I am a Bruin. A true bruin. I wear the blue and gold, I chant the 8-clap with pride….and I’m the sworn enemy of all Trojans. School spirit here is just remarkable. University isn’t just a place to go to class – it’s a community, a family, almost a way of life.
Students at UCLA are called Bruins (the school symbol is a bear) and are certainly proud of it. Americans seem to loathe the notion of school uniforms, but on any given day at least half of the students are wearing some form of UCLA apparel – t shirts, hats, bags, jumpers. There is a massive store on campus which cells only UCLA stuff; you can get anything from trash cans to rocking chairs emblazoned with the UCLA logo.
Nowhere is this spirit more apparent than on the sportsfield. I’ll admit it – UCLA isn’t doing all that well in the football this year. We lost 59-0 a couple of weeks ago…but let’s never speak of that again. Even in spite of this, thousands of students buy tickets to the games and travel 1½ hours out to the stadium to watch all day in the blistering heat. Now that’s true school spirit. There are all the stereotypical trimmings of American college sports: cheerleaders, mascots, a marching band…and the crowds are massive.
But with great pride comes great rivalry. The other big university in LA is USC – the University of Southern California. The Trojans. The enemy. You have to be very brave to walk through UCLA with a USC t-shirt (although I once made an incognito mission to USC). Whenever a scapegoat or opponent is needed in general conversation, USC is always there to help. UCLA has a student-run newspaper called the Daily Bruin (it's really impressive actually - a full blown newspaper with multiple sections published every weekday by students!) and the art critics use the following scoring system: 5-Classic, 4-Good...1-USC!
Within this larger school community, little pockets exist with their own unique breeds of spirit and culture. I have in mind particularly the fraternities and sororities. Fraternities are basically groups of guys who form a ‘brotherhood’ together. They are chapters of national fraternity ‘chains’ and usually have a fraternity house next to the campus. They have all sorts of traditions and rituals (including secret handshakes apparently…I had to ask) and they go by the stereotypical Greek-lettered names: delta tau delta, pi kappa psi etc.
What is particularly interesting is the process of recruitment – the ‘rush’. All through the first weeks of school, guys were handing me flyers commanding me to rush their fraternity. Why not? I decided to see what it was like.
Every night over the course of 1 week, the houses host events – games nights, dinners, trips to baseball games etc. And anybody can come. You show up, chat with the ‘brothers’, go on a tour of the house and eat their free food. If you like it, you keep coming back. Then at the end of the week, the brothers offer bids to the people they like, asking them to join the fraternity. If you accept, then you become a ‘pledge’ – the bottom tier of the fraternity hierarchy – you learn the rituals, ‘bond’ with the house and begin your life as a frat boy.
But worry not – I didn’t join a fraternity. Not that I didn’t enjoy all that free food; but it really wasn’t my thing. I have, however, joined quite a few clubs and societies here at UCLA. I am part of a health program called FISH, I am doing some fencing, I even joined an a cappella group. There are always things going on, so I’d better be off. Have to start looking for a Halloween costume…