Volume 95, Issue 20

Thursday, October 4, 2001
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Purple and proud: What does it mean?

Seven days, many drinks and the key to Western culture

Seven days, many drinks and the key to Western culture

Big, swingin' dicks

I was determined; I wanted to take the elusive creature known to me as "Western culture" and knock it flat on its ass.

Late in the morning, I met with Dan Smith, the director of Western Intercollegiate Athletics. He explained athletics have always played an important part in Western identity.

"We have a history of great coaches, high quality programs, tremendous teams and athletes who have gone on to successful careers in professional sports," he said.

I thought I was in for some more run-of-the-mill answers to my questions, when Smith broadsided me with something insightful.

"[Western culture] is kind of like what is distinctly Canadian. [We] are defined by our fundamental values which are based upon inclusion, multi-culuralism and diversity."

It wasn't his words as much as his concept of Western as a nation that had me interested. Canada is held in high regard by other nations around the world – I wondered what other universities thought of us.

"[At Western] people like to pretend they're big, swingin' dicks," said Fionn O'Flanagan, a fourth-year political science student at McMaster University in Hamilton.

Pure gold. I felt I was getting somewhere.

O'Flanagan said, despite the appearance of Western arrogance, he realized not everybody on campus drove jeeps and had money to spare. He had a point – last time I checked, there was no jeep in my driveway (in fact, I don't even have a driveway) and much of my money had gone to the amber poison known as beer.

Mario Circelli, program manager at Western's radio station, CHRW 94.7 FM, said Western's "country club" image has been difficult to escape, adding our professional schools and ingrained fraternity/sorority system have futher enforced our image of wealth.

"The composition of individuals on this campus has become much more diverse over the last five to 10 years," he added. "It's become much more indicative of what the rest of the world is like."

Circelli said Western receives part of its image from being situated in London. "London is traditionally a white, anglo-saxon, conservative community. Western would not be Western without this city."

Western is unique in the fact that other institutions often follow its lead whenever it becomes involved in a lobby group or takes part in a particular venture, he noted. "They love to hate us, but they watch us closely," Circelli said.

Okay – so maybe we were leaders and that made other people jealous. I could deal with that.

London's Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said Western was an important economic tool for the city and an integral part of London's culture and history. Her answers were a bunch of political fluff – I decided she wasn't getting a Christmas card this year.

That night I sought out the jolly souls who embody the ultimate fountain of truth – drunkards. It was going to be a big assignment – my managing editor was coming with me and he certainly did not take boozing lightly.

Mike Moon, a third-year music student, said although Western was originally built upon a golf course, it had transcended that country club image. "Western is a community where people feed off each other – you learn to grow as a person."

To cap off the night, I talked to a couple of stereotypically wise and sarcastic bartenders, named Sean and Julian, who purposely fed me all the Western stereotypes.

"Puffy vests. The word 'like.' Jeeps. Cell phones. Guys with brown hair dyed blonde at the tips. Platform shoes. Halter tops. Pants that flair at the bottom."

My managing editor was very little help that night. By the evening's conclusion, he was semi-conscious and lying on the floor.

Bragging rights

I was moving in the right direction – but there were still more usual suspects to round up.

On Wednesday morning, I talked to Chris Campbell, the manager of The Ceeps. He said the spirit that echoes throughout the city on Homecoming weekend is unbelievable. "There's a lot of pride at this school," he explained, noting the vast alumni turnout at the annual Homecoming football game.

James Prescott, a member of Western's football team, said the university's success in athletics is part of its identity and a source of pride. "We have some bragging rights. We're hated by a lot of schools," Prescott said.

I think I'd probably hate us too.

On Wednesday night, I watched the Homecoming King and Queen contest at The Wave and saw some of the best spirit Western had to offer. There was a guy who could make dripping noises and a girl who could make a sweater look like a penis.

This was purple pride at its finest. I could tell these young people were both going places.

The highlight of the show, for me, was when one of the lovely Brescia candidates sarcastically said she loved late-night pillow fights and cited bible studies as a turn on.

"No, I don't makeout with my roommate and I don't want to," she told the crowd. The chorus of boos that followed made me smile.

I left before the winners were crowned. I was tapping deep into the Western spirit and it scared me.

