UQ lacks student pride and community spirit! A critique
I’ve been at UQ for more than three years and not once have I considered buying or wearing university merchandise. You might be thinking this has no significance in our short lived university careers, but I assure you it does, and had I not gone on exchange to the USA and seen how strong their cultures are, I wouldn’t have known any different.
Would you wear merch – with pride?
The simple act of wearing university merch speaks volumes of university pride, yet rarely do I see students willingly doing so outside of course requirements for events and field trips. To me this is telling of a wider problem UQ is grappling with. In 2015, UQ released the findings of their student engagement review, revealing that students weren’t that engaged in campus life. Furthermore, students thought of UQ more of a means to an end for getting their qualifications. I relate strongly to this. I started at UQ roughly three years ago with no concept of what it meant to be an active member of a university culture, and to this day as an off campus student, I can’t say I’ve ever felt a strong attachment to UQ. Once I collect that graduate paper in roughly four months, I’m flying out those sandstone arches without looking back. But it could have – and should have – been so much more.
UQ – lack of campus culture
What’s prompting me to write this is that I feel UQ desperately needs to improve its campus culture. No doubt, this will take a more comprehensive strategy than what I’m proposing. However, one small step in the right direction would be to create a unified student identity by introducing a university-wide mascot. I’ll unpack what I mean by this in a moment, but I’d like to preface this piece by saying that it is based on my own observations as an off-campus student. I’m not arguing that all students have poor experiences, particularly on-campus students whose experiences align closer to what I felt at college in the USA. I hope this piece serves as evidence prompting meaningful discussion on how we can create a more enriching campus culture for future generations.
Campus culture – just a concept?
So what is this abstract concept of campus culture? I believe it boils down to the practical and sentimental elements that all feed into this notion of community spirit. Practically, it revolves around facilitating fun experiences making students want to return and be part of university life. Sentimentally, it means making students feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, like the attachment someone feels to their favourite sporting team, activity or religion. It’s that sentimental attachment that never quite leaves you even when you’re no longer physically in the space where the connection began. UQ has the basis of that: they have activities and fantastic facilities, but they lack the sentimental attachment.
There’s clear physical constraints to university culture in Australia, with the number of students living off campus outweighing those living on, meaning there’s less time to capture their engagement. But we can start addressing this by unifying what feels like a highly fragmented cultural scene right now. There’s so many individual groups, clubs, societies and sports, each with their own separate identities. Metaphorically, it’s as if these groups are hiring out a space within UQ and running off a completely different profile, like what you see in creative community hubs where people, startups and businesses hire out separate rooms of a facility.
We need a mascot!!
That’s why I propose a university mascot consistent across all pursuits at the university, be it in academics, cultural life or sport – a rallying point unifying all students. You might add in response that UQ already has a mascot, which is true, they have several: a rhino for UQ Rugby, a tiger for UQ Sport, and an eagle for the UQ Union, but they are more tokenistic than meaningful.
I’ve seen how much a mascot can enrich the culture of a university while on exchange at Texas A&M in the USA in 2016. Their mascot differed from any other mascot I’ve seen as it was not a non-living thing, it was a real dog – a Shetland sheepdog named Reveille who holds the title of ‘First Lady of Texas A&M’. The first iteration of Reveille, dating back to 1944, was the official mascot for 13 years before she was retired at her passing. There have since been 9 versions of Reveille and each have played a strong part in the mascot’s folklore. Reveille’s roles included attending all the orientation days, stopping to say hi to students on campus, making guest appearances at events and leading the college football team onto the field in front of more than 100,000 fans.
Introducing the “SENTINEL”
What I love so much about this concept is that Reveille is looked after by a senior year student who lives on campus with her. The student is voted into the role by their peers in the form of an election style ballot. Once in the role, the student is responsible for taking Reveille in all their travels on campus, including to class. Tradition dictates that if Reveille is in class and barks, the professor should dismiss class because the saying goes that Reveille is bored. I can say with a 100 per cent certainty that it happened to one of my friends.
What makes Reveille as a mascot so successful is the strong potential for student engagement and symbolism seen in what a dog represents; values such as loyalty, leadership, respect and service. These are also the core values of Texas A&M, which again, is a smart proposition because it instantly aligns with their branding, thus giving them a face to what they want their community to stand for. Because of this, Texas A&M’s Reveille stands as one of the best examples of a mascot that acts as the ‘rallying point’ I was referring to earlier.
So, where to now for UQ? Well, we could go down the common path of having the university redesign a whole new mascot and release it one year without much student consultation. But this’ll only have the same result as before with our current mascots, which seem like a shadow of a good intention. What UQ really needs is a mascot campaign giving the student body a voice in deciding what represents them. Only then will we start being able to forge the collective identity we so desperately need and use that as a starting point for a stronger, more passionate student body. I’ll kick things off with my two cents for what our logo could be, presenting…
…the UQ Sentinels; representing a student body who are ambitious, resilient, stately and never overawed by the task at hand.