School Spirit at All-Time Low

News Feature

In 1956, Harvard lost the Yale game, 54-0.

It was so bad that Yale put in its team manager to kick its extra points, says Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57, who was in the Harvard Stadium audience.

But even with such an abysmal score for the biggest game of the year, Harvard football games still drew "25,000 to 30,000 regularly," Jewett says.

"These were the days before massive television coverage," he says. "You had to go to the games."

The numbers contrast sharply with football attendance today.

Harvard's first three home games drew an average of 8,728 each, according to Michael A. Jackman, assistant director of the sports information office.

And despite a new coach and a bright new future this season, the numbers are even down from last year, when attendance averaged 10,069 for the first three games.

"I think [school] spirit is dead and as far as I know, it hasn't been here in my four years," says Joshua D. Liston '95, who ran for Undergraduate Council president on a platform calling for increased spirit and a new Harvard mascot.

Two years ago, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps even established a special committee to reverse the decline in spirit and ease a sense of fragmentation on the Harvard campus.

"Our main challenge is to develop a sense among students of the college as a whole and a person's place as something larger than themselves," Epps says. "The Spirit Committee was intended to promote this development."

The committee is inactive this year, Epps says. And the dean has decided that the burden of promoting school spirit has to fall to undergraduates.

"School spirit is held in the students themselves," he says. "The administration can only act as a catalyst."


Many students say spirit is just not part of the Harvard character, even when crowds do show up at a game.

"This just isn't the rah-rah type of group that you would find at a Big Ten school," says Matt L. Bruce '96.

Even those in charge of sparking spirit get discouraged at the Harvard crowds.

"People are really apathetic in general," says Harvard Band Manager Anne Q. Eakin '95. "It's really frustrating to feel like the band members are the only ones cheering."

Harvard students are likely to be found in the libraries on a Saturday afternoon, rather than at the stadium, students say.

"People are too obsessed with their work to think of much else," Aimee K. Gallardo '98 says.

Epps agrees.

"Harvard students are very busy and often take the school for granted," the dean says.

The problem may be the type of person that goes to Harvard, Bruce says.

"A lot of people at Harvard now probably weren't the type of people who got hyped up for high school pep rallies," he says. "They were busy making discoveries in labs and being valedictorians."


Some cite the University's self-styled hallmark, diversity, as an indirect cause of the lack of a unified school spirit.

"One of the major drawbacks of having such a diverse student body is people simply have different interests," says Undergraduate Council President David L. Hanselman '94-'95.

Although he does not see diversity as a cause for the presence or lack of spirit, Epps acknowledges that the diversity of student interests and identity has led to a "lack of common experience" at the College.

"As Harvard's gotten more diverse, people have gotten away from the rah-rah school spirit," says Band Drum Master Duane A. Stewart III '95.

Indeed, when Jewett saw the overflowing crowds in the 1950s, Harvard was far from the mosaic it is today.

Now, however, students are segregated into different houses and many separate activities, hurting the College's former cohesiveness.

"Spirit is diffused more because there are so many different things going on," Jewett says.

Liston blames the smaller residential communities of the Harvard campus.

"Too many people are more into staying in Houses and cliques rather than building a community at Harvard," he says.

Bad Teams

A main cause for the decline of Harvard spirit may be the decline of traditionally central sports like football and basketball.

"Harvard's proud tradition in football has been dormant," says football coach Tim Murphy. "That tradition has to be rekindled."

Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53 is more succinct.

"We haven't had a winning season since 1987," says Mansfield, adding that attendance was better during his years at Harvard.

Last year, the Harvard football team's record was 3-7. Many fans say they just don't want to watch the team lose every week.

It wasn't always this way.

Few fans know that Harvard in its heyday was a veritable football powerhouse, winning national championships in 1890, 1910, 1912 and 1913. Harvard gridders were Rose Bowl champions in 1919.

Even as recently as 1968, Harvard football had an undefeated campaign.

Hope for the Future

It's that kind of tradition that Murphy says he wants to rekindle. It is "obviously part of the challenge of coming here," he says.

In fact, Murphy says he already sees a new spirit, at least in the football team.

"There's no question that the players have more pride now than a year ago, and will have more a year from now," Murphy says.

"Whenever we win, we sing the song 'Ten Thousand-Men of Harvard in Latin and English," he adds. "In that kind of context, it becomes a very emotional thing."

And Stewart says the band will not give up the fight. "School spirit is definitely alive in the band," he says.

The fragmentation that many see as undermining efforts to forge a College-wide identity will be countered by the planned student center in Memorial Hall, administrators say.

The Loker Commons will give all students a place to come together, socially, planners promise.

But other students and alumni say the Harvard spirit is already alive and well--but it doesn't center around athletic pride.

"I think spirit manifests itself in a variety of ways besides athletics, Rebecca L. Baumann '98 says.

Murphy says that at Harvard he sees more school pride than, be found at the University of Cincinnatti and University of Maine, where he until to coach.

"Students take a lot of pride in going to school here--more than I've ever seen anywhere else," Murphy says.

Rather than sports spirit. Harvard, may just have the academic arrogance, of U.S. News and World Report's number-one pick.

"I don't think it's very characteristic of Harvard to have school spirit," Mansfield says. "When you know you're the best, you don't have to keep telling yourselves that, like those, second-raters at Yale or Dartmouth or that glorified high school called Brown."Crimson file photoSpectators at the Harvard-Cornell game in 1989 cheer excitedly.