, I’d go out for a few minutes [shoeless] and come back in because it was very cold. It just became something that you get used to.”
Fortunately, Peer has never suffered a severe injury with his bare feet, whether it be burns or harsh cuts. He has, however, had close calls.
“One time I was helping my uncle, and the brake on trailer that we were loading heavy machinery parts on came loose,” Peer said. “It started rolling. The hill wasn’t too terribly steep, so it only slightly moved, but it was just enough that there was a smaller pothole that my foot fell over, and it just grazed the top side of my toes. Turns out, if I had been wearing steel-toed shoes, there would be no more toes.”
Though he has never sustained any horrible injuries on his foot, Peer has to deal with other types of problems, such as being judged in public places or at restaurants.
“There’s two common myths that only foreigners, as I travel abroad, seem to understand,” Peer said. “One is that most places require you to wear shoes in order to get service, It’s the same thing for driving: people think you need to wear shoes to drive. There are some places that are just adamant about it. Otherwise, it’s a 50/50. If I’m going grocery shopping, then they normally just don’t bother me. But in restaurants, the more time you spend in there, the more they seem to care.”
Out of convenience, Peer always carries some sort of footwear with him in his backpack. He uses it only when a restaurant demands him to use shoes, or, as he specified, the people working in the college’s Food Court, asks him to put shoes on.
“The food cafeteria lady is one [who cares],” Peer said. “She’s adamant, she doesn’t care, you’re putting on shoes, it’s her cafeteria.”
Peer recalls that the longest time he has spent without shoes lasted around six to 10 months, a result of summer and travelling abroad.
“In the entire summer I normally don’t put them on because there’s no reason to,” Peer said. “As I keep going abroad, those places don’t really care if walk into their restaurants without shoes on. Most of the time when I do put [shoes] on, it’s for 10, 20 minutes at most, and then they’re back off again.”
As he mentioned before, Peer has travelled abroad and experienced how other cultures treat his habit in contrast with how Americans see it. He has been to China and Russia before, and, according to him, China had the most intriguing combination of reactions.
“When I walk into a place barefoot here, people get upset, it’s disgusting, it’s gross, which I can understand,” Peer said. “In China, they don’t have the same view [as in America], they’re concerned. It’s more of ‘are you okay? Are you poor? Did someone rob you?’ It was more ‘is he alright?’, except for when the one time where we went up to the mountains where the monks were, then they gave me high-fives and were like ‘good job! Way to go!’”
Peer shared about different reactions he has received from people, especially how those with physical disabilities see and react to him.
“I have more people who are disabled in any type of way ask me questions because I’m barefoot, and they are like ‘well, clearly, you’re not a normal person,’” Peer said. “I don’t know whether to feel insulted or complimented with that comment, but I appreciate the thought. If you’ve been on the other end of being judged for a long time, you get used to the idea. You start seeing the other people who are different just don’t care as much.”
Lastly, Peer believes the judgement people give him is not enough to change his own lifestyle. Peer said, “There’s definitely some judgement, a lot of it depending on where you go, but it is not enough to ever discourage me for doing whatever I’m doing.”
This story was featured in our 50th anniversary edition.