Society and College Rivalries

October 31, 2011


I spent a most of my fall break at the University of Illinois, visiting my friends from high school. While U of I is a Big 10 school, Michigan isn’t a huge rival of theirs, so I wasn’t expecting anybody to really care that I went there for school. It turned out Illinois was playing OSU in a home game that weekend, and so my trip became somewhat of a social experiment. Being a Michigan student and fan in that environment was definitely an interesting experience. With my maize Michigan t-shirt, I stood out in the seas of orange and the puddles of red.

There were a few different types of interaction that I dealt with walking around U of I’s campus before the game. A lot of the Illinois fans gave me a weird look, as in saying “wrong weekend buddy…” but very few of them addressed me at all – they tolerated me. Those who addressed me asked if I went to Michigan or basic stuff like that. It was nonthreatening, even friendly. It was clear to everybody that I didn’t completely blend into the U of I community, but I was able to take part in it without trouble; it was an example of cosmopolitanism as defined by Appiah – I was similar to these kids in that I went to a college and did similar things, and my differences with them were overlooked as they were not ethically corrupt or insidious.

The situation with the OSU kids was different, to say the least. There weren’t too many of them on campus, but about half of the ones I ran into made it known that I was disliked, and I did the same for them. They trashed on Michigan more than they trashed on U of I, but that wasn’t totally unexpected; it is OSU…

John Locke, in his writings on toleration, desired toleration for all religious sects except for a few certain select groups. In modern collegiate culture, it seems like there is a similar sentiment. The OSU students’ practices demonstrate a version of Locke’s philosophy; towards students from most other schools, they could tolerate or accept, but Michigan students are completely intolerable. They are cosmopolitan, but only to an extent. We have the same sentiment for them, and other schools are no different in their own rivalries.

I wasn’t surprised at the reactions I got from students from either school, they were pretty much expected. What was interesting to see happened later that day. That night, I ran into several kids from OSU, but each in a more individual setting – most were there visiting their friends from U of I too. Expecting the same kind of arguments that I had faced during the day, I was actually a little taken aback when it wasn’t like that at all, and aside for a few jokes and jabs our conversations were pretty much normal.

What had changed over the course of the day that had made this possible? It could have been OSU’s victory, or maybe these kids had sobered up from pre-games. Then I thought that maybe the hatred in the rivalry only dominates in bigger groups. If this last thought was true, it could say a lot about other types of intolerance. Of course, a college rivalry is not the same as racism or religious intolerance, but the idea behind them might be relevant. It posed the question: does prejudice exist first at the individual level or at the societal level?

If at the individual, does that mean that many individuals in a group have the same prejudice and that it is adapted by the group as a whole? And if it’s by the society, what actually causes the thoughts? A need for a common enemy to hold the society together? An acknowledgement of differences, even small ones, of the other group? If the prejudice is rooted at the societal or group level, the individual is accepting it to remain faithful to that group, they might not even support it fully as individuals. Additionally, as we discussed in class, the public sentiment provides a basis for laws. Therefore, the prejudice permeates both the individual and the government, but is rooted in something else entirely. At the societal level, the prejudice becomes a norm or a more. Every individual, seeing every other individual accepting it, does not seek to challenge society, and in most cases, doesn’t even question if the norm is right or wrong. It’s just the way things are – it is ‘normal’. I didn’t grow up with Michigan football, so I can’t personally attest to this, but a lot of kids here who did have hated OSU or MSU for as long as they can remember. They don’t question if it’s right or wrong, it’s just a part of their culture. When people grew up in the South before the Civil War, they didn’t question if slavery was right or wrong, it was just the way things were: a norm of their culture. As we know, just because a society says something doesn’t justify anything, but the idea that prejudice trickles both up and down from there is definitely an interesting one.



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11 Comments on “Society and College Rivalries”

  1. isobelkraft Says:

    I believe that prejudice, whether it be toward a sport team or a race, originates from the societal level. Although certain individuals may hold stronger prejudicial beliefs than other peers, their feelings are kept alive and perpetuated by the whole group’s sentiment. This is called groupthink. Groupthink has a lot of to do with the actions that, retrospectively, seem like a wrong and dangerous decision. Stupid things can happen fast when you have a lot of people involved and individualism is lost. Groupthink is how mobs form and get violent, the reason for the challenger space shuttle disaster, and the reason for the Bay of Pigs invasion.

