Where’s Our Mascot?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

UCSF carries great weight among the small group that knows it, but outside this eclectic crowd of healthcare professionals and scientists, we appear to be an academic institution with no traditional school spirit — or even a true mascot. Maybe it’s the lack of rowdy undergraduates looking to unleash their school pride during basketball games. Maybe it’s because UCSF students have their lives so tightly set for five years that they don’t have time for anything else.

It makes me wonder.

Despite the fact that we chart international department rankings across the board from research funding to school rankings, UCSF holds neither the name recognition of many of its counterparts nor their pride. Other than a picture of our entire school on that one beautiful sunny day of the year, there seems to be nothing about our school itself that fondly represents us. We have no proud mascot walking around campus — unless you count our “bear,” which bears no name. We have no iconic building that holds a spectacular history, not even a special gate or entrance to walk under. Without all this, it feels like there's no great tradition passed on through the schools either.

This lack of identity is a switch for me. I was extremely proud of my undergrad. I would walk through campus, past the emblem on the floor that marked the exact spot a national revolution began, under the iconic school gates from the beginnings of the 19th century, alongside the laboratories that held the first particle accelerator in the world, and finally to my class, a building that once held a Nobel Laureate induction due to the constraints of World War II.

I thought I would be even prouder to be here. This is a dream school for almost everyone who is accepted. But here I am, so fondly remembering my undergraduate college, while making an effort to be proud of the great school I am in now. I want to feel chills down my spine as I walk through the school, re-living the great events and discoveries that have driven UCSF to be among the world's best. But the lack of celebrations of pride and commemorations of achievements — other than pictures of certain deans and a pretty wall in the back with a Wikipedia description of the Nobel Prize — pains me.

What is there to show people during interview tours of each department? There are no plaques to commemorate the halls where some the smartest and greatest people of their time walked. Nothing spectacular to mention about the buildings. Not even some graduate student urban legend or ghost story. Perhaps you can count the Dean’s Reception as a school celebratory event, but even then, that’s in the school gym.

We attend one of the greatest institutions in the world — one that holds discoveries that have saved countless lives and yet, we have nothing deservedly bragging of these great feats. Proudly displaying this legacy is crucial to get the public and the students who graduate to give back.

But on the brighter side…

When I meet the rare UCSF alumni outside of school, it take no more than a good handshake and nod to know that this person is spreading something awesome with their lives. We’d have a menial chat about what we studied in school, and possibly talk about the Panda Express that we all frequent way too much. We may not have even been part of the same program, but as we talk about what we are doing with our lives now, we are confident of their expertise because the only sure tradition we do have is one of excellence. We are pioneers, experts and clinicians who are dedicating our service and knowledge to the world, and although nobody knows who we are, the small group that does, knows exactly the prestige and regard we have built for ourselves.

But that’s only if I meet another UCSF grad outside of Inner Sunset.