Last week, McGill students might have pretended not to notice the one lonely person standing at the Y-intersection flaunting a poster for McGill homecoming in front of disinterested passing faces. Unsurprisingly, having a one-man promo team accosting students didn’t work. His words fell on deaf ears; nothing he could have said in his 30-second pitch would have convinced any passerby of his cause. To conclude that McGill suffers from a lack of school pride, however, would be unjustified. At McGill, a different kind of school culture develops that doesn’t depend on gathering with the rest of the school to support a common cause. It’s not better or worse—just different.
McGill pride, in a reflection of the impersonal institutional structure of the school, is based on finding individual niches. It is not a mass-movement; instead, it is individualized. The scene at the Y-intersection was a sad metaphor for the general lack of student interest in sport-related fanfare. It’s telling that the first line of the description in the Facebook event for McGill’s Homecoming read, “OAP IS BACK!!!!!!” in a not-so-subtle nod to the fact that cheap beers, burgers, and nostalgia for summer hold significant sway on the decisions of McGill student.
Despite ongoing attempts to expand school spirit to sports by McGill Athletics and Recreation, the administration, and student groups such as Red Thunder (which plans various events on game days and allows members to attend varsity games for free), students outside of the athletics community just aren’t interested. The general sense of McGill pride simply has very little to do with school sports and the accompanying culture of tailgates, homecomings and school-wide displays of spirit.
Attendance at McGill varsity games is notoriously low. For students, this is not an issue of cost, nor is it that sports culture doesn’t exist at Canadian schools; at some schools homecoming is arguably the biggest event all year. Many McGill students will actually bus to Ontario for homecoming at Western or Queen’s. Apparently, paying to parade around small-town Ontario sporting colours for a school one doesn’t even go to is more fun than cheering on McGill’s own varsity teams right at home.
Yet the problem does not reside in the structure of athletics. McGill pride simply manifests itself in a different form. By virtue of living in Montreal, it is inherently tied to being a part of the wider city and everything it has to offer, even if for some this only consists of the comforts of the “McGill bubble.”
At McGill, students benefit from living in the heart of Montreal. They have their choice of concerts, clubs, bars, restaurants and other events all year long, so they don’t need the school to create entertainment. Of course, sometimes they will indulge their curiosities and travel to Ontario to see what all the hype is about, to see what life is really like on the other side—but we still wouldn’t be caught dead being mistaken for anything other than a McGill student.
At other universities, school-wide events such as homecoming might create an important and unique sense of kinship and make students feel tied to the larger community. Any student would attest to the fact that McGill students have just as much pride as any Western or Queen’s student does, but it’s a pride tied more to the ways in which McGill exists uniquely within the city of Montreal. It is the misfortune of McGill Athletics to be the casualty of this unique school culture and pride.