    In this situation with the rowdy OSU fans, the author experienced more placid interactions speaking with the OSU fans individually because groupthink was no longer in effect. It is likely that those fans did not actually feel the same way as their peers did, but being with all your friends, taunting a lone Michigan fan, following the crowd seems like the natural thing to do.

  2. elmatts25 Says:

    I don’t think it is important to address the question of whether prejudice was established at either the individual or societal level, but more the question of why it continues to exist. Is there truly a need for a common enemy to hold the society or group together? In my opinion, Hobbes’ theory of the State of Nature is applicable here. Hobbes said, people act and react based on a constant state of war, and social contracts are created and kept through a constant state of fear. Therefore, it may be said that college sports fans form a prejudice based on their fear of losing. Technically, each game is a new opportunity for defeat. Fans are not able to literally aid the team in winning, so they use any means possible to prevent loss. Whether that be cheering on the team or hating the rival, fans actions are propelled by the fear of defeat. It may not always be the case that a common enemy is needed to hold a group together, however, this common enemy creates a solidarity amongst a group that strengthens its bonds.

  3. rschles92 Says:

    The conflict between fans of different football teams can be compared to conflicts between different religions. College football has many religious qualities. Fans of a team meet at a sacred ground every week to see the team they closely associate themselves with do battle against an opponent. Fans see their football stadium as sanctuary for them to practice their religion in the form of cheering and rooting for their team. The home team’s fans could see visitors wearing garb supporting their own team to be disrespectful to that religion. They are entering a sanctuary in disrespectful attire. This is explains the difference in treatment at a stadium or later that day at another setting. Football games are aggressive and they make those watching it feel the same way. Adrenaline is high and fans feel the need to make their presence felt to add to the appeal of their team.

    State of nature does apply here but not because of the fear of losing, but to preserve the sanctity of their religious rituals.

  4. finkelbr Says:

    I think that people can always find a way to become prejudice towards you. Whether it is about where you are from, the color of your skin, your religion, how short/tall you are, it is endless. I do not know if it is possible to find the origin of one being prejudice. Instead, I look at the individual and societal levels separately. I strongly believe that people act differently and are influenced by different factors when in a group rather than when alone. A student from U of M, while in a crowd during game day, may feel obligated to yell at the OSU fans that walk passed them. However, when walking alone he/she does not feel very strongly, and was not influenced by their peers, so he/she has little to no reaction when walking by another U of M fan. I think we should look not at whether ones prejudice originates from the societal or individual level but rather what environmental factors effect the strength and reality of ones prejudice.

  5. ajnovo Says:

    I think your post raises an interesting question of the opinions we form when we’re alone versus when we’re with our friends. The professor mentioned the other day that humans are willing to let others make their decisions as long as they aren’t harmed, and he gave the example of how some people missed determining what 60% of their grade was going to be and instead let their GSI pick for them. I think prejudice is kind of the same way. As long as you aren’t being hurt by agreeing with someone else’s prejudice comments, prejudice will continue to exist. Of course I understand that this is a ridiculously simplified and somewhat insulting definition of why prejudice exists, but I think there is some truth in it especially since mob mentality exists.

    I’m from New Jersey, and I almost always hate saying I’m from New Jersey because both of my parents hate New Jersey since they didn’t grow up there, and I wasn’t even born there – I just happen to have been living there the past 12 years of my life. As soon as I say I’m from New Jersey I expect a Jersey Shore joke or some other demeaning comment which I’ve learned to accept and smile along with the joker, but I can’t wait for the day when I somewhere else long enough to no longer say I’m from New Jersey.

    What college someone goes to is something else that we tend to be prejudice about. What do you think when someone says “I go to Harvard” versus “I go to Michigan State.” I feel like the opinions we make based on where people go to college or if they even go to college play a huge impact in our society and the importance of education as a whole is adding a lot of stress to high schools to perform better now than they’ve ever had before even though almost everyone can get into a college. It isn’t a question of can you go, but where do you go.

