“Esprit de corps” literally translated means a feeling of pride or a common loyalty. This phase interpreted into an educational setting means something more common, and simple. It is school spirit! From its battlefield roots, it is evident why troops need a rallying cry, they are literally depending on each other in a life and death situation. The camaraderie, support, and teamwork are critical to attaining the goal (and also staying alive). Similarly, college students rely on each other for emotional support, academic collaboration and develop camaraderie going through a challenging experience at a challenging time of life. There are many currents of esprit des corps running through the Caltech community, classes, lab groups, residences, clubs, teams, friends and more.
We are united in the common values expressed by unique size and STEM star power, a myriad of student traditions, our collaborative spirit and unity of community around common purpose. There is an extension of the concept of esprit des corps into the athletic realm; all of our academic competitors and partners are awash in their unique culture as we are here. If school spirit is not for you, or you find it silly, adolescent, frivolous and unnecessary, so be it, no amount of Orange items in the Caltech Store will float your boat. However, If you are proud of yourselves, your school and what we stand for, shout it out, be loud, be proud and be positive. Either position is OK, to each their own, but perhaps you can reconsider?
I tend to take a middle course. See, I think that positive school spirit helps everyone. Being proud of your community, your school, our campus, your friends and classmates helps everyone, starting with each one of us, individually. Feeling as if your community has your back, supports you and values your contributions, whatever they may be, that is integral to the collaboration I see all around us. The notion of positive school spirit is really a collective confidence in our mission and activities translates into an expression of confidence in ourselves. It takes great strength to lift oneself, and others, up and that is the power of collaboration and support. (And for sure, there is no room to be knowingly knocking anyone else down, or making them feel less.) One thing is for sure, if we aren’t cheering for ourselves, no one else is cheering for us, figuratively or literally! In the end, esprit des corps demands that in order to get that support, you also must participate and give support!
When I arrived on campus 12 years ago this spring, I thought myself fortunate to have the opportunity to work in this unique and awesome environment. I looked forward to my task of breathing new life into our athletic, physical education and recreational programs. I couldn’t imagine a better place to show value and support for the importance of play, exercise and movement. When I arrived, the school spirit vibe on campus was at be lukewarm and at worst, cynical, sarcastic and self-deprecating. Not a drop of Orange anywhere! At many of the other rigorous, selective colleges and universities, large or small, and even in most high schools, often athletics serve as a ‘front porch’ or a rallying point for school pride and thus school spirit. To say the least, that was not what I found upon arrival. Now…….is a different story!
For the 25% of undergraduate students, and a few grads as well, being an athlete is part of their chosen identity. The dedication and effort they give to improving themselves, contributing to their team, representing the Institute in competition is something that I am very proud of for them. Just as with every student here, a person’s identity and chosen passions are important to support in their overall educational experience. The concept of school spirit is one closely aligned with athletics, but by no means exclusive to athletics. I see it as a broader brush and reflection of the community.
Positive school spirit is most simply, being proud of yourselves and your community. There are manifestations of that pride and confidence; these are ways in which we take strength from unity and synergy from a common experience, whatever that experience is. (athletics, residences, clubs, lab groups, etc) Pride in community means to support each other, something that Caltech undergrads are famous for touting as one of their strengths. Collaboration, another Caltech hallmark, also connotes strength in numbers, producing our best work or thought in collaboration with each other. Wearing our common school colors creates pride, and confidence. (We WEAR ORANGE on FRIDAYS!) Taking support from knowing that others are sharing your experience and can offer support when you might need it. Cheering for your classmates at a sporting event; supporting their self-identity in being an athlete (or in a musical, or giving community service).
The concept of school pride and spirit includes anything that makes the community better. The honor code, renaming buildings, all the positive traditions that are a Caltech hallmarks, wearing orange or going to any event to support your classmates. Lifting each other up not tearing anyone down is the essence. So, wear some Orange, go watch a play or a game, help each other, support each other, take pride in our collective accomplishments, work toward solutions to our challenges in a constructive way. Be the best version of yourself!
This spring we are engaged in an awesome community building activity around our mascot, the Beaver! As you may be aware, a large bronze sculpture of a Beaver arrived at the Braun Athletic Center last week. If you haven’t seen it, you should really check it out! Perched proudly in front of the Braun Center, protecting its Lodge, contemplating its next Dam project. We claim our mascot as nature’s engineer, a persistent, gritty, smart, influencer, who shapes their own path and environment ( DAM), and is loyal to their family, friends, and living group (kit, colony) at their LODGE. There are many unique and awesome characteristics of the Beaver and long ago it was a good choice to be our mascot. All students and faculty were sent a poll to participate in naming the Mascot, formally, as all previous references are casual, informal or of happenstance. We will have a name reveal ceremony on Sunday May 21 at 12noon at the Athletic Center, I hope you come and participate!
I encourage you to be proud of your school and by extension of yourself. This community is a wonderfully diverse and unique one. Full of strong minds, personalities (and bodies) that are always made even better through collaboration and pulling together…like the Beaver making a Lodge (or a Dam)
*Betsy Mitchell, Caltech Director of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation is a two time Olympic swimmer with gold and silver medals (1984 and 88), she is a multi-time Division 1 National Champion for the University of Texas at Austin, she is a former world and American record holder. After her swimming career, she took up competitive rowing for fun and represented the US in the women’s double sculls in the 1994 World Rowing Championships. *