Vilsan ’19: I’ve got spirit, how ’bout you?

Staff Columnist
Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Several months ago, as a wide-eyed freshman eager to call Brown her new home, I purchased more Brown merchandise than I wish to admit. Where did the sudden burst of school pride come from? Maybe it was the repressed cheerleader inside me, who hadn’t had the chance to tap into her pep in a European high school. When I chose Brown, I knew it wouldn’t have the masses of cheering fans of a much larger public school. I wasn’t wrong. But the half-empty bleachers don’t make Brown any less spirited — they just mean that our school pride can’t be made into a teen musical.

Coming from a high school where the only attendees at sporting events were athletes’ mothers, the uniformed cheerleaders and the marching band that I encountered at various sporting events this year came as quite the culture shock. In a half hour, I found myself cheering and clapping like a maniac despite my complete lack of knowledge about the games. Hell, I didn’t know if we were winning or losing. I only knew we were playing, and that was reason enough to come decked out in brown.

When I came to Brown, I thought that a tailgate was nothing more than a flap on the back of a truck. I was ready to accept that Brown students must truly be car enthusiasts until a friend of mine explained the pomp and circumstance that is school pride in the United States. As a European, the idea of school spirit was rather alien to me, as school pride where I’m from is mostly derived from getting into the “top five” list of universities in the country. American school pride is contingent on more than the top college rankings — it has to do with community.

Maybe the stereotypical definition of school spirit is flawed. Maybe the formula — volume of cheers + quality of cheers + number of students at football games — doesn’t work. If you leave an institution after four years with nothing to show for your sense of community other than a few free t-shirts and ticket stubs, who’s to say you’re truly spirited?

In a recent TED talk, Harvard graduate and happiness researcher Shawn Achor expressed his disappointment in the lack of positivity and overall happiness in students across America despite the amazing institutions they were attending. According to Achor, students did not focus on the privilege of attending those schools but on the competition and workload of everyday life. Behind the merchandise and the pom-poms were students doubting their place in the community they worked so hard to get into. For many students, the pride and joy experienced when reading their acceptance letters is quickly replaced by anxiety as they begin planning their next applications, whether they’re headed for graduate school or employment.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve complained about midterms, long readings and uncooperative problem sets these past two semesters just as much as the next college kid. But in my experience, Brown isn’t about competing with your classmates, and it’s not about attending the university for four years just to have something to hang on your office wall. Maybe it’s the open curriculum, the option to take a class S/NC or the student demographic, but students at Brown embrace and understand the privilege of attending this school. They don’t second-guess the classmate who offered to help them understand the econ homework, wondering if they’re about to get sabotaged.

Shouldn’t a sense of community and optimism for life after Brown factor into the school spirit formula? The repressed cheerleader inside me found the school to match her pep, both in the bleachers and in the classroom. Whether you’re the one in the audience, the one being watched or the one taking a nap on the Main Green, you’ve got spirit, too.

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to