    In general though, prejudice will probably always exist since there’s us and there’s them and we’re different

  6. bisraelb Says:

    I believe most prejudice stems from a societal level and escalates at an individual level.. In the case of college rivalries in particular, students often adopt the traditional views and feelings of hatred towards their schools’ rival. While it is clear that an aura of resentment and dislike is already established at a University, it is ultimately up to the individual to decide how to adopt these feelings, and to what extreme.
    When arriving at the University of Michigan, Freshman are exposed to the accepted feelings of hatred towards Ohio State. Whether it is walking past students wearing anti-OSU gear, or University tour guides cracking witty anti-OSU jokes; students feel accepted if not obligated to hate OSU as well. However, I argue that individual students decide how and to what extreme they let these feelings manifest into their own. So next time you are taunted by one of those delinquents from Ohio, don’t pin it on society, but recognize a bitter fan expressing their free will.

  7. euriosti Says:

    I think that there is an added dimension to the question of prejudice. I feel like in some cases, the academically less prestigious university in the rivalry will have extra pressure to win. And this added pressure may cause unsportsmanlike conduct from both the players and fans. To me, this was very evident in watching the Michigan State game. Several of their players committed unnecessary roughness penalties throughout the game, including a punch thrown after a play was over and the twisting of Denard’s neck after he had been tackled. Classless acts like this can stem from a feeling of belittlement. It’s an effort to prove yourself worthy. In many cases, fans will trash talk each other just to support their teams. However in rivalry scenarios, I feel like there is more resentment and prejudice. When one society claims to be superior, the other will retaliate and try to make the societies equal.

  8. Daniel Pienkowski Says:

    I found the issues presented here interesting as they reflects my own observations and experiences when it comes to a school or community’s shared pride or spirit, the collective action of its participants, the sense of competition that drives its members, and the inherent prejudice cultivated against our “rivals”.

    I went to a high school where athletics were a key part of nearly every student’s curriculum. With this came a strong sense of school pride and unity among the students. Naturally, we had several large rival schools, and things always got heated between the students at the games. From provocative chants at games to threats and insults, there was a clear animosity between us and the opposing school. In fact, several fights even broke out between our school and our opponents, making winning a game so much sweeter as it seemed to give all the students bragging rights over the losing team for a period of time. The dynamic at school games was interesting to watch as well; everyone in our student section was united in one goal, even if in actuality they didn’t know or like each other. During games, in the presence of a greater rival, all students at my school put their differences away and cheered and supported our school as one body.

    Secondly, ironically many of us had good friends at these rival schools that, during games, we wished only to crush and defeat. When a few of us would get together with students from these schools outside of a competitive environment to hang out, however, there was no real hatred towards one another. If anything, there was just lighthearted banter and teasing, similar to what the author in this post observed. The more we get to know people on an individual level by talking or spending time with them, the more the feeling or prejudice erodes and truer opinions form. We can then really find out who they are instead of judging them based on what we presume they are like. I think that this shows that, at least in the college setting, prejudice is not a personal sentiment; I don’t hate people for going to different a different school or belonging to a different group than I do, but it is fun to be able to boast about your school’s accomplishments.

    Altogether, I think that we as individuals are competitive by nature and in nearly all circumstances wish to be the best in everything we do. Going back to the football example, the students and fans that share in this competitive spirit wish to prove that their school is better and can come out victorious, as it gives them a feeling of satisfaction and pride when they do win. Secondly, there is an issue of group identity and the setting that we are in. Many students here have friends that go to rival sports schools (I have several good friends attending Notre Dame, which made the night game that much more exciting). Naturally during the night game I didn’t associate myself with my high school friends attending N.D. but with the larger whole that I am now a part of, being the University of Michigan. I obviously like and respect my friends regardless of their choice of school, but winning the night game against N.D. gave me a sort of “in your face” attitude with my friends, as a sort of competitive jive on whose school was better, whether the rationale behind it was justified or not. I believe that we all take pride in what we do and who we are, which is both good and bad: it provides us with a sense of unity with those who are like us, but can also cause us to unfairly hate or judge those who are different than us if we believe that our identity is the only valid one out there.

