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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A different kind of school spirit

Published: November 2, 2012
Section: Opinions

The term school spirit is tossed around campuses all the time, but how do we actually define it when colleges and universities are so different in size and focus? School spirit is a measure of school pride and liking of an institution. When you think of school spirit, appearance is thought of, such as people decked out in university apparel and colors, talking about how much they love their school, or campus wide sports attended by many student fans. The Huffington Post’s top-ranked spirited schools are all large universities with thousands of students. Yet that doesn’t mean that Brandeis doesn’t have a lot of spirit.

A quick Google search of the term school spirit immediately presents the word football. Sports have long been a point of pride for many schools, particularly for large universities. Many people at larger schools rally around their sports teams, filling stadiums with thousands of fans for each game. It’s easy to say these schools are “spirited” just by counting the amount of screaming fans in the bleachers. Sports provide a sense of community and an opportunity for students to interact with the excitement of rooting for the school team. Many larger schools will invest millions of dollars in their sports teams because they feel that this is what attracts students to the school, keeps them happy and engages alumni.

Consider then the situation at Brandeis, a small liberal arts school that has been “undefeated since 1959” in football? What happens when college sports are not the focus of the school, huge stadiums are nonexistent, and tailgates unheard of? Just because these external displays of spirit are not seen at Brandeis does not mean that there is no spirit. If you walk up to a random person on campus he or she—most likely—will be enthusiastic about Brandeis and the opportunities that exist here. The school spirit here has a different way of manifesting itself than that of students gathering in large stadiums holding up signs for their favorite athlete.

Brandeis is unique as a relatively small, private, research university. The ways we express spirit here are much different than that of a large, public, state university. The strong sense of community at Brandeis is a form of school spirit and one that is special to our university and made stronger because of our smaller student body. Proof of Brandeis school spirit publicly could be seen earlier this fall when, thanks to the efforts of the student body, we made a strong showing as one of the top six finalists for a chance to be on the Today Show. Led by student events leaders, many students showed up in support of Brandeis and a chance to land a spot on the nationally televised show.

I’m not saying students here do not express school spirit through sports. The UAA Division III conference that Brandeis participates in is a competitive one, and many students attend soccer and basketball games. Opponents such a Washington University in St. Louis and Emory are academically rigorous universities, but also contain a plethora of accomplished student athletes. Some of these athletes could have played Division I sports but chose to attend a school where academics would be the main focus. Student athletes practice hard every day and take competition very seriously. Regardless, sports are definitely not the focal point of school spirit at Brandeis.

Having transferred from George Mason University, a public institution with more than 20,000 undergraduate students, I am familiar with large stadiums full of fans. A point of pride for most students was our Division I program and a basketball team that made it to the final four in the last decade. Students received free handouts at games, along with free food when a certain number of points was reached by the team. The electrifying atmosphere at games was one that brought students together. The school could easily promote the sports programs because they were well recognized.

Needless to say, the atmosphere in the classroom is much different in a large school with many large lecture classes. There is more spirit toward learning in the small but highly motivated student body that encompasses Brandeis.

Although sports may not be the main lens through which our school spirit is shown, social issues and academic groups can be channels of school spirit. Students here are very involved and join many of the hundreds of club options on campus. You can see students demonstrating the typical school pride by walking around in their Brandeis sweatshirts, but you also see students very passionate about volunteerism. Brandeis students care about making a difference in the outside community and do so through popular student run clubs such as Waltham Group. Many students are involved in these organizations and would not feel as happy about attending Brandeis if they did not have these opportunities.

You can’t mention spirit without mentioning parties, a diverse array of events hosted by different clubs, fraternities and sororities, and Student Events led spirit events such as “Bronstein Week,” which is centered on Brandeis spirit. All of these provide enthusiastic spirit on campus and provide fun dances, games and free stuff for students. There is always something fun going on and clubs with which to get involved. Brandeis makes it easy for students to start a club if they are passionate about something and this is what many people really appreciate about the school.

Just because you may see more students at a volunteer event than a sports game does not mean Brandeis lacks school spirit. Many students here are proud of the education they are receiving and show their pride through their involvement in different activities.