By Lauren Herber, Staff Writer
It’s the fourth quarter and ASU has just taken the lead against Cal Poly. The blaring lights expose a few remnant ashes from fireworks floating through the air. Amidst a crowd of thousands of ASU students all decked in maroon and gold is a small group of Thunderbird students experiencing their first ASU football game, their cheers joining the songs of the marching band and the screams of the ASU students.
Game day began with a search for gold ASU gear. Despite the merger having been in effect for some time, many Thunderbird students didn’t feel the need or desire to purchase anything ASU-related until the day of the first game. According to the students, being at the game dressed in maroon and gold really affected their experience: they felt that, for the first time, they were a part of the ASU community. According to Carlos Melendez (MS ’15, Venezuela), “There has been a lot of clashing between ASU and Thunderbird. But being at the ASU game, there was this sense of community—this feeling that we’re all in this together.”
For all the students in attendance, the game was a positive experience. Students Carlos Melendez, Rafael Salamanca (MBA ’16, US/Colombia), Stefani Chaney (MAGAM ’17, Venezuela/Trinidad and Tobago), and Salma Kemmou (MAGAM ’17, Morocco) particularly enjoyed the game’s atmosphere. “It’s taken me five years to start to understand football,” says Stefani. “I never watched football before I came to the U.S. The atmosphere was amazing. The band, the fireworks, everything.” Rafael echoed this statement: “The game was awe-inspiring. I’ve never seen a collegiate football game at that level.” Carlos agreed, noting that having the opportunity to attend ASU football games is a great way for international students to experience another aspect of American culture.
Some students, however, weren’t overly thrilled with the actual game itself. While they enjoyed spending time with their fellow Thunderbirds, they felt that the ASU game lacked tradition. “Coming from the University of Georgia,” says Nash Wills (MAGAM ’17, US), “the game itself was underwhelming. While I enjoyed the camaraderie and festivities, the stadium didn’t come anywhere close to selling out and there was no tailgating.” Kathryn Benedict (MAGAM ’17, US) agreed, noting that the lack of tradition took away from the experience. “No one sang the fight song,” she mentioned, and the lack of tradition made it more difficult for her to really feel like a part of the ASU community.
Several of the students also expressed a desire for a heavier Thunderbird presence and participation in ASU games. “Just going to the game doesn’t add anything to the Thunderbird experience,” says Nash. “Thunderbirds need to get together and go to the game together.” As a solution, he suggested that Thunderbirds host their own tailgate before heading to the game together, an idea for which several of the students expressed enthusiasm. Salma agrees with Nash’s statement: “There needs to be more of a Thunderbird presence at the games. At the first game, it felt like a handful of Thunderbird students lost in a crowd of ASU students.”
As far as the Thunderbird-ASU merger is concerned, however, most students did not feel that their experience at the game (whether positive or negative) affected their opinions on the merger. “It’s great that ASU is able to offer Thunderbird this new dynamic. But sports has no effect on academics,” says Carlos. Rafael, Stefani, and Kathryn all agree with this statement, but Salma’s opinion differs. She offers a unique perspective, having attended ASU for her undergraduate education. “The merger is done, it’s already happened,” she states. “ASU has a lot to offer Thunderbird. Thunderbird students should make an effort to take advantage of the new resources available to them.” One opinion, however, was universal: all of the students stated that they plan to attend another game and are looking forward to the experience.