Friday, August 30, 2013

School Spirit is Creepy

Last night I attended Premier UNLV, a beginning-of-the-year tradition here, apparently. It was geared entirely toward undergraduates, which I expected. However, I was enticed there by the free food and the opportunity to watch Shaun Leonard freak out with what can only be described as puppy-with-a-new-chew-toy glee as all the stereotypes about the American college experience appeared before his eyes: cheerleaders, marching band, mascots, etc.

In my opinion, the best part (aside from the free food) was when three dangerously close and somewhat unanticipated fireworks went off at the end of the night. Overall, though, I found that the whole event made me extremely uncomfortable. Part of it was that I didn't want to run into my students; I didn't want them to feel like they couldn't have fun if their teacher was there. But I also realized that I have some deep-seated negative feelings about school spirit that I've never tried to analyze. I will attempt to do so now.

One problem is that I've never attended a school where school spirit mattered. St. Pat's had terrible sports teams. So did Carmel. So did Loyola. (So did Loyola I think--I honestly never paid much attention.) I never played sports--too horrifically uncoordinated. I've always been able to simply go to school and focus on my education and my friends without having to care too much about the school itself, and I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. It seems that the students here definitely care a great deal about UNLV as an institution; I gave my class a reading quiz the other day, and more than one student referenced the values that one must have as a Rebel (UNLV's mascot, for those of you who don't know). I can't imagine anyone at Loyola writing about the importance of being a Rambler.

It also seems that most of the people I've known who do take pride in their school are either obnoxious or utterly horrible. Sometimes it's just a matter of them not shutting up about it, which I can cope with, but I find it irritating. I always wonder why these people take so much pride in their school. It usually has to do with a sports team of some variety. I'm fine with people enjoying sports, but what else has the school given you, then, besides a team that has nothing to do with you? Certainly an education, but I don't get the impression that education is what people are celebrating when they wear school colors and sing fight songs.

The utterly horrible people are worse, of course. I suppose I've just noticed a strong correlation between people with school spirit and people who treat other people like shit. Jocks, frat boys, etc. I know that my brain is perpetuating a stereotype here--not all jocks and frat boys are bad people. I'm aware of that. But it's sometimes difficult to remember when you see the stereotype played out again and again. School spirit and the worship of student athletes is what gets you Steubenville. (And a total lack of appreciation for consent, I suppose. And a generally misogynistic society.) It's an extreme case, certainly, yet I can't help but associate it with love for one's school and one's team.

Furthermore, I'm bothered by the cultish aspect of school spirit. They're like a hoard of zombies chanting rah-rah-rah. To be clear: I have no problem with cheering on your school/sports team at a sporting event. That makes sense to me. Your team needs to hear your vocal support in order to be energized and beat the other team. There's a reason for the school spirit during a game. But what the hell is a point of a pep rally, for instance? Why do you need pep when a game isn't going on? You're not trying to defeat anybody. It seems totally illogical.

I'm sure my issues regarding the cult-like quality of school spirit have something to do with my fiercely independent streak. I don't like asking people for help. I like doing things on my own and thinking for myself to a fault. There are times when I should ask for help and I don't. My fear of doing-things-just-because-everybody-else-is isn't limited to school spirit/sports; even when I'm at a concert, and the lead singer tries to get the audience to sway their hands back and forth, I typically refuse. I don't want to dance that way. I want to dance my own way. So in this regard the whole school spirit thing kind of disgusts me--not that it should. I don't understand the appeal of groupthink. And when I say "groupthink," I'm referring to something most other people would probably call "bonding."

I guess I have some serious cognitive dissonance going here. I believe that people should be able to do what they want, and if they want to engage in absurd, over-the-top displays of school spirit, who am I to stop them? At the same time, I also believe that school spirit is, as I said in the title, creepy. Ominous. Sinister.

I hope this makes sense to some people.

Onto happier things. It's Labor Day Weekend! Hope you all have exciting events planned. I certainly do. I want to blog about it, so I won't discuss it now. All I'll say is that I hope we don't get abducted.


  1. I and a couple friends were debating sort of this same topic, but with the essential oddness of tying in the concept of being an American with one's personal identity. For example, I don't feel any sort of special kinship with ... say ... people from Florida, just because we live in the same country. I wouldn't hold them in higher esteem over someone from Canada, or anywhere else. Being American is a commonality we share, but it doesn't mean I like them any more.

    I get what you're saying. I had school spirit when I was in band, but that was because my marching band was awesome, not because my school was.

  2. Huh. That's a good point. I've never thought about it in terms of Americanness before.


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