Op-ed: Before discounting school spirit at GW, get involved and go find it

Kamau Louis is a senior majoring in political science.

Everyone knows about the classic GW stereotype – those rich kids who only talk about their “Hillternship,” too focused on themselves to carry any real sense of school pride. The first half of that statement may be true, but I wholeheartedly disagree that school spirit is missing from our student body. From the ranks of George’s Army to the River Horse by Lisner Auditorium, school spirit is alive and well on campus – you just have to know where to find it.

Does the University have the same amount of school spirit as Florida State, the University of Michigan or The Ohio State University? Of course not – we are an extremely nerdy school for people who want to become president but just end up as middle-level career bureaucrats. But the one-of-a-kind experience of a GW student is a privilege that many take pride in through University events or special traditions that celebrate our history.

Unfortunately, GW’s history of intense academics, toxic internship culture and extracurricular competitiveness might engender a cutthroat sense of intense individualism among the student body. Our non-traditional city campus and lack of athletic success leave some students wanting more school spirit and community.

Much of the perceived shortage of school spirit at GW stems from our missing football team – a source of exuberant crowds and flashes of school colors at other collegesDating back to 1967, the termination of GW’s football program drained much of the school spirit that the University could ever muster from its sports. When people think about school spirit in the traditional sense, they often think of tailgates, huge marching bands and, most importantly, football games. But restarting the football program would be an extremely costly and long endeavor, especially in the DMV, where viable venues are few and far between

But GW still shows school pride at other sports events that students should view as equally as important. If you have attended a GW men’s basketball home opener at the Smith Center, then you know what it’s like to see the pride and energy of the student body. Student organizations like George’s Army rally massive amounts of energy through the stands of the Smith Center at basketball games with flashy costumes and cheers that bounce off the bleachers. The constant booming chants coming from George’s Army, their funny signs and jeers against the opposing team create an infectious atmosphere with a palpable sense of school spirit. 

And now that in-person classes have been back for more than a year, my friends and I feel more welcoming and outgoing than ever. Before the pandemic, we felt that students at GW were less interested in getting to know other people or reaching out. But GW has found a renewed sense of school spirit with students desperate to make up for lost time on the heels of the pandemic. The year of online classes and isolation has created a sense of necessity for our GW community. 

Students looking for an everyday solution to the so-called school spirit void need to only look as far as the surrounding campus culture and the array of student organizations. Get involved and you’ll find that school spirit at GW. For me, that meant joining the GW Rugby Club. The decision delivered an incredible and rewarding experience where I could represent the Buff and Blue against local rivals, like Georgetown, American and Catholic universities. The competition was one perk, but I stayed for the camaraderie that I found with the friends I made on the team. Playing for the University gave me a sense of pride and spirit that I needed. I wasn’t rooting just for the school, but I was rooting for myself and my teammates.

Above all, the collective passion for social and political change defines the true school spirit that shines at GW uniquely and pulled me to enroll here in the first place. When I transferred to GW in 2020, the students whom I first met were proud that GW was such a politically active campus. Many students throughout the school year join in the protests in the D.C. area at key moments in history, like Black Lives Matter rallies or the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Several student organizations grounded in activism on campus build their own community through advocacy for crucial causes on campus, like racial justice, D.C. statehood, sustainability, reproductive rights and gender equityDozens of student organizations like the Model United Nations team, theater troupes, cultural dance teams or comedy groups have helped many people find their niche here at GW with a tight circle to call their family away from home.

Your community is here at GW. Go to a basketball game with your roommates and cheer at the top of your lungs. Celebrate the fall harvest at GW Apple Day or welcome the spring bloom at the Mount Vernon Campus for Fountain Day, just to name a few University traditions. Maybe attend an info session of a club where your classmates are members. School spirit is more than a football team, a loud booming band at a stadium or tailgates – it is the community you foster here.

Who knows, maybe one day when we are all alumni, we will see the Buff and Blue return to the football field and feel that traditional school spirit we hunger for. But until then, there are plenty of other ways to show school spirit. Join that student organization or start a club. Rub the ears of the River Horse for good luck before your next test. School spirit is what you make of it.

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