As the add/drop period comes to an end, McLennan gets a little more crowded. School work picks up and routine begins to set in. Yet our McGill spirit remains at a high. At this time last semester, Open Air Pub (OAP) was an overcrowded mess of people, sharing drinks and laughs in the late summer sun. Now, in the winter semester, we instead have a spectacle of onesie-donning Carnival participants, parading through campus bonding in friendly competition. All the while, the lines for student-run bars, like Bar des Arts (BdA) and Blues Pub, extend through McGill’s buildings—the sounds of stress-free conversations echo through their halls.
What’s made most apparent during this period is the real camaraderie that exists on campus. Once the stress of McGill’s competitive and demanding academic environment sets in, it may seem that this feeling of connectedness with our peers can only erode. However, while the visible togetherness of these early days withers, the underlying sense of community at McGill does not.
In these early weeks, as we come together in the calm before the semester’s storm, the mood is unmistakably worry-free. On Facebook, we take to groups like “McGill easy classes for electives” to provide words of caution or encouragement for other McGillians about their classes and course schedules. Here, strangers congregate in the thousands, aiming to provide the best advice they can for their peers.
But when student bars empty out and our community Facebook groups grow deserted, the atmosphere and spirit so dear to us will sour. Suddenly, you find yourself arguing with someone over a seat at the library, when you’d been offering that same person semester survival tips on Facebook only a few weeks earlier.
This is partially the fault of our post-secondary education system, one that reinforces a sense of competition between students and their classmates. With grade quotas—the limit to the number of high marks professors think they can give—it grows more difficult to maintain a sense of camaraderie within the classroom. Grading structures, like the bell curve implemented in some departments, put students at odds with their classmates, as they know that the fewer classmates who succeed, the greater are their own chances. Even the format of conferences, with marks given for participation, becomes a matter of putting your hand up before your classmates and displaying a greater understanding of the material than anyone else.
Admittedly, there is little to do about such a structure. Some aspects of the academic journey are solitary, and sometimes you can’t help but feel as though you’re in competition with those around you. As a result, during harsher times it can be easy feel isolated and lonely. Yet, it is important to remember the days like today, and that the solidarity behind them persists throughout the year.
Simply, this camaraderie takes different shapes as time goes on. It lives on as McGillians share notes with classmates under the weather or create Facebook groups to band together in last-minute exam prep during finals. While we may not congregate together for raucous football games like other schools so famously do, it only means that our school spirit manifests itself in a different way. For McGill has—and likely always will have—a sense of shared experience at its core.
Yes, our system at times breeds tension and animosity between its students. Its demanding and competitive nature can isolate you from your friends at the moments when you might need them most. However, under these circumstances, while our fellowship may be reconfigured, it is not dismantled. Sharing a one-dollar beer with a new friend at BdA might seem wildly different from keeping an eye on someone’s laptop at the library, but the sentiment behind both is the same. Let these early weeks—the ones where our sense of closeness is most felt—serve as an ongoing and prominent reminder that we are not just McGill students, but a McGill community.