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There are numerous universities around the United States that are notorious for their school spirit. Really, most universities and colleges are full of school spirit.

Photograph by David Kepner

I’m talking about the universities that I never even considered attending because they were so large and so far away from  my home, and still, their reputation of exceptionally high school spirit was known. A few of those schools are Arizona State University, University of Tennessee, University of Georgia, University of Oklahoma, (which claims the U.S. is a “Sooner Nation”-a rather large claim-) and the University of Texas, Austin.

Anyone who has attended a university football game has probably seen this same scenario: thousands of fans dressed in school colors with megaphones, foam fingers, and faces painted with logos, mascots, and school colors. A browse around Facebook would show many a male college student with his shirt off, his entire upper body painted in school colors. One, a background color, and the other, a letter of the alphabet. He is part of a bigger scene, where a handful of students get together, painted this way, to spell out “Sooners,” “Longhorns,” or “Bulldogs.” Perhaps the older attendees in the crowd are merely wearing a university hat or jacket, but they have most likely witnessed the ever-popular body painting.

I came across an article on the Huffington Post about a University of Colorado (CU) Boulder faculty committee questioning if black face and body paint at athletic events is racist. For those of you who are unaware, the official colors of CU are black and gold. I quickly checked a few other sites, and read the full article on the Boulder Daily Camera site. You can read the article here. The idea stems from the fact that CU is primarily a caucasian-enrolled school, and when the caucasian students paint their faces black, it is portrayed as “racist.”

I practically fell off my seat when I read the article. First of all, the fact is that CU’s colors are black and gold, as I mentioned. If the colors were red and blue, the faculty would be saying that the face painters are supporting the Bloods and the Crypts. If the colors were red and green, someone surely would protest that those are Christmas-only colors, and that would mean the school supported a Christian holiday, however, public institutions of higher education  are known for generally being unbiased, not siding with religious or political affiliations. Come on people, they are simply school colors. No big deal.

A college student in attendance at a game or event who does not paint his or her face, cheek, body, or hand, means basically that he or she is uncool. To some, that may be a generalization, but that was my experience. The school colors at my Alma Mater are maroon and white. Before sporting events, students who arrived early -and showed their student identification card at the entrance- received a free t-shirt, intended to be worn at the sporting event. Most of the time, it was planned ahead of time through word of mouth, the newly invented Facebook, through AOL Instant Messenger, and known tradition, that there would be a “white out” or “black out” at the said game.

A white out/black out is when everyone who attends the event is supposed to wear the free shirt handed out beforehand, which was a white or black shirt, and for some, to also have white or maroon face-paint. The shirts had printed on them: “Operation White Out,” or “Operation Black Out.” Many students additionally painted their faces or bodies, tied white or black fabric around their biceps, and into their hair. Was this racist? Not in the slightest. Does painting my face orange and dressing as a pumpkin at Halloween make me a pumpkin? No. Does painting my face red make me demonic? No.

It was intended as an attempt at school spirit and school pride -the two are possibly interchangeable in my experience-for the most passionate of students. It didn’t matter if the school had primarily White, Black, Asian, Latino, Russian, or Hawaiian students. That was completely beside the point. It was about camaraderie.

For CU faculty to question the intentions of students who paint their faces and bodies black is outrageous. To those same faculty I ask, If the CU school colors were white and gold, and black students were painting their faces white, would it still be considered racist? Let’s redirect our focus back to research and teaching. Or else, I say those faculty should be nominated for the next round of budget cuts.

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