Senior InsideOut Editor
University isn’t all fun and games, is it?
Sure, we spend countless hours buried in the books, routinely depriving our bodies of sleep, all for that sought-after degree on which we base our livelihood. Academics, after all, are of utmost importance for many universities. In fact, schools are often ranked and categorized based on the quality of their education.
Yet, academics don’t necessarily work alone in shaping a university’s reputation. Much of it also has to do with a school’s social scene. And though this may not always be openly, if at all, endorsed by the university itself, it seems to find a way to prospective students.
In May, Playboy announced its annual list of the Top 10 Party Schools in North America. Rankings were based on male-female ratio, winning percentage of sports teams and other, similar categories.
Schools located near beaches, ski resorts and music venues were given bonus points. Data was collected from Playboy’s Facebook pages, surveys by student reps and interviews. “And as always, we factor in academic excellence, because the work hard, play hard ethic is the DNA of any party school,” according to Playboy editors.
The University of Western Ontario (UWO), located in London, Ontario, was ranked number four and was the only Canadian university to make the cut. Playboy’s take on UWO? “The bar scene is kicking. On Tuesdays students cram into Ceeps to play Sledgehammer Bingo, which is basically an excuse to strip and drink (as if one were needed) … the on-campus scene is just as lively. One of the school’s dorms became so notorious for partying it was nicknamed the Zoo.”
But, let’s face it; it’s not as if we needed Playboy to tell us that UWO parties are of the highest quality. Across Southern Ontario, UWO is said to be the party school. And so it may be. Anyone who has had the opportunity to party like a Mustang can attest to this fact. The party culture seems to be very much ingrained in UWO as a university, which leaves something to be said about our very own school.
“The difference [between UWO and Mac] is that there is almost no ideal way to describe the social scene at Mac because it’s so diverse,” said Matthew Dillon-Leitch, President of the McMaster Students Union (MSU). “It’s everything for so many different people. The hardest thing to say sometimes is, ‘What is a Mac student?’”
McMaster’s diverseness is perhaps one reason why the social scene is of a lesser priority for McMaster in comparison to UWO. “The stereotype is almost self-perpetuated [at UWO]. At Mac, we work hard, we play hard. We just have different ways to have fun,” said Dillon-Leitch.
Yet the work hard, play harder mentality does not necessarily dominate the UWO agenda. Andrew Forgione, President of the University Students’ Council (USC) at UWO, said, “I think people confuse London with UWO. [London] has a large number of pubs and clubs, and combined with Fanshawe has an influx of 50,000 students every year.” In fact, he added, Western “had to refuse acceptance to a large number of students as well, which shows that students know UWO is a great academic institution and also the city allows for great social life.”
In fact, UWO is possibly best recognized globally for its high level of student satisfaction. “Our orientation program, clubs system and multiple services ensure that students have a number of opportunities to get involved and to grasp the experience that they wish to take throughout their university career,” said Forgione.
Yet, reputations can be difficult to shed, particularly when magazines like Playboy help to perpetuate the stereotype. But perhaps Western’s reputation is simply inflated. Sure, UWO may attract that party-goer we recall so well from high school – and so what? Even then, it’s not as if every UWO student possesses the party persona.
“I strongly believe that we do not ‘party’ any more than any other university in Canada, but since the city is so concentrated with its Richmond Row core and people have such a great time when they come to UWO, it may be misconstrued. Students know when to have a good time, and when to buckle down, and this is evident if you try to find a seat in any of our libraries on a Friday night.”
Conversely, McMaster campus is nearly deserted on weekends. This is no doubt a result of the fact that McMaster is largely a commuter campus which, in turn, severely impacts McMaster’s social scene. While UWO has far fewer commuters than McMaster, so too is UWO less disconnected with its home city in comparison to McMaster. In fact, Hamilton is quite divided, with extreme disparities, between not only areas within downtown Hamilton itself, but also the lower city and the Hamilton mountain, which is often seen as foreign territory for McMaster students.
Speaking from personal experience, Dillon-Leitch said that “when you’re growing up at Mac, Hess is the line between Mac and downtown … but there’s so much more to Hamilton than Hess and Westdale.” Encouraging students to engage with the Hamilton community is one of Dillon-Leitch’s top priorities. Rebuilding McMaster’s social scene is something that Dillon-Leitch said he feels very passionate about: “We have students involved in all these different pockets on campus … but you don’t necessarily always feel a part of this greater McMaster community … It’s something that needs to get better. But it’s been improving even just in time I’ve been here.”
At a second glance, Western’s reputation may have little to do with our conventional understandings of partying and may be more so a reflection of the strong communal ties among its students. After all, people who play together stay together. Though this is something that McMaster lacks. Rather than grudgingly acknowledging UWO’s existence, perhaps we have a thing or two to learn from them.