Stacking up school pride at local universities

Anyone who has spent a significant amount time in Foggy Bottom is likely aware of GW’s lack of school spirit. But why do some schools have an unwavering sense of pride while others simply do not? To find an answer, The Hatchet visited four other D.C.-area colleges to determine what exactly fuels school spirit.

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: SELF-MOTIVATED PLUS COMMUNITY

STUDENT PERCEPTION OF SCHOOL PRIDE:
Students interviewed at American University said having a more typical college campus in an urban setting facilitates community. “AU students are just as self-motivated as those at GW, but there’s also a sense of community,” said AU freshman Sami Green. “Having an actual campus changes everything.” AU attire is commonly worn around the school, but the biggest sense of pride stems from its recent ranking as the “#1 Most Politically Active Campus” by U.S. News & World Report.

SPORTS PROGRAM:
Like other schools in the area, AU’s sports program centers around its Division I basketball team. While typically not as good as Georgetown or GMU, the AU Eagles garner large student support, winning record or not. Their basketball arena is often full throughout the year, even if the team is not doing well. And after making it into the NCAA tournament for the past two years, students now sport face-paint and come out in full force. AU senior Sean Wagman said, “I went to the [Patriot League] championship game over spring break and even then the place was packed.”

COMMUNITY CENTER:
The quad at AU is a little oasis off of Massachusetts Avenue. The long stretch of grass doesn’t quite rival the National Mall, but when the weather’s warm, students gravitate towards the quad to hang out in the sun. The surrounding Marvin Center-like student center and the academic buildings highlight the small campus, which gives off more of a summer camp vibe than that of a university.

ACCESS TO THINGS OUTSIDE OF CAMPUS:
Get one thing straight: AU is just within the city limits, farther than most at GW have traveled. While a trip into the heart of D.C. requires a bit more hassle, the free shuttle to and from the Tenleytown Metro stop on the Red Line – as well as the campus’ proximity to Adams Morgan – makes a night out entirely feasible. “Once people turn 21 and don’t need the frat scene, that’s when they start exploring the city,” Wagman said. AU students also often take advantage of the location and get an internship on the Hill or elsewhere downtown.

GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: THE COMMUTER SCHOOL

STUDENT PERCEPTION OF SCHOOL PRIDE:
GMU is largely a commuter school, so having school spirit is difficult when only 25 percent of the student body lives on campus. But even many commuter students are up to the task, finding time in between work and class to be engaged in the school community.

GMU senior Sajad Ghanizida said, “People actually want to get involved . it’s a matter of choosing what.” And after U.S. News and World Report recently named GMU the “#1 School to Watch” even inactive students are beginning to welcome the change.

SPORTS PROGRAM:
School spirit peaked at GMU after its basketball team made it to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and anyone old enough to have been at the school then still cites it as a source of school spirit. But after a few consecutive seasons of poor play, it’s clear that a less successful sports program presents challenges to maintaining GMU spirit.

COMMUNITY CENTER:
The undisputed hub of life at this woodsy campus in Fairfax, Va., is the Johnson Center, an all-purpose student center that seems more like a mall than the Marvin Center. It houses a food court with a larger variety of choices than J Street, a bank, study rooms and seating for 2,200 people. There’s always a steady crowd of students in the building. It’s been dubbed “The New Quad.”

ACCESS TO THINGS OUTSIDE OF CAMPUS:
If GMU lacks one thing, it’s access to the outside. With students having to take a bus ride just to get to the last stop on the Metro line, casually going out to D.C. is out of the question. There are only a couple of Fairfax bars for entertainment, and students frequently spend their weekends at other schools, leaving the campus with little communal feeling. Says GMU junior Meghan Knowles: “On the weekends, this place is pretty dead.”

HOWARD: HISTORIC SCHOOL PRIDE

STUDENT PERCEPTION OF SCHOOL PRIDE:
Howard students take pride in their school and believe it to be the best. There’s even a rivalry between Hampton University, another historically black college in Virginia, over which school is the “real HU.” Howard students couldn’t be more adamant about the title being theirs and do their best to wear Howard colors as much as possible. Junior Sharon Green said it’s common for people to be “decked out in Howard gear every day.”

SPORTS PROGRAM:
Howard recently hasn’t had much luck with their sports program, yet students say that this hasn’t affected the pride they have in their university. Said freshman Kamaria Hakeen, “It’s not at all about sports, it’s about community.” That’s not to say that students aren’t interested in the sports program. According to several students interviewed, Howard’s fall homecoming is legendary.

COMMUNITY CENTER:
The main student center on campus is the Blackburn Center. It houses dining options such as the Punch Out, the Café and a small general store. Eating seems to be the main priority for students rather than hanging out or studying.

ACCESS TO THINGS OUTSIDE OF CAMPUS:
Howard is located within D.C. city limits and is fairly close to a stop on the Green and Yellow lines. Students said that this allows undergraduates to intern and experience the city. But many choose to remain on campus and participate in Howard events such as Dorm Wars and step shows.

GEORGETOWN: THE SECLUDED SCHOOL

STUDENT PERCEPTION OF SCHOOL PRIDE:
Students are serious about the pride they have for Georgetown. Other college sweatshirts are not kosher if you are a Hoya. Students wear school gear almost every day, often from head to toe. Picture a campus full of heads adorned with Georgetown caps, and arms and legs covered in Georgetown sweatshirts and pants. They value everything from their academic reputation to their sports teams and the rich traditions and history of the school. Sophomore Erin Buckley said students have “school spirit for their individual school as well as for the school as a whole.” Like GW, Georgetown is comprised of many smaller colleges within the university.

SPORTS PROGRAM:
Georgetown students have intense pride for their sports teams and make an effort to go to the games even though they are in the Verizon Center. Graduate student Mubeen Khan said, “People get really pumped when it comes to games and winning games,” despite the basketball team currently being much less successful than in the recent past.

COMMUNITY CENTER:
Red Square is at the center of campus and is where student organizations post flyers and broadcast their messages to the student body. Said Khan, “I usually get asked to sign something every time I try and come in to class.” Another gathering place is Leavey Center, which houses Georgetown’s bookstore, a coffee shop, some study space and dining options.

ACCESS TO THINGS OUTSIDE OF CAMPUS:
While they are located within the Georgetown neighborhood, the campus itself is gated and fully enclosed. Buckley said, “Being in an enclosed community like this does foster school spirit, but people don’t get out as much . People associate so much with the school because they don’t have so much an association with the city.” So while access to the city is possible, many students choose to limit themselves to M Street.

How this all relates to GW…

In the simplest terms, school spirit stems from a student body’s attitude that their school is better than every other. Not surprisingly, a major indicator of school spirit is a successful sports program. Yet sports team records often fluctuate, so while a winning streak undoubtedly fuels school spirit, the lack of a good season only means that some other source of pride must compensate for the difference. Whether it be an Ivy League academic reputation or a new top ranking from U.S. News & World Report, there are a number of factors that can increase school spirit.

Ultimately, however, the quintessential component of a communal sense of pride is the community – in that sense, GW is somewhat doomed from the start. The lack of a central, large gathering area makes any show of unity outside of the sports arena difficult. The location, perhaps both GW’s greatest asset and greatest drawback, allows for a culture in which many students come to further their career aspirations with little interest in a sense of community.

An introduction to this article in the print edition referred to American, George Mason and Georgetown as local, private universities. George Mason is a public university.

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