The hidden meaning behind the Colby sweatshirt

Wikipedia describes school spirit as  “the sense of identity and community shared by members of an educational institution.” Even without this definition, however, I knew about school spirit in U.S. colleges even before I boarded my airplane to start my freshman year at Colby.

When I first began to consider writing an article about the first year experience, school spirit at Colby seemed the perfect topic to focus on. I decided to format my article more around  asking questions rather than answering them, in an attempt to inspire the Colby community to ask questions about issues they might otherwise have ignored.

When I first arrived at Colby, even in the relatively warm weather, I already saw sweatshirts in white, blue and gray emblazoned with “COLBY.” People must be proud they are at Colby, I thought to myself, though this thought was soon refuted by the many Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth sweatshirts I also saw around campus (thankfully no Bowdoin or Bates).

Still, the  initial impression of school spirit formulated in my mind was of the need to show school spirit by buying, wearing, and displaying Colby gear. This idea of the materialistic manifestation of school spirit was reinforced even more as the semester progressed. My own friends began raiding the bookstore for Colby merchandise. I myself began wearing my high school sweatshirt a lot more, perhaps clinging on to the school spirit an alum has for their alma mater.

I wouldn’t go far as to say one is pressured to buy a Colby sweatshirt. But it does go a long way in integrating into this community and feeling at home.

Perhaps this is where this article takes a turn. How well does this somewhat extravagant display represent the true school spirit in Colby students? Writing from a first-year’s point of view, there have been many occasions where students have expressed their dissatisfaction on campus. Not to juxtapose general dissatisfaction with the wearing of a sweatshirt, but when these expressions of discontent surround issues like inclusivity, diversity and community, it merits some thought.

Are we being hypocritical when we all wear or use Colby merchandise but don’t believe in the values it represents? “We Are All Mules,” and yet my experiences so far beg the question: are we really?

Referring to the first sentence of this article again, school spirit is the sense of “identity and community” within a college. Before I arrived, Colby was always advertised as having a tight-knit community. I never expected to know the birthday of all students and faculty, but I did have higher expectations. Perhaps my definitions of a close community were not consistent with Colby’s. Or perhaps it was simply a symptom of being used to being in a different academic environment.

I am not saying we should all stop wearing sweatshirts until we figure out how we can truly show school spirit. After all, winter has finally come and they are probably bestsellers at the bookstore. Nevertheless, pondering the wider implications of how we display school spirit is a necessity in an institution like Colby. “How is the sense of identity and community being shown in my daily life at Colby?” This is a question worth asking and reminding yourself of whenever you wear or see a Colby sweatshirt.