Brown has found itself atop a lot of rankings lists, some more useful than others. BlogDH covers them all. We’re infamous for having once been the university with the happiest students (it was like 6 years ago, leave us alone!). And we’ve done it while being pretty smart and sexy, too.
None of those rankings, however, would ever deem us a spirited student body. That’s a University of Michigan or Duke or Alabama thing. Indeed, Brunonians often take an ironic sort of pride in their lack of school spirit. We ham it up for “Brown State” during Homecoming; we don’t even know the fake words to our fight song; most of us don’t have a clue what our football team’s record is, even in the rare year that we’re kind of good.
I believe Brown students’ lack of school spirit is a serious problem, and it’s making our campus less engaged, less united, and less safe.
And when I talk about school spirit, I’m talking about something that means so much more than supporting a university’s sports teams. This isn’t about how many people showed up for the night game against Harvard or how many different Brown sweaters you own. It isn’t about whether or not you’ve given to the Senior Gift Committee (though you should!). This is about how much stock each of us takes in the label “Brown Student.” Right now, that trait, just about the only thing that we have in common — except, perhaps, a love for Dave Binder — doesn’t matter as much as it should. From what I’ve seen in the past four years, the consequences of this undervaluing of what it means to go here have been dire. This campus is without question more divided than it was when I came here.
No issue has incited more rage and controversy — and rightly so — than how this University treats survivors of sexual assault. It has spawned countless BDH opinions columns and counter-columns, two organized campaigns, a task force, and multiple national news stories. Somewhere in the middle, the Janus Forum hosted two speakers. One of them held controversial views on rape culture, and you probably know the rest.
Over spring break, Judith Shulevitz published an article in the New York Times that insulted two of my classmates for their views on “safe spaces” while discussing this talk. Someone had just tried to muddy the names of two people — Brown students — who simply want to make this campus safer. School spirit means protecting our own from spiteful, condescending attacks like this one, regardless of your political views. It was disappointing to see so few people defending those two students even if they did not necessarily agree with their ideas on the merits of “safe spaces.”
I felt a similar sort of disillusionment in the aftermath of Hyoun Ju Sohn’s death this March. While, of course, everyone deals with these tragedies differently, I couldn’t help but feel like more Brown students should have been at the vigil that took place on the Main Green that evening. Not just because seeing Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson speak is one of life’s great pleasures and her words have a magical healing effect, but also because Sohn was one of us. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t an undergrad, and it doesn’t matter if you had never met him. He was a Brunonian.
This sort of school spirit isn’t the easiest thing to embrace. I write all of this as someone who has not always loved Brown. Like many students, there have been times where I have been positively baffled by the decisions of our school’s administration. Watching from 5,000 miles away as the campus seemed to split in half in the aftermath of the Ray Kelly talk was paralyzing. I’ve found myself in classes, activities, and relationships that felt like dead ends. You can’t always be overflowing with spirit for any school.
But none of this has ever made me lose faith in the part of this school that matters most: my fellow students. The only thing more impressive than the range of things to which we commit ourselves is the remarkable nature of what we build once we do so. We put on two-person musical theater masterpieces. We put on chicken suits. We go to events that were in Morning Mail, just to see what we’ll learn. We dominate Twitter. We stage protests. We stage more protests. We blog. Who besides Jesse Watters couldn’t love a group like us?
To those who are lucky enough to have at least another year here: I hope you take some time to help build an even more loving campus than we have now. Look out for one another. Check in with one another. Challenge one another. Make the title “Brown student” mean even more than it does now. Push this university to the top of one more useless ranking.
To the Class of 2015: I hope you know that I would go to battle for each and every one of you, simply because we shared these four years with each other. And I know there are hundreds of people out there who feel the same way. In just a few weeks, we will walk out the Van Wickle Gates and out to every corner of the world. My greatest hope for each of you, more than love, or health, or professional or personal bliss, is that, thirty years from now, when you walk down the street and see a man with salt and pepper hair wearing a white crew-neck sweatshirt with that instantly recognizable seal and red block letters that incongruously scream BROWN, you will smile and say, “Ever True.”