College is a big deal, especially in Filipino households. Which university will you qualify for? Which color will you identify with for the next four years, or more? Such are the woes of eighteen-year-olds.
We were always watching the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Cheerdance Competition when I was kid. I remember how badly I wanted to be part of any crowd then, and I didn’t care about the academic side of things — that’s for sure. It was so amazing for thirteen-year-old me how loud a big crowd of people could be. I didn’t have a name for it then, but their school spirit was contagious through the screen of our TV.
Choosing a university isn't just about academics for a lot of us. It's a decision that reflects family pride, societal expectations, and often, a sense of identity. The prestige and reputation of the university are essential factors, and it's not uncommon for families to have generations linked to a particular alma mater.
The glamor of university identity
University identity is half the appeal. The colors that come with the school are enough to influence a student’s decision. These colors are a testament to rich history, traditions, and stories. But these colors drive a wedge between the universities and their students too. Both things can be true.
It's the ultimate face-off, an age-old saga that's been going on since, well, forever. I didn’t know the gravity of these rivalries until I finally got to attend UAAP games. As with any face-off, it can get pretty intense. The passion emanates from every cheering, and shouting of the fans. I didn’t care about basketball and volleyball, really, but when I watched those UAAP games, I commented on each turn as if I were an expert. I wasn’t the only one anyway.
(Screengrab from @volleytiger)
These university rivalries are not always in good spirits though. Passion is a beautiful thing, especially when it's directed towards supporting your university. However, in the heat of a rivalry, that same passion can mean being vicious to others. There were times I’ve heard fans booing the opposing school in a UAAP game. And don’t I dare say anything about it, it’s normal!
(Screengrab from @JoshuaUrolaza /Twitter)
The rivalry isn't confined to the basketball courts or the volleyball arenas; it’s embedded in how we interact with each other every day. And a lot of it is expressed online.
On freedom walls and targeted criticism
Many universities have dedicated ‘freedom walls’ on Facebook that welcome anonymous entries. Most of the entries are those you won’t catch anyone posting on their personal accounts. On the UST Freedom wall, the posts usually range from embarrassing stories to declarations of love. And then there were the occasional hate posts.
Anonymity is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it empowers individuals to share thoughts and experiences they might hesitate to express openly. On the other hand, it removes the accountability that comes with identity, often leading to misuse and harm. But hey, we already know that.
On September 2023, an entry on the De La Salle University (DLSU) Freedom Wall sparked another demonstration of university rivalries.
(Screengrab from UST Freedom Wall/Facebook)
Students from UST rushed to the comment section, and were later called out by the DLSU Freedom Wall as “troll farms.” Other universities, like the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Freedom Wall, found this exchange entertaining, encouraging the “trashtalkan.”
This exchange highlights the intensity and unpredictability of “trashtalkan.” What might start as a playful exchange can quickly escalate, revealing the fine line between harmless banter and potentially harmful interactions.
This goes back to tying our self-image to the university image. The desire to fit into the university's perceived image can lead to conformity and mob behavior. We are more than what our crowd is perceived to be. And although there’s fun in dogpiling the “other,” weaponizing differences never ends well.
I’m guilty of making my university, UST, a very huge part of my identity. It was exciting, feeling like a part of something grand, something prestigious. I’m familiar with the exhilaration that comes with trashtalking those who aren’t part of my crowd. The playful banter against rival universities seemed harmless, even amusing. It was a way to belong, to participate in the collective enthusiasm.
Stepping back, I had unwittingly contributed to a culture that thrived on division. Our universities are more than just names and logos; they are embodiments of knowledge, diversity, and traditions. The beauty lies in the richness of experiences and unique perspectives that each student carries. We shouldn't let these differences be a cause for division but a reason for celebration.
And we are more than just where we study.
Self-discovery: Rising above titles and colors
According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), we would’ve spent 105,120 waking hours at school by the time we turned 18. That's a huge chunk of our lives—an extensive period of growth, learning, and development. However, it's vital to recognize that though this stretch of time could seem like a lot, it constitutes merely 15% of our entire life's journey.
My parents have always been proud of their alma maters. Yet, if you were to ask them today what they treasure most about their college days, you'd find that it's not the colors they once donned. It's the lifelong friendships they cultivated during those formative years that hold the most significance. And wouldn’t it be cool if we welcome friendships beyond our university too?
College, undoubtedly significant, is but a fraction of our story. Our self-discovery journey is only influenced by the colors we wear, the college or university we go to, and not determined by it. Finding the self in a very social dynamic is as good a place as any to prepare for adulthood. As we navigate our way through it, we're preparing ourselves for the vast canvas of adulthood, where the full richness of our individuality will paint the chapters yet to be written.
We are on the cusp of uncovering uncharted territories — people to love, the best days of our lives waiting to be lived, and versions of ourselves we are yet to meet. Our journey has merely begun.