By now, everyone has seen the giant “150” projected onto the façade of Low. Most have also heard, probably more than once, that this week is Engineering Week at Columbia, as well as the official kickoff of the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s 150th anniversary. But this week boasts a lot more than just fancy lights and hype—it offers a variety of events, including a Society of Women Engineers networking event, a trivia and barbecue night, and an IMAX screening of Hubble 3D. In the past, Engineering Week has been wildly successful, with packed events and rave reviews. Not only does it offer programming for the engineering community, but it also serves as a model for creating school pride.
In 1951, National Engineers Week was founded with the intent of emphasizing the importance of engineering. Columbia’s incarnation retains similar ideals, but instead of promotion, it focuses on celebrating engineering and helping engineers bond. During the week, students see alumni come back to campus and listen to how their time at Columbia has affected their careers. Discussion about peers’ clubs and their interests is encouraged, and opportunities to relax and make friends abound.
In this way, students are shown, rather than told, why they should take pride in their school—and in experiencing these reasons themselves, they gain a real appreciation for all the possibilities Columbia has opened up to them. Instead of hearing about the amazing alumni connections they’ll make during their four years, SEAS students actually get to talk to alumni who have come back to campus for these events. Having the opportunity to see what engineering clubs are doing is much more meaningful than just reading about them in a glossy pamphlet. And seeing images of smiling students on Low Steps can’t compare to the actual experience of meeting diverse peers who challenge and stimulate you intellectually.
Earlier this month, the four undergraduate student councils came out with their own effort to encourage school spirit—the “Our Blue” campaign—which seemed to tell Columbians why they should take pride in their school. We’re worried that it will come to resemble past failed attempts like “I Am Light Blue,” a campaign to generate school spirit from 2007, which had the same flaw of trying to tell students why they should have Columbia pride rather than showing them. The introduction video of “Our Blue” seems more like promotional material from the admissions office than what it claimed to be—an attempt to make students proud that they go to Columbia and proud of the University’s unique array of opportunities and people.
The conversation about school spirit, or the lack thereof, has been going on for years. Often, this discussion feels unproductive because it neglects both pride and spirit. School spirit is about face paint and cheers and colors—it’s the stereotypical college experience. School pride is different: It’s a mix of admiration for and satisfaction with Columbia. The fact of the matter is that we ought to have both types: We should be able to enjoy painting our faces in addition to appreciating paintings by student artists. That’s not to say that neither ever occurs at Columbia—students stood for over half an hour and cheered Columbia’s men’s basketball team on against Harvard last Friday, and finals season brings stress-relieving traditions like Primal Scream and Orgo Night.
But before we can have more school spirit or school pride, we must acknowledge the existence of both and understand what we’re aiming for. Engineering Week proves that achieving this is possible because it creates school pride.
Authentic school pride comes from genuine appreciation of the opportunities—social, academic, extracurricular—that make Columbia unique. The council members working on “Our Blue” should follow the example of Engineering Week, bringing these opportunities to light not through generic testimonials or videos that preach unconditional love of Columbia, but rather through well-planned offerings and events that draw in students of all disciplines. Our Columbia pride doesn’t need to be a blind love—we can accept the uniqueness of our school, for better or for worse, while also celebrating the advantages we are offered as students of such a richly diverse institution.
Joshua Boggs recused himself from this editorial because of his involvement with the Engineering Student Council.
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