This question comes up from time to time, sometimes in tacky (sorry I’m not sorry) admissions videos, but more often in real life. The answers vary. The residential college system. The legendary professors. The alumni network. Wednesday Night Toad’s.
It’s a safe bet that no student in the last quarter-century or so has, with a straight face at least, listed the powerhouse Yale athletic program as the reason for attending this university.
Generally, our school spirit manifests itself in stranger ways than painted stomachs at football games. We get excited when Meryl Streep, GRD ’74, wins an Oscar. We brag about Yale’s ranking in U.S. News & World Report. We pack stands for athletics events.
Oh. Wait a second. That last one isn’t true. Not at all. On the whole, Yale students barely support our athletic programs. Our athletes often perform for an audience of New Haven residents, parents, and—on occasion—a small but dedicated group of students. The end of the first quarter at a Bulldog football game sometimes feels like a boring lecture during shopping period, with students bashfully filing out down the aisles.
Our apathy towards Yale sports is completely incongruous with our general attitude towards other performances on campus. Many of us seem to have the attention span to attend a three-hour a capella concert to support our suitemate who’s singing a solo, but if it’s a volleyball game, we don’t bother sticking around for the third set. Presumably, our friendships with athletes are equally important to us as our frienships with a cappella singers.
Our lack of school spirit also doesn’t fit with our general attitude towards our university. As a student body, we are enamored with this place. Even when we are shy and tell people we “go to school in Connecticut,” we’re filled with pride at the fact that we attend Yale.
There’s no shame in shedding that humility for a few hours a week to unite with your classmates in support of a sports team. We should be proud of our athletics program: two years ago, Yale had seven different teams reign supreme in the Ivy League, and just last year we had two championship squads. Our hockey team has consistently found itself in the top 30 nationally, including an extended stretch at number one in the nation two seasons ago. All our teams play at a high level. We’re no Stanford, but we have nothing to be ashamed of.
As a school, we love nothing more than traditions. We run naked through Bass during finals period. We fiercely defend and promote the primacy of our residential colleges—an arbitrary selection of students determined by a random draw. We cried at the cancellation of the beloved Safety Dance. Every year, Saybrook students strip, sometimes at The Game, sometimes just because clothes are overrated. Graduating seniors smash clay pipes with their feet. We do these things mindlessly, as if some part of our brains is just programmed this way.
We used to have other traditions here, too. Students used to walk to the Yale Bowl together to watch Yale take on anybody—not just Harvard. Bladderball used to captivate the attention, strength, and creativity of the campus on the day we played Dartmouth. Tailgates were not just for frat bros and other brave souls who chose to rise before 10 a.m. on Saturdays; they used to be the highlight of the social calendar. Yale students used to have school spirit.
It’s time to bring back that tradition. It’s time to let the chorus of “Down the Field” echo in the hallowed walls of the Yale Bowl, fill Ingalls Rink, linger in the sunset at Reese Stadium, and rattle the bleachers of Lee Amphitheater. This weekend, let the thousands who will fill Harvard Stadium know that we have not forgotten who we are.