Being at Cal is not the same thing as being a Golden Bear

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School spirit is a strange concept. It’s not something that you automatically start with, but when you build it, it’s not going anywhere. Having school spirit is like being a fan of a sports team. The pride of being at the college of your dreams is expected to translate to supporting the team in the stadium. However, that’s not always true. I don’t see a complete reflection of the pride of being a UC Berkeley student in pride in being a Golden Bear.

Of course, it’s normal to expect some students to embody school spirit while others are just looking to graduate. In my high school class, I was probably one of the few students who still felt the school spirit in graduation. I was the exception, not the rule. My first impression of Cal is that the norm is similar to my high school, but why?

School spirit is about the level of connection you have to the school community. In a large public university, an abundance of communities makes it hard to find the one you really fit in. Another obstacle in the way of our school spirit is Cal’s competitive nature, making us feel detached from our campus community as a whole. When the emotions are not in place, you base your opinion about the school on success.

Academically, it’s not very hard to feel the pride of being at one of the top public universities in the world. But that pride does not transfer to school spirit in sports, as Bear Territory is not really the powerhouse in football and basketball, which dominate the college athletics scene. Is your school’s team being not good enough a valid reason to not have a school spirit?

Football is said to be like a religion in United States. That’s what I see in articles, but I will look at fanaticism from a European perspective. Fanaticism in Europe for the other football, or soccer, is immense. Usually, you are born as a fan of the team your parents support, but you build your connection yourself as you grow. A win makes you the happiest person on the planet while a loss destroys your day. Being a supporter is a two-way street. You support your team, as the name suggests, by cheering for them in the stadiums, wherever in the world they are playing. (Speaking as a fan who flew to Italy from Turkey to watch an away game.) On the other hand, your team supports your escape, for a moment, from your daily life struggles. I bet everyone can relate to that.

I’m not saying the success of the team does not have an impact at all. Otherwise, how would you explain Golden State Warriors selling out all 41 of the regular season games for four years straight? Then again, stadium attendance is not the only indicator of the level of fanaticism, as people protest the team’s bad management by not going to the games or just care too much that they don’t want to see the team losing from the stands. On the contrary, these are the signs of a deep spiritual connection. I don’t see this connection at Cal.

“Game Days” seem to be a good reason to party during the day instead of an overly exciting moment to see your team playing and cheering for them. Most of the people who go to pregame parties, which are in name events to hype you up more for the game, are not even going to games or haven’t been in a game since that first home opener in their freshman year. I see people leaving the stadium before the game ends. That’s a little bit understandable when your team is losing with a big margin. But learning some people left when Cal was on its way to a huge upset against Washington State last weekend, the program’s second top-10 win in 39 years, was simply unbelievable.

But why does the pride of being a Cal student does not translate to being a Golden Bear? I think that’s just a result of the overly competitive nature of UC Berkeley in terms of academics, which I believe needs to change. School spirit is not only an important thing for the students to spend their years at Cal with a sense of belonging, but also essential for campuses to have in their culture.

That’s why it is hard to understand why Cal decided to stop giving incoming freshman free season pass to football games this year. What’s a better way to fill the stadium then bringing excited incoming freshmen to the stands? If everything goes well and those freshmen build a strong school spirit, then you wouldn’t have a problem selling season passes in the coming years anyway. I guess that’s not their main objective. It’s important to understand that graduating as a student from a top university is not the same as graduating as a Golden Bear, and I would argue the latter is far more satisfactory.

Can Sariöz covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].