My t-shirt choice several weeks ago stirred some unexpected controversy amongst my student affairs friends. The Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Indiana University South Bend, where I work, implemented “Wear IU Wednesdays” during the fall semester, encouraging staff to wear their Indiana University gear to improve morale and show school spirit. I wore a crimson t-shirt with the iconic pitchfork IU logo on what happened to also be the day of the IU/Purdue game, arguably the biggest basketball rivalry in the state. While at lunch off campus, a man wearing a Purdue shirt approached me and attempted to engage with me in some friendly banter about the game. I laughed apologetically, telling him I had no real vested interest in the outcome of that evening’s game.
When I recounted the story on my Facebook status later, I was surprised by the reaction it received from one or two people. I was openly chastised for not supporting Indiana University athletics, which made me question what the role of a student affairs professional is in this realm. My position is – and continues to be – that I can support university athletics without necessarily calling myself a fan. Of course, my current situation is complicated by my working at a regional campus of a larger university system. We have our own athletic teams on each campus, which is why I have no allegiance to IU Bloomington and Hoosier athletics.
It is on this campus that I work to foster a culture of spirit and tradition. It is here that I collaborate with athletics to increase attendance at games and boost school identity and pride. While I would never say anything disparaging about Indiana University Bloomington’s athletic teams, the opportunity for my students or me to attend one of their games is rare as our campus is a four hour drive from Bloomington. We push our students and staff to identify as Titans, not Hoosiers. We acknowledge being part of the same system and our school colors are a variation of Indiana University Bloomington’s (as are each of the regional campus’ colors).
At my previous institution, I attended a significant number of athletic events to support students who were involved as competing athletes, cheerleaders or dance team members, as well as members of the pep band, involved with the technological side of game production, or spearheading the student spirit section. I see my job as supporting my students, not specifically athletics. It is for that reason I also attend campus lectures, plays, musical performances, read the weekly newspaper and more. While I certainly check in with news in Bloomington from time to time, this campus is where my heart is invested because it is where my students are, who are the heart of my work.
What role do you think student affairs professionals should play in supporting university athletics or other activities? Does being at a regional campus in a bigger system change that role?