My first time visiting the University of Waterloo was during the summer of 2018. At the time, I was in grade 11, about to start applying to universities around the world, hoping to find a place I could potentially call home in the future. As I sat on the benches across Environment 3, I realized that UW was one of the few places where I felt comfortable; McMaster’s campus did not appeal to me, and the University of Toronto made the city life inescapable. Given I was raised in two metropolitan cities, I knew I wanted to go to university in a smaller town, and Waterloo fit all my requirements. At the time, I was unaware that UW lacks a major aspect of university culture: school spirit.
My high school was known for its enthusiasm, with most grade 11 and 12 students wearing jaguars on their jackets as a symbol of community. Although the Warrior logo is around campus, students seldom choose to associate with it. There are no murals celebrating our culture, students rarely attend sports games, and only a handful of students remember “The Bombshelter,” the undergraduate student pub beside the Student Life Centre. Similarly, students don’t know that the undergraduate student body voted and paid for Fed Hall.
Another area for improvement with school spirit is how it’s introduced. Orientation week at UW, at least for the engineering department, is an event that encourages students to get together and establish a sense of belonging. Orientation week allowed me to explore campus and build a network in my residence, but unfortunately, it was a rare event in my three years where I experienced a strong sense of school spirit. Our peers in the USA have large stadiums that sell out during some weekends, an aspect of school spirit not seen at UW.
Unfortunately, it is difficult for students to build school spirit as well. As a former executive of student-led clubs at UW, I know it can take a lot of work to get the required funding for hosting large events. Although our club was able to run a concert, volunteers and executive members footed a portion of the bill to make sure it could come to fruition. Au contraire, had we not been able to raise the required funds, our events would not have been as big and would not have had the impact they did.
There are other ideas of school spirit too. Some students agree with one of these ideas: the social events held at Western and Laurier. However, that culture requires students to enjoy their time at the university. Unfortunately, due to the co-op streams and a competitive academic environment, UW students find it harder to balance academics with extracurricular activities and have a social life, even if they want to.
Lastly, the most unfortunate part is the lack of school spirit, even in academic achievements. For a school that prides itself on being a leader in multiple academic areas, students are downright uninformed. UW is a leading institute in water research, but most students have never heard of the Water Institute at UW. For quantum information technology and nanotechnology, UW at least has dedicated buildings that highlight its achievements in those fields. The only major celebration I have seen over the past three years are the posters of Dr. Donna Strickland, and rightfully so. A Nobel Prize should be celebrated. But, it was the only celebration I have come across.
As a 3B student, I know that UW’s school spirit will remain the same while I am still an undergraduate student. I hope students can celebrate UW more, for, in all its engineering glory, there is a culture of celebrating the university, which we do not partake in. I wish that it wasn’t difficult for students to get involved in events and they could enjoy their time at UW more. Without a community that celebrates students’ individuality, students will not be encouraged to celebrate the institution that is UW.