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Discussion of school pride in athletics and elsewhere

The logo from the Mills College Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation newsletter. (APER)
The logo from the Mills College Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation newsletter. (APER)

As a first-year at Mills, I ran track as a sprinter. I loved it — the practices, the camaraderie formed with your teammates because you all have to get up at the same time, and the track meets themselves. Our team wasn’t very big — in fact, it was comprised of seven or eight students in total — but we had coaches with credentials in running that were enough to make anyone think we stood a chance in competition.

What really disappointed me about being on the track team, though, was the lack of student support we received. I don’t think we ever had more than maybe five Mills students show up to a track meet to cheer us on. Whether you’re a Mills student who cares about sports or doesn’t, I think it’s important to realize that sports are the source of some students’ livelihood and the screaming voices of supportive classmates in the stands can sometimes make all the difference.

“Where’s the campus pride?” I wonder aloud frequently to people I work with. The answer, for sports, that comes from much of the student body is an astoundingly simple one–an explanation that seems to effectively end the conversation about campus pride nearly every time it comes up.

The fact that we’re a “D-III” school.

Here’s the definition of a Division III athletics institution, according to the NCAA website: “Academics are the primary focus for Division III student-athletes. The division minimizes the conflicts between athletics and academics and keeps student-athletes on a path to graduation through shorter practice and playing seasons, the number of contests, no redshirting and regional competition that reduces time away from academic studies. Student-athletes are integrated on campus and treated like all other members of the general student-body, keeping them focused on being a student first.”

Nowhere in that statement does it say that athletics should not be considered activities worthy of student attendance and support. I’ve been to volleyball games where only one-third of the stands are full. The average turnout for a home soccer game is anywhere from two to six people.

When I attended another college’s football game last week, it struck me how loud the student section was, how they cheered something fierce even though their team had just lost by twenty-something points. I found myself jumping to my feet and cheering along with the rest of the student section whenever a touchdown was scored. I was in awe of how much pride these students had for their school; even if they didn’t attend the game, they sure didn’t waste a millisecond of time deciding what they would wear that day, decked out head to toe in their school’s gear, faces painted with rallying slogans.

Sports are not the only area where I’ve witnessed a general lack of enthusiasm demonstrated by student attendance at Mills. Last year, the first-year class council put together an event with a local band requested by their class, advertised as far in advance as acceptable for said event and a grand total of four people showed up. The Second Saturday Sustainability event that took place in September clocked in 25 attendants at its peak. The largest turnout I’ve seen at a social event for students on campus was 130 students for last year’s Fetish Ball.

I am fully aware that we are a small school. But a crowd of 1,500 students absolutely has the potential to be big in its own way, and I don’t think being a “small school” should be used as an excuse anymore. Just a few days ago I heard someone say, “Yeah, 30 people showing up to an event here is considered an outstanding turnout.”

Why is that?

Imagine: if the entirety of our 1,500 student body showed up to an event — even 900 students — it would be an overwhelming success and it would be awesome! I understand that the term “pride” means different things to different people. I understand that as busy and involved Mills students, we have time constraints and countless commitments. To mirror the beliefs of my co-staffers at The Campanil (see Sept. 16 staff editorial), I do believe that a sense of school pride does exist at Mills, albeit a quiet one. Our academics are stellar, and we seem to emanate pride in that area. But as for events, I know that there are people on this campus itching to change the culture here–that much was clear when the Mills College Confessions page was active last year. Students weren’t afraid to voice their opinions in that forum, but it was anonymous and is currently no longer operating.

The central question I’m left with is why? Why do we have such low turnout at events? Is it because these aren’t the kinds of events that students want to attend? Why aren’t students speaking up about what they want? If they are, why do they only feel comfortable doing so anonymously?

What do the students want?