By Rodney Barnes
Eggy is dead. He died of heartbreak, fell victim to apathy and a quiet diet of irreverence. The embodiment of Ryerson’s spirit, he will be forgotten by the few who worked to spread his word, but that’s all. You need to have known a person before being able to forget about them.
He is succeeded by no one. Having yielded his last mortal body in favour of uncrushable foam and nylon fleece, he could no longer produce offspring. His constitution means that no ramburgers will be served during the October 15 celebration of his life, but also that no funds are required for the pickling and stuffing of his head. Instead, it will simply be placed upon a plaque alongside his four other heads in the Ryerson archives.
Eggy’s been Ryerson’s ambassador for almost a half-century. He stands as an example of what the university’s spirit is supposed to be: he is fun, energetic, says Ivan Joseph, director of athletics. He is encouraging, full of spirit and life. But a month from now he might be the smiling face of a more aggressive-looking sports department when Joseph reveals a new logo as part of a plan to revamp Ryerson’s athletic image. This new, fiercer look should give Ryerson sports a different context and, it is hoped, get students to notice them.
“I don’t believe that there are enough who know about [Eggy],” says Joseph.
Maybe there aren’t enough who care. There are over one hundred campus groups and course unions at Ryerson. There are hundreds more involved in the effort to engage the rest of the student body, and still the idea of a cohesive Ryerson spirit evades us. There are few traditions we celebrate today. There are signs and pamphlets and sweaters telling us who we are, yet little of substance that we can point to and say, with confidence, “this is Ryerson.”
It would be easy to declare this the death of school spirit. It would be easier still to accuse Ryerson’s downtown location. We say, “we’re a commuter school,” and call it a day. Suddenly no one’s to blame but the lack of affordable housing in Toronto. So we settle down and wait for nothing to happen.
Joseph asks me if I’ve ever been to a sports game. I tell him I have.
“You’re one of the few,” he says.
Since coming to Ryerson last year Joseph’s struggled to make athletics relevant to the rest of the school. He hired a sports management company last November to help with marketing at sports games. During their six-month contract Cosmos Sports netted $30-40,000 in sponsorships for the athletic department. He is hoping his new plan will help keep students on campus and far from the hands that pull them away.
Part of the issue is that many of the students here are first-generation. They are the first in their family to attend post-secondary education. They suffer from the standard poverty that comes with university life: money and time. But they also have siblings to take care of, and part-time jobs to fill in where their parents can not.
They also don’t have the necessary cultural background to motivate them to get involved with extracurricular activities. Lise de Montbrun, vice president student life and events, came here from Trinidad in 2006 to study architecture. She dabbled in intramural sports in her first year, but it wasn’t until a friend approached her to run for the Board of Directors that she started taking her extracurricular life seriously.
“I asked myself, why did I wait so long to get involved?” she says. While her bid for a place on the Board of Directors failed, de Montbrun found her taste for students politics unsated. Now she is in charge of organizing events like the Parade and Picnic. She is experiencing the stubborn student body.
“It’s hard to get people engaged,” she admits. “It’s hard to build a tradition.”
It is more difficult for part-time students. The president of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), Mohammed Ali Aumeer, says that it is the students who build Ryerson’s history. He is another who did not get involved with school affairs until a student leader approached him, and once involved he could only go deeper. Aumeer founded the War Resistors support campaign and the Students in Solidarity with Haiti campus group. Working with part-time students meant that his groups had to be more flexible, as all of them spend limited time at school. So keeping the students on campus long enough to build that history is another feat.
“How do we get students to connect to campus?” wonders Joseph.
They need something to identify with. Ryerson’s demographic discourages meaningful connection with the university. Eggy is the sort of tradition that is familiar to school spirit. But when the student body can not put faith into the institution, they can not feel a part of that institution. Eggy, in trying to identify with each and every student, fails to represent any of them.
“Eggy is not black, white or brown, first- or second-generation,” says Joseph. He is not strictly male, either, never mind that an androgynous ram is a logical impossibility.
Joseph says that we look at Eggy, we see his colours, and we think, “he is us.” But we do not. We do not know why he is coloured the way he is. We do not know who Eggy is.
There’s a fanbus parked outside the student campus centre waiting to take students to the soccer games over at Lamport stadium. Kwame Amoateng, a defense man on the men’s soccer team, shouts over a megaphone at the passersby on Gould street.
“This is your last chance to board the bus–we only have three spots left,” he calls. He is lying to them. There are only six students lined up outside the yellow school bus. But he is not lying when he says, “we need your support.”
There is a dense crowd filling Gould Street, students walking to and from class. They walk in front of Amoateng, ears maybe a foot from the megaphone’s mouth, and ignore him. The ones he singles out, shouting a description of their clothes for the street to hear, try to make a swift exit from the spotlight.
“I have class at 6:30,” says one woman. “I don’t miss class. Sorry guys. Good luck.”
“I have kids!” another woman shouts back.
Amoateng’s been out with some of the men’s soccer team for over half an hour. Finally he gives in.
“I hate Ryerson,” he says, moving towards the bus. There are only fifteen students aboard. “I hate these students. I resign from Ryerson school spirit.”