Nobody wanted to go with me.
Last year, I wanted to attend the Line — Penn Basketball’s season kickoff. But the more people I asked to join me, the more rejections I got. My friends said they were busy or uninterested. Nobody wanted to go with me. So I didn’t go.
But my friends were not that busy. As College senior Jayson Weingarten of the Red and Blue Crew asked in an email, “If you are hanging out with friends, why not do that at the Line and enjoy the atmosphere?” This once-a-year event with free food and activities is a great way to spend Friday night.
I actually don’t have any interest in watching sports. However, whenever my high-school team stormed the court, I was the loudest person in the room. You don’t need to know what a free throw is to love the experience of being a fan. Athletic events are not the cause of spirit — they are an outlet for it.
Weingarten wrote that “people get too tied into what they define school spirit as.” School spirit is not about loving basketball but supporting your peers “on the stage, in the classroom, in the chapter houses, and on the fields.” So why don’t we do it?
The real reason my friends didn’t want to go is how they relate to the University. Penn is a community of communities. We are all in dozens of groups and claim that involvement as our connection to the University. But attending events like the Line must become an important part of our connection to Penn.
The research backs me up. Students have micro-relationship nodes (to individual groups and clubs or to specific programs and events) and a macro-relationship (the connection between a student and the University). According to research from the University of Maryland, students can form such strong micro-relationships with their groups that it cannibalizes the macro-relationship. The paper gives the example of a student so connected to his fraternity that he “considers himself a fraternity brother first, and a student of the University second.” At Penn, many of us affiliate so closely with our individual organizations that we lose the bigger picture.
This is not always a bad thing. Micro-relationships can be the foundation for a strong connection to the University but can also undermine that connection. Which of those results occurs depends on how the student and the group integrate with the larger community. Join a club, but make your whole club go to the Line. Build multiple relationships not only within the University, but with the University. You are not just a Quaker — you are a Quaker first.
If boosting spirit strikes a chord, you are not alone. Only 27 percent of Penn seniors were “very satisfied” with the sense of community on campus, according to a University survey. (The only category ranked lower is satisfaction with student government.) We assume our peers are happy with campus social life. But many of us want better.
Only 52 percent of Penn students would “definitely” choose Penn all over again. Of the two people sitting next to you as you read this, only one is enjoying his or her time enough to want to come back to Penn. I don’t accept that.
Penn will never be a Big 10 state school. But College junior Rob Sharp of the Red and Blue Crew wrote in an email that, only a few years ago, there were “thousands of students at every game who were loud, raucous and die-hard Penn basketball fans.” The truth nobody tells is we can and should build a stronger community — athletics and beyond — at Penn. And it starts with the Line.
The Line is Friday; football is Saturday; Penn Park is Sunday; ice-skating is free before Halloween; and Homecoming is in two weeks. Throw on some red and blue and grab your friends. As Line veteran and College junior Ike Newman wrote in an email, “the Line is like the prize at the bottom of a cereal box. You never know what you’re going to get.”
Dan Bernick, a College sophomore from Mendota Heights, Minn., is a College representative on the Undergraduate Assembly. His email address is email@example.com. Dan Straight appears every other Tuesday.