In case you missed it, last week was homecoming. As a brother of Pi Kappa Phi, I really enjoyed getting to know the ladies of Alpha Chi Omega and working together to show UT our school spirit. And winning the massive trophy? That was pretty enjoyable, too. One could say that it was ours, and we spent it (obligatory 2Chainz reference).
But as I reflect on the countless hours spent pomping floats, the money spent on boxcar races and the energy poured into "Smokey's Howl," I cannot help but wonder what we, as UT's student body, could have accomplished if we focused on the community instead of floats, boxcars and cheerleading.
The Greek community raises millions of dollars through philanthropy events throughout the year, and countless other student organizations also give back. But when we all come together to show school spirit, why not continue that Volunteer tradition? Instead of building that which we only destroy, why not build that which others need?
Our campus is located right across Cumberland Avenue from one of the toughest, most crime-ridden areas in Knoxville. Many of us call Fort Sanders home, sharing its streets with a struggling homeless community. Though many students work to combat homelessness, there is certainly more that could be done.
And not too far away, Children's Hospital of Knoxville is filled with children who are battling tough conditions and life-threatening situations. I have no doubt that those kids would love to spend more time with college students.
Soup kitchens, battered women's shelters, animal shelters ... the avenues for giving back are unending.
Do not get me wrong, I love the school spirit we display during homecoming. I was blown away by the routines of "Smokey's Howl," and some of the floats were beyond impressive. Did you see those banners? They are gorgeous. But it seems to me that displaying school spirit is not constrained within the confines of outdated traditions of parades and banner decorating competitions. We are the "Volunteers"; volunteering is itself the greatest display of school spirit we can offer. And although tradition may insist on upholding the parades and boxcar races and cheering competitions, should tradition supersede the needs of others?
Focusing on the community during homecoming may not be only good for those we serve. It might even attract a wider scope of participants. I mean, let's be honest. Outside of Greek organizations and a handful of student groups, how many students really noticed homecoming? How many students currently reading this column did not participate in any quantifiable way?
With those students, I can commiserate. Last fall, I was not in a fraternity and I had almost no idea that homecoming was going on. If it hadn't been for my friends that were in Greek organizations complaining about sore thumbs from pomping, I would have had absolutely no idea.
Maybe if it were a week more focused on giving back, more students would participate. The current setup focuses on groups, making it harder for individuals to get involved. A service-based homecoming might open wider the influence. School spirit might even increase.
After halftime at Saturday's game, the student section emptied out pretty dramatically. It was evident that many of the students were only there to see the results of the homecoming competition and the crowning of Miss Homecoming (congratulations to the lovely Katie Arnold). Once the winners were announced, few students (including myself) cared to stay and watch what turned out to be a pretty exciting game.
Really, what kind of school spirit is that?
The wreckage of our beautiful floats will be gone by next week, but people will always need volunteers.
— RJ Vogt is a sophomore in College Scholars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.