On Tuesday, Nov. 9th, students filled the Smith Center’s 5,000 seats for the men’s basketball home opener, cheering on and supporting the team to a narrow win against Saint Francis.
But another victory took place that night, one which all students should be proud of – we came together as a University to voice school spirit, show pride and form a community.
As a student body, sports afford us a unique opportunity to reap the experiential benefits of a pre-pandemic era. They bring us together in one common space for one common purpose: supporting GW’s sports teams. In turn, they foster an inclusive community that every student can enjoy, and we should therefore continue to bring our civic engagement to GW’s sports programs.
GW’s urban layout not only results in a lack of school spirit but also a lack of community. The city voids us of certain communal spaces, like dining halls, and beyond our residence halls there isn’t a place for students to gather in one home court. Instead, GW encourages students to leave campus and explore the city, as seen in its “101 Things To Do Checklist.” Of course, exploring D.C. is an integral component to the GW experience, but the unfortunate product of our urban environment is a physical campus with little school spirit and community.
Rather, GW’s city environment naturally attracts individualistic people. Students are focused on pursuing their unique goals in the form of activism or internships, which leads to much smaller communities at the University that are inclusive for some but alienating for others. GW is home to a sprawling political community, for example, but not all students are interested in politics. Many students join professional, career related organizations, but not all students know what they want to pursue after college. In plain terms, GW’s niche culture can be uninviting.
Sports, on the other hand, are a place for us to put our aspirations aside and our collective appreciation for GW at the forefront. Our Division 1 programs are a medium through which every student can show school spirit, regardless of personal opinions, political affiliations, career goals or even interest in the game itself. The manifestation of this is an inclusive community that anyone can join.
But students don’t come to this University because they want community. Instead, it’s the individualistic culture and professional opportunities that attract students to GW. And while it’s difficult for the University to establish a community, it does encourage and promote personal goals. After all, GW was ranked by the Princeton Review as the No. 1 college for internships in 2016. Furthermore, whether it’s budgeting GWorld or navigating the Metro, a city culture helps foster adulthood more so than a traditional campus environment.
Of course, we should not neglect these benefits and goals. They are the appeal of coming to college in the nation’s capital. And school spirit isn’t the only mechanism by which sports create community on campus either. Investing in our teams and players also allows us to return to a pre-pandemic era of tailgates and large in-person events. With virtual exams and mask mandates, we are still feeling the lingering effects of COVID-19. Sports can help remediate these effects, providing a public space where students can all congregate in person. They can help bridge the gap between the pre-coronavirus era and what we’re experiencing now. Engaging with sports is a way for us to recognize a more traditional college experience and this is something we as students should take advantage of.
And even those who dislike sports can participate in the environment they provide. In attending this school, we wanted to come to a place with like-minded individuals. Yet, in a culture as individualized as GW’s, it can be hard to find these people. Sports are a way to establish a community between students where the focus isn’t necessarily on the games themselves but instead on pride and spirit. These are feelings anyone can have in common.
GW has a passionate student body composed of individuals who are engaged in their surroundings, driven by their beliefs and motivated toward their futures. It is long overdue that we bring this passion and civic engagement to our sports programs. In doing so, we can forge a spirited community on campus that is open to everyone.
Charlie Mark, a freshman majoring in political communication, is an opinions writer.