Searching For Spirit

NYU kicked off the new school year with a pep rally in which more than 300 Welcome Week leaders paraded through the Washington Square Park fountain with beach balls and inflatable water toys. The exuberant crowd, cheering and jumping for the camera in slow motion, seems a massive vehicle of pure joy, like a horde of spirited tailgaters before a football game. But we all know NYU doesn’t have a football team, and NYU students don’t tailgate.

Though it’s difficult to define school spirit, one can safely say that it’s something we at NYU lack compared with other, more “typical” schools. The Welcome Week leaders’ shirts were neither violet nor emblazoned with bobcats; in fact, the pastel pink and blue shirts with pineapple motifs barely conveyed their association with NYU. The words “good vibes only” printed across the front of the shirts in white cursive exuded coolness rather than explicit NYU pride.

The 2016 Princeton Review listed NYU as the #3 dream college for students, behind only Stanford and Harvard. So why are NYU students so blasé once they get here?

The most obvious answer lies in the relative obscurity of athletics at NYU. All NYU athletics teams are in the NCAA Division III, except for fencing, which is Division I, and the absence of high-profile sporting events leaves students lacking something concrete behind which they can rally. For the average NYU student not involved in athletics, the fanfare associated with sports is usually drowned out by the roar of city life.

“You don’t see many fans that don’t know the athletes,” said Kelly Ryser, a CAS sophomore on the diving team. “The people who come to the games usually have some type of relationship to the athletes. Like in my case, I make my friends come and watch me.”

Ryser joined the diving team after she decided to attend NYU — a pattern among many NYU athletes, who tend to focus on academics first and sports second.

CAS senior Curtis Mann, a member of the cross country and track teams, said that he was planning on running wherever he went to school, but that he chose NYU for its strong academics over all else.

“I guess that may have been the appeal to me, that I didn’t have to deal with school spirit,” Mann said. “I came from a high school where it was all about school spirit and I was a weirdo because I didn’t want to go to football games and I didn’t care about it, and it kind of irks me when it’s like, NYU Violet Spirit Week. Like, I just want to be left alone, quit sending me emails.”

Of course, not all NYU students are averse to the notion of school spirit. CAS sophomore and Welcome Week leader Max Pau described himself as “very peppy” and was not ashamed to express his love of NYU.

“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, NYU doesn’t have spirit because sports don’t bring us together,’” Pau said. “There’s not a big community but there are so many smaller communities that [spirit] goes underlooked, it’s low-key. There’s always communities that you can find spirit in.

Though the displays of spirit Pau mentioned are not overt, the fervor and excitement which can be found at other schools’ sporting events lurk in the communities that NYU students form by themselves. There are over 300 active clubs at NYU. Find some people who have gotten involved, and their eyes will light up at the opportunity to discuss their passions.

CAS sophomore Stephanie McAleer credited Project Outreach, a weeklong community service project just before Welcome Week, for her NYU pride.

“Project Outreach is a huge sense of community for me and made me really fall in love with NYU,” McAleer said. However, she conceded that this feeling is not universal. “If I didn’t do Project Outreach, I don’t think I’d love NYU as much.”

Perhaps the Welcome Week leaders chanting on the Kimmel steps, the hype videos and the mystery concerts are all orchestrated to create an illusion of togetherness for incoming freshmen, to get them excited to come to a university where they will have to put in effort to find an outlet for their spirit. If this is the case, it seems to have worked.

“Going around campus, you just see all this purple,” LS freshman Zach Han said. “The cheers and just the general vibe of the atmosphere and ambience really create a sense of togetherness, even though we don’t really know each other a lot.”

There’s something pure in the unabashed pride with which freshmen swarm Washington Square Park with their purple lanyards and fresh NYU gear. However, there is no definite campus, and NYU is deeply engrained in the city. The initial sense of togetherness Han mentioned is bound to dissipate in the coming weeks as NYU students fracture off into their own unique groups of like-minded individuals, independent of university ties.

Soon, new students will become New Yorkers. Many NYU students do in fact love their school, but at a university that so drastically blurs the line between campus and city, excessive spirit just seems out of place.

Han, for all his school spirit, acknowledges that much of NYU’s appeal lies in its relationship to the city. “When I visited, I realized that New York City as a campus is one of the best campuses out there,” he said.

That classic New York sense of superiority may be the ultimate reason for the lack of NYU spirit. It’s not apathy so much as contentment — a sense of security at our school that needn’t be amplified in stadia to be heard echoing through the ever-busy student body.

“I love NYU, but I don’t know if that necessarily translates into school spirit,” Ryser said. She doesn’t need to wear violet to assure others of what she knows to be true.

“I definitely have a sense of pride in my school because it’s awesome,” Ryser said. “I love going here.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 6 print edition. Email Abigail Weinberg at [email protected]