I made a mistake last night. Before bed, I read a piece by Russell Smith in the Globe and Mail about why school spirit isn’t something anyone needs, and why Frosh Weeks should be eliminated. Specifically, he discussed his time at Queen’s University, and spent a great number of column inches trying to link serious issues at SMU and UBC with every Frosh Week ever. I shouldn’t have read it, but now that I have, I want to spend a minute to take down the multiple layers of B.S. that the column propagates.
In case you missed it, this is basically his thesis:
No university needs “school spirit.” No university needs frosh-week bonding exercises. It’s time to end the tradition.
He elaborates a bit more, but I’ll tackle the thrust of his column from a couple angles, even though I know the article is just click-bait for the Globe.
It’s probably appropriate to say that I love Queen’s, and it is not because of the academics. Sure, they are good, and yes I like what I study. But I didn’t choose Queen’s because they have nicer lecture halls, or political science profs who get published more (sorry, Professors!). I chose Queen’s because of the community, because of the people, and because of the overwhelming sense of pride that binds all of that together. So why is pride important, and why is it too bad Mr. Smith had a bad Frosh Week experience? Let’s break it down.
First, on a practical note, school spirit is pretty damn important for alumni relations. Often times, and nowadays in particular, alumni have degrees from multiple institutions, and even when that’s not the case, the passing of time can have an effect on your attachment to an institution. School pride gives alumni an emotional grounding for their attachment to a school. When you are talking about a top tier school, an engaged and active alumni is essential, and you aren’t gonna get that from “wow those classes were so well taught!”. You have to create a deeper connection; an emotional connection.
Second of all, Frosh Week, especially at Queen’s, serves an invaluable purpose for new students. When you are coming into a completely new environment, often knowing few other people, you need a way to make friends. At its core, Frosh Week is a crash course in our community. It is a giant ‘welcome to the team’ activity that aims to give everyone an enjoyable, safe experience, over which they can bond at a later date.
(Ps. Notice how I say safe? Mr. Smith totally ignores the fact that we have literally hundreds of student orientation leaders at Queen’s, many of whose sole job is event safety)
I will be the first to say that I didn’t love Frosh Week. I mean, it was okay, but I didn’t go to as many events as I should have and I could have made it better for myself. But that being said, even the 50% of Frosh Week I did go to gave me enough shared experiences and knowledge to interact with hundreds of people over the next few months.
The worst part of Mr. Smith’s column is his attempt to link the irresponsibility of student leaders at UBC and SMU to Queen’s, and the traditions of the engineering faculty in particular. Beyond just making up stats about how many women take part in the engineering Frosh Week (like, c’mon), and then referring to practices that took place in the 1980’s, he completely mischaracterizes these activities as some adolescent hazing. Not only does he say they have no purpose whatsoever, but he projects his own negative experience onto an entire community.
I am sorry Mr. Smith didn’t have the most amazing time during Frosh Week at Queen’s – I really am. I won’t pretend that everything about Frosh Week (at Queen’s) is perfect. I doubt anyone would.
But it’s also quite insulting – if not downright idiotic – to say that the week has no value. What Mr. Smith fails to recognize is that while the academics of university are important, the out-of classroom aspects are just as important for many people – especially here at Queen’s. When you get down to it, most Universities really aren’t that different. What sets these schools apart is the type of community they foster, and much of the reason the Queen’s community is so strong is because of our Frosh Week and Orientation traditions. Mr. Smith’s assertion that ‘the best students stay in their dorms’ throughout the week couldn’t be more off-base here at Queen’s, as many people come to this school because they want to be part of that community, and take part in our legendary school spirit.
When we say ‘we bleed tricolour’, it isn’t some meaningless slogan before a football game. It is a testament to how much we value our community, our shared history, and our now-shared identity. It is no coincidence that Queen’s is known as the most spirited and tradition-oriented school in Canada while also having the largest number of student run-clubs, one of the most active (and competent) student governments in Canada, a strong student-run orientation program, and an incredible alumni base.
So when I say I love Queen’s, I am saying I love the community, and the things that bond us together. It is this community that makes Queen’s unlike most other schools (and I’m sure that if you talked to people at other schools, they would make similar arguments about their institution). At the end of the day, Frosh Week is where this all begins. The reason that hundreds of upper-year students gives up weeks (or months) of their lives to run Frosh Week is because it’s how we make our community stronger, and how we make those coming in from all corners of the world feel welcome and at home.
So Mr. Smith, I suggest that the next time you want to write about how useless Frosh Week is, you look past your own experiences. It’s never going to be perfect for everyone, but that in no way makes Frosh Week as meaningless as you’d have readers think.
As a friend quipped on Facebook, here is a 3 minute video of people having a terrible time last week.