“Here at New York University, we’re part of a diverse community that embraces our differences. We’re not the type people that go to football games, paint our chests and then think we’re all the same.”
That is more or less what NYU President John Sexton said at the Freshman Welcome Address in August.
I am only a freshman. However, from what I know so far, President Sexton’s pride seems a bit misplaced, and NYU needs the sort of chest-beating pride that our president derided.
Our student body recognizes its differences, but we do not come close to embracing them. Stern students cannot walk to class in professional attire without drawing judgmental glances from others. Meanwhile, Tisch students deal with remarks and opinions that label them as weird or fake. At the same time, CAS and Steinhardt students cannot even gain access to the wireless Internet in Stern buildings. The division between schools at NYU should be a greater cause for concern, but rather than trying to consolidate or unite, this university seems preoccupied with expansion.
We are separated by the very nature of the university’s philosophy. NYU boasts that it has no gates, that its students have immersed themselves completely in the culture of New York City. But this immersion has come at a heavy cost. We, as a community, have absolutely no collective spirit and little common identities. We have nothing to bind us but our diversity. We may have a common name and a common banner hanging on each of our buildings, but there is no common feeling that a student gets when hearing Violets or Bobcat.
Despite what President Sexton feels, NYU needs sports to become a preeminent institution in America. There is nothing wrong with painting our chests and cheering on our teams. We gain spirit through competitive sports, and only that spirit can unify a community this large and diverse. Some may say sports do not mesh well with the university’s identity. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Identity is not a fixed entity, but it is created and evolves over time. Sports are very much an integral part of our storied history. We have had All-American football players and national championship basketball teams. Ed Smith, a member of what once was the NYU football team, was the model for the Heisman Trophy.
Sports at NYU make sense both as an investment and as a social improvement to the university. If we have the financial capacity to launch a campus in Sydney, Australia, we can certainly find the ability to improve our teams. America’s foremost higher learning institutions have a few things in common: academic excellence, first-rate resources and unparalleled spirit. At Harvard University, for example, spirit is a product of prestige and exclusivity. At Stanford University, spirit springs from their highly ranked football team and, believe it or not, chest-beating pride.
At NYU, we have trouble forging school spirit from our differences. Investing in unity will reap dividends. Our improved spirit will attract talented athletes and more fans. By attracting more people, we become more competitive and, therefore, more prestigious.
I assume that President Sexton would love to take NYU to a new peak, and if he is willing, a greater focus on sports gives him a way to do so. Prestigious universities such as Stanford understood the importance of sports in building a reputation. They have used their teams as a way to unite their student body and as a vehicle to brand their own image of excellence. We should do the same here at NYU.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 23 print edition. Nishaad Ruparel is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]