Where’s our UMass Pride?

By Ryan Walsh

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Flickr/UMass

Flickr/UMass

We all came to UMass for different reasons. Some of us dreamed of coming here for as long as we could remember. Some of us came here because a family member or friend did; some to play sports or pursue a particularly strong major; some because they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else, and others because, frankly, they didn’t get in anywhere else. While the origins of our experiences at UMass differ, the fact that we’re all here now underlies us all.

Whether you love or hate UMass, you’re here, so embrace it or leave. UMass suffers from a systematic lack of pride. Too often, students perceive UMass as a collection of individuals rather than as a unit collectively contributing to something bigger. While this problem is complex and its cause is difficult to pin down, it affects each one of us whether we realize it or not.

It’s important to note that this is nothing new. UMass has traditionally suffered from a widespread lack of pride that translates into a lack of support from alumni. It’s actually quite logical: if you didn’t particularly care for UMass as a student, why would you all of the sudden care when you leave? The Alumni Association has suffered the brunt of this problem for decades. While UMass has been fortunate to receive sizeable donations from alumni like Eugene Isenberg and Jack Welch, these relatively isolated donations alone pale by comparison to those given to other schools, because individual donations can only scratch the surface of what we could achieve if we all chipped in.

Ironically, it’s UMass students themselves that suffer from their lack of pride. Take endowments for example. Endowments are fundamentally important for a college or university to function. They improve the quality of life and provide opportunities for students and faculty. They increase the overall accessibility of a school. Harvard is the model for successful endowments. With an endowment of over $32 billion, students apply to Harvard without providing any financial information. If accepted, they apply for aid. Students below a particular threshold are given free tuition without a requirement to pay back the school. Less fortunate students essentially receive a $200,000 education for free. This serves as a testament to the power of endowments.

Last year UMass’ endowment was just under $200 million. While it’s naïve to think UMass can catch up to Harvard anytime soon, it’s important to note that other public schools still blow UMass out of the water in this particular field. The University of California – Los Angeles’ endowment last year was about $1.8 billion, and The University of Minnesota’s was $2.2 billion. The University of Virginia’s endowment was over $5.24 billion. Even though UMass has about 5,000 more students per year, its endowment is only about 3.8 percent of Virginia’s. Certainly The University of Virginia’s graduates are not 2,600 times better and richer than UMass’, they just care more. Our neighbors at Amherst College have an endowment of about $1.39 billion (695 times more than UMass’) despite having just 8 percent of the students UMass does. The problems here are not a result of these schools being far superior to UMass, but because UMass has a lack of pride.

It’s possible – though I feel it’s quite unlikely – that UMass’ low endowment is a function of the jobs UMass graduates hold. If we assume for the sake of argument that this is true, I believe it’s still a result of our lack of pride. As a member of the Commonwealth Honors College and the Isenberg School of Management, I’m wholly confident that the education I’ve received at UMass is, at the very least, comparable to any other college. That is, we UMass students are as equally equipped as any other college’s students in terms of knowledge and preparedness. So why then do UMass students struggle to find solid jobs after graduation? I think this is largely a function of UMass’ reputation, which of course directly correlates to student pride.

UMass’ public perception certainly leaves something to be desired. Too often, students revel in the “ZooMass” mantra. While I personally love the partying at UMass, what’s the sense in bragging about it publicly? As Denzel Washington says in American Gangster, “The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.” It’s great to be a party school, but why not be one behind closed doors? Surely this would be a win-win situation. Bragging to your friends at a different school about how many beers you can drink or how many people were at that party Friday night is indeed detrimental in the grand scheme of things, and consequently makes us all worse off. Students at schools like the University of Virginia drink and party but surely don’t brag like this; they have too much pride in their school’s reputation.

While drinking and partying may be a universal occurrence at most colleges, for too many students at UMass it actually and unabashedly becomes the purpose of college. Such nearsightedness undermines or perhaps blatantly misunderstands the fact that we as students have a direct influence on the public’s perception of us. This is important because the public includes all the recruiters and employers who may be reluctant to hire us. People’s perceptions of us are not some mystic thing beyond our control. I’m not telling people not to party, but rather to act like you’ve done so before. Partying should not be our defining characteristic. While the origins of the ZooMass perception may be justified, we’re the ones with the opportunity to change it, and by doing so, all former, current, and future UMass students will be benefited.

This all of course begs the question: how can we instill more pride in UMass students? While I don’t know the answer per se, I do know that it isn’t beyond us. Pride is as simple as being satisfied and pleased with both your education and overall experience at UMass. Even if some things haven’t gone your way here, there’s no sense crying over spilled milk — embrace it and move on. Pride can’t be forced, but it’s not hard to find either. We are the ones that can make UMass one of the country’s elite public schools, but that’ll never happen if we don’t try. Candidly we’re a little behind, but the race is not lost. As in the fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare”, “slow and steady wins the race.” Boston College wasn’t considered a very good school when our parents were applying to college, but now it’s considered one of the best on the East Coast. We can do this, too, and we’ll see the changes a lot sooner than we might think. In order for this to happen everyone must give back and help UMass however they can. No gift or assistance is too small. If we revel in the fact that we’re all bonded by this glue that is UMass and channel that energy positively without disregarding all that’s gotten us here today, everyone even remotely affiliated with UMass will reap the rewards.

Ryan Walsh is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: This article originally stated that the University of Southern California was a public university, this has been replaced with analogous endowment information for the University of California – Los Angelos.