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Columbia school spirit lies in athletics, club connections
Members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee describe their role as a unifying force, helping students identify with larger school community.
Last week, former sports editor Jim Pagels ran a column (“Recruiting for Columbia sports creates unfair stereotypes,” April 5) addressing the way student-athletes are treated by the University, particularly with regards to recruiting and admissions. Jim raised many questions, but at the core of the argument seemed to be a concern for the role athletics plays in our community.
We, as individual members of the executive board of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, want to take the opportunity to talk about what we see as athletics’ role on campus, and to describe an initiative we have been working on that speaks directly to Jim’s concern.
First, though, it’s necessary to point out that we don’t experience the sort of campus-wide stigma Jim mentions in his column. By and large, our interactions with other students about our respective sports have been very positive. It starts from the top—President Bollinger has repeatedly declared athletics as an integral part of the University’s mission, and many commenters on Jim’s column pointed out a number of the members of our Board of Trustees, including chairman Bill Campbell and vice chair Philip Milstein, were student-athletes during their time in the Morningside Heights. There are always specific instances when students may single out student-athletes, but that is not unique to Columbia nor is it unique to the student-athlete population here.
Instead of an isolated and antagonized group as Jim seems to believe, we see athletics as a unifying force on campus. At a school where students often talk about the need to build community, a sporting event can be a very effective way of bringing students together as Columbians. The fact these events pit Columbia against other schools makes everyone all the more conscious of being part of a distinct community.
That competition, and the clear-cut nature of the wins and losses that result, help make athletics what Bollinger has called a “co-curricular” rather than an extracurricular. The hyphen in student-athlete connects the two ways in which members of Columbia’s teams represent Columbia, and that duality is taken very seriously in the Ivy League—one reason the conference uses the Academic Index, which requires admitted student-athletes be representative of the admitted population rather than simply employing the bare-minimum standards seen elsewhere. The stronger the applicant pool at Columbia, the stronger the body of recruited student-athletes must be.
Yet the difference between athletics and other groups on campus is not the point of this column. Athletics is just one way that the school can come together, and just as the Columbia community takes many forms, we recognize that there are many other events that can serve this purpose as well.
That brings us to the initiative mentioned earlier. In a program tentatively called “The Pride,” SAAC wants to partner with other student groups—student councils, Greek life, cultural groups, or any other group interested in participating—to promote five events which bring Columbians together and create unifying experiences for students. Obviously, as student-athletes, we would nominate events like Homecoming, Basketball Mania, or a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader in Levien, but the idea goes much further than that. What about the Varsity Show? Relay for Life? CCO? The list surely could go on—the important thing is that each of these events bring students together as Columbians toward the same goal. These events are inherently Columbian experiences.
When people talk about “school spirit,” images of pom-poms and marching bands and football games often come to mind. While we certainly support all of those things, school spirit can mean much more. It can mean going to the Varsity Show. It can mean participating in Relay for Life or traveling to another borough to clean a park as part of CCO. It can mean protesting in the long tradition of student activism here at Columbia. Recognizing the diversity of people and of experience at Columbia, and taking pride in that, is central to school spirit. The goal of “The Pride” is to promote these events, sporting and otherwise, as a way of bringing together students and helping them to identify as part of a larger school community, one that derives its strength from its ability to encompass so many different interests.
At Bollinger’s former employer, the University of Michigan, upwards of 100,000 people regularly attend home football games. It’s simply matter of probability that many, if not thousands, of those in attendance are not rabid fans. A good number may not even like football. More likely, they are there to be part of the Michigan community, to cheer on their school, and to enjoy an experience that is unique to that place and its students.
What’s important here is that we do not see athletics as separate from the rest of the student population, but as a substantial part of that body which can, in conjunction with its other groups, make a strong, positive impact on the way students think of themselves as part of our university community.
So take pride in your school, and its community—because no matter who you are, you’re a part of it.
This column is co-signed by the members of the 2011-2012 SAAC Executive Board and the 2012-2013 Executive Board-elect.
2011-2012 Executive Board:
Zach Glubiak is a senior on the men’s soccer team and the president of SAAC. Phillip Fletcher is a junior on the heavyweight rowing team and the vice president of SAAC. Melissa Shafer is a senior on the women’s basketball team and the subcommittee chair for faculty relations and legislation for SAAC. Carson Christus is a senior on the field hockey team and the subcommittee chair for community service for SAAC. Nikki Bartnik is a junior on the women’s tennis team and the subcommittee chair for community outreach for SAAC. Nicole Goldhaber is a senior on the volleyball team and the secretary of SAAC.
2012-2013 Executive Board:
Richard Fineman is a junior on the men’s swimming and diving team and the president-elect of SAAC. Phillip Fletcher is a junior on the heavyweight rowing team and will remain as the vice president of SAAC. Henning Sauerbier is a sophomore on the men’s soccer team and Kat Kovacevic is a junior on the women’s tennis and they are the subcommittee co-chairs-elect for faculty relations and legislation for SAAC. Christie O’Hara is a junior on the field hockey team and the subcommittee chair-elect for community service for SAAC. Nikki Bartnik is a junior on the women’s tennis team and will remain as the subcommittee chair for community outreach for SAAC. Alison Lam is a junior on the softball team and the secretary-elect of SAAC.
By Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Columbia Daily Spectator