  9. kaitlinlapka Says:

    I just want to discuss some ideas of my own on the idea of Michigan rivalries in the Big Ten. I’m from East Lansing originally, as you know home of the Michigan State Spartans. When I accepted my offer to attend Michigan, I got mixed results. There were the people who accepted that Michigan was a great school, would give me a wonderful education, but also jokingly made fun of me for attending “that” school. On the other hand there were the people who smiled, but could not honestly accept going to that school. Did the rivalry run deeper than just athletics? For me, I thought I could easily transcend the compeition between sports. I was going for school right?

    One mother of a good friend of mine said something interesting to me one night the summer before I left for Michigan. I was in her kitchen, eating a snack she had made. This woman had many kids, a wonderful home, and was well respected and accepted within the community and the school I went to. Everyone loved their family. Their home was like everyone’s home. She told me, “Don’t lose your humility. Don’t get lost in the Michigan culture.” She went on to say how she was a transfer to Michigan from a small college when she went to school. She was a top NCAA swimmer on scholarship. She enjoyed her time, but realized the people were not her type of people. She, among many others in East Lansing, considered the stereotype of Michigan grads to be arrogant, over-confident, thinking they were higher than others. In fact, many people, even other Michigan grads, told me similiar ideas. Don’t graduate from Michigan thinking you are higher than others etc.This mother even gave the example of people not even sharing their notes when she had swim meets because they didn’t want her to have as good information. Were they being snooty, or compeitive, or smart? A little of each? I know college is like a game, where strategy matters. But in games, morals matter too.

    This raises the question for me. I have seen instances of these stereotypes and I have seen instances that contradict them at my time here. But I come from a rival city. Are these people from rival cities conditioned to think differently? Do we individually think this idea of Michigan, and stereotypes of other schools like OSU, or do we learn from the compeition and society? Personally I think it is both. But I would like to hear other ideas. Anyone out there from Columbus, West Lafayette, Evanston, etc? What do you think of these ideas, and if not with Michigan, what are other examples of this compeition and stereotypical ideas?

  10. Baihan Li Says:

    Let’s tell a funny part first. I actually transferred from University of Wisconsin-Madison. One day I was browsing the Facebook and saw a status of my friend. Her mother read about the profound school motto of Harvard and asked her what the motto of UWM is. She tried very hard to come up with the most heard sentence on campus. At last she came up with “GO BLUE!” and awkwardly translated it into Chinese. I shared this with my friend in Umich online. Ten minutes after one of my classmates in Wisconsin posted a statue like this “UWM, we have more than’ Go Badgers!’ Our real motto is ‘Eat shit Ohio’, ’Eat Shit Illinois’ and ’Eat shit Michigan’.”

    Well, this is just a joke, — I swear.

    However, it just reveals to me the tension between different universities. This tension actually surprised me a lot when I first come to America. While people in America are all too often self-concerned and the sense of university bond is much weaker than what I saw in other countries, the strong collective sense appear during football game is very unusual. In fact, tension would lead to cohesion. Similarly, it is undeniable that the whole country became more united after disaster like 9•11 and Hurricane Katrina. This is actually the so-called “since the distress regenerate a nation.”

  11. springsteen1 Says:

    Great point and points all around. I particularly like the candor and honesty in recognizing the potential fault of Michigan, the UM community, and Michigan students by and large, a point I happened to largely agree with.

    Tolerance is something that many organizations, groups, professions, etc. could benefit from. Do politicians tolerate members of other parties? Of their own party? Hobbes would argue that people should be for themselves; that is – that they should be less tolerant and want what’s best for their party and their interests. Rosseau would combat anthis, and Locke would chime in with marginal agreeance to Hobbes (only in the sense that the liberties / freedom are inherent), but that tolerance is more important.

    We should tolerate other schools – this is a competition. It’s sports. Whether you enjoy watching or playing or not, taking them to seriously, particularly to the point of crimes and fights we have seen as of late, is absurd. If you want to get locked up because someone wore a different jersey, enjoy. Just leave me and count me out.

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