Into the heart of darkness

On Thursday, I talked to Dan Smith, the manager of bars and restaurants for the University Students' Council. "I think every myth starts with some truth," he said of Western snobbery. "But how can you say that everyone who goes to this university is a snob?"

Smith said The Spoke, where he was employed during his undergraduate years at Western, became a "fraternity" during his time at school. "I think you tend to gravitate towards people with common interests and goals," he said, noting that could mean everything from athletics, to clubs, to the USC or fraternities.

Shane McCarthy, president of the Inter-fraternity Council, described Western as a small country with a sense of American-style nationalism. He noted sororities and fraternities on campus would not be who they were without Western itself. "We wouldn't be Greeks if we weren't Mustangs."

I really wanted to ask a bunch of insolent questions about "having to buy friends" and so forth, but he seemed like a good guy and I was trying to see through the stereotypes, not reinforce them.

That afternoon, I ventured to the Board of Governors meeting to seek out Western president Paul Davenport. I was ready with the notepad in hand when the French knight rode up to the board room on his white stallion.

"Western alumni never forget the beauty of our campus and the people they met here. We have a school spirit second to none in the country," he explained.

At the BOG meeting, a bunch of bigwigs rambled incessantly and ate free cookies, but they certainly weren't the spirit of Western.

I left them behind and went for a cigarette.

Throughout the day I talked to numerous individuals and groups on campus, including the engineering society, the HBA association at Ivey and students from affiliate colleges. Every group had its own personality, its own niche – but each one fit into the bigger piece of the puzzle that is Western.

Jen Strickland, VP-Adminstration of the Undergraduate Engineering Society, offered an amusing insight into the stereotypical nerdiness associated with engineers at Western.

"We're kind of like the sloppy younger brother no one invites at Christmas," she said.

I thought she was one of the funniest and warmest people I had talked to and decided she would be replacing the mayor on my Christmas card list.

For my last journey of the day, I would have to seek out Western's inner guts – it's dark and beautiful heart.

It was time to visit Saugeen-Maitland Hall.

As I wandered the halls, everyone I talked to spoke of the vibrant spirit at Saugeen. It was a residence with an "open door" policy and a unique environment, where almost every face can quickly become a friendly one.

"I think Saugeen has got a bad rap from other residences," said Joel Lavoye, a first-year ACS student. "We study hard and we party hard."

As I was leaving the residence I could hear a faint, wolf-like howling from one of the rooms, followed by the gleeful holler of "I'll get you, you drunken bitch." This was followed by a chorus of laughter.

"Somebody started drinking early," I heard one girl comment on the smoking patio.

Saugeen was in my good books.

Homecoming weekend – the investigator goes sappy

The buzz I had felt on campus the previous Monday was magnified tenfold by the time the weekend was in full swing. I wandered campus on Friday and Saturday looking at the panorama of faces who had attended the university throughout the years.

Most of these faces seemed to glow with an inner warmth, strolling about in a wide-eyed recollection of a treasured time in their lives.

Friends huddled together on University College hill to share stories of past and present and others gathered for the Homecoming game, ready to be purple and proud once again.

The Homecoming parade ran its annual course down Richmond Street. Its many floats a representation of the diverse clubs, organizations and experiences one can embrace during their years at Western.

I ran into Carol Twine, a 1966 arts graduate, as she was sharing drinks with her husband and some old friends. She said she will always be loyal to Western for all it provided her. "I blossomed in so many ways. There were so many opportunities. [It was] a coming of age."

I spent most of the day at The Gazette's 95th anniversary reunion, talking to current colleagues and alumni who have a soft spot in their heart for our little newspaper.

Despite my increasing drunken stupidity, I was reminded of something Dan Smith, the USC bar manager, said days before about The Spoke being his "fraternity" during his undergraduate years. In his words lay the answer to Western's culture.

We are a community of communities.

Every Western student finds their own "home" within the greater context of the university. Whether that "home" is a club, a bar, an affiliate college, a group of friends, a sorority, an athletic team or a student newspaper – we all find a place.

It is the interconnection of all these thousands of individual "homes" that make up Western as a whole – they are what make each and every current student and graduate "purple and proud."

I finally understood.

Now, I could even deal with being "a big swingin' dick" – as long as I was a purple one.

– Chris Lackner

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Copyright The Gazette 2001