Graduate students just as committed without attending sporting events

Editor’s note: This letter is a response to a previous article “An open letter to graduate students about school spirit” published in the Oct. 8, 2013, edition of The Daily Illini.

Even though it’s the middle of the semester and I have a number of things I could be doing, I thought that your open letter deserves a response.

Graduate students do have it rough. We are almost always overworked, constantly under a deadline, teaching classes and grading papers, completing graduate coursework, writing academic papers and are generally in a state of constant stress. To top it off, we don’t make very much money.

But, on top of all this, we need to be attending sporting events?

You say you want to “remind you of one more thing you should be doing,” by which you mean attending Illini sports games. Your words carry a sense of urgency as though the sports you mention (football, swimming, tennis, etc.) are under assault and in need of our defense.

Yet basic facts dispel this anxiety: Illinois men’s sports coaches are among the highest paid individuals at our University, we grant numerous athletic scholarships each year and our sporting events are well attended.

I cannot really see the need for such exigency, but clearly you consider this an important matter.

In your litany of possible excuses for why graduate students don’t attend sporting events, you variously cite laziness, a lack of loyalty, disinterest and age as possibilities. Allow me to suggest a few other reasons.

Graduate students also have commitments — commitments related to the University and beyond.

We commit ourselves to service in the Champaign-Urbana community, volunteering at animal and homeless shelters and teaching inmates at local jails and prisons. We commit ourselves to strong labor organizing, attempting to alter the trend of adjunction that threatens the livelihood of college instructors nationwide and the competent educations of their students. We commit ourselves to politics, not only in the conventional sense, but also to investigating and voicing the concerns of underrepresented populations in our communities. We commit ourselves to the arts, to attending plays, readings, musical performances, art galleries and the art theatre, all events that solicit few attendees, especially undergraduates.

In light of these more consistent graduate student occupations, you must forgive us if we don’t “pick up the slack” for those games undergraduates fail to attend.

But, in my opinion, the most important thing graduate students do is question the world around them. We question why the football coaches make millions of dollars when instructors nationwide go hungry from underemployment. We question why people are expected to watch sports and not attend poetry readings. We question why so many Illini sports fans cannot divest themselves from the stained history of the school mascot. We question why little effort is spent rehabilitating and educating local inmates.

Yes, we live beyond the four walls of our rooms, and also beyond the walls of this University. These are our passions: We live through them and they live through us. We lose sleep over income disparities, incarcerated minorities and cultural misogyny — not the spread.

Are you really asking graduate students to sacrifice these commitments to attend more sporting events?

Perhaps you feel strongly about this subject because (as your Twitter feed says) you research the history of athletics and work as a sports correspondent. Perhaps you love athletics beyond all else. I’m not sure.

But perhaps more deeply we have different definitions. Perhaps the idea of “spirit” means something different to you than to me, that one way to exhibit spirit is to attend a football game, and other ways include participating in local democracy, striving for income equality and serving fellow human beings.

I’ve been to football games, swim meets and tennis matches. I will certainly attend more, and I do not fear for their survival. But right now I think other areas need more attention.

Maybe you should take a Saturday off and join us.

Justin Hanson,

graduate student in English