I’m in my fourth year as a columnist, so I’ve been asking students what they think are the biggest issues on campus for a while now. And the responses I’ve gotten most consistently? Low school spirit. Lack of community. GW doesn’t have a football team.
It’s a tough issue to tackle, but on the opinions page, in conversation with friends and across campus, people are trying to turn around this so-called lack of University affinity. They’re trying to invigorate campus with a sense of identity reminiscent of big state schools, while simultaneously touting everything that makes GW, well, GW.
But so often, those two goals have been in sharp contrast, to the point of falling flat or feeling contrived.
I’ve found that GW is a school that prioritizes the micro over the macro. People nationwide are told through the University’s rebranding campaign that GW produces great leaders, a message that speaks to the ambitions of individual students here.
Students measure their pride in achievements in student organizations – or even more alienating, in collecting internships – and not in the University as a whole. We don’t lack school spirit – it's just more localized.
Both my parents and my older sister went to big, sports-focused state schools, so I grew up around people who experienced a very different college community than I have. Their identity first belonged to their college, and everything else, from majors to student organizations, followed far behind.
And whether we’re looking at our family members or our high school friends who go to larger schools, at some point or another we’ve all found ourselves asking, “What makes GW different?”
When I ask students why they believe school spirit is low on campus, the responses range from “the University is too bureaucratic” to “everyone just wants to talk about politics” to “J Street is not all-you-can-eat” and “there's no football team.”
But changing any of those things wouldn’t really fix our school pride problem. And solving the puzzle that is GW’s lack of community goes much deeper than being more welcoming to non-politics students – the University already is. And as for starting a football team again, well, that'd be a terrible idea.
In fact, it often seems as though students simply love to hate on GW.
Last year, GW was recognized in a Unigo survey as one of the top 10 colleges with the happiest students in the country, a sign that spirit here might be high. But the ensuing shock expressed across Facebook and Twitter seemed to call into question that survey’s authority. As someone who has genuine pride in her school, I found it disheartening to see this recognition being fiercely attacked by so many of my fellow students.
But the message the University puts out, and the one students quickly adopt, seems to portray each student as a traveler on an individual journey to political stardom, investment banking glory or the theatrical role of a lifetime. GW is a place where students carve out their identities individually or in small groups and do not have to latch onto less personal communities, like the greater University.
Indeed, not everyone feels this way. I have tremendous respect for the community members who show up to every basketball game, talk about "raising high" and attempt to promote a sense of spirit in others.
But there aren’t enough of them to say that the culture here is one of strong school pride.
Maybe GW just isn’t a place where buff and blue pulses through our veins. Maybe we need to stop thinking there is only one way we show school identity. GW is a place to grow as individuals. Maybe it’s time we embrace that.
–The writer, a senior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet senior columnist.