I hope your summer was spent in a wake of freedom, with the knowledge that after a few short sun-filled (and briefly smoke-filled) days, you would be trudging up the good ol’ VIU stairs. If you are new to VIU—maybe fresh out of high school, or perhaps this is your first time seeing the Strait of Georgia—then welcome, hello! If you’re a returning student, nostalgic for the Land of Rabbits and Stairs, then  ’sup dude, it’s nice to see you again. 

This is my fifth and final year at VIU, and I have something to admit: I am guilty of never attending a Mariners game and of rarely joining in the Thursday night Student Pub activities. I have consistently skirted large gatherings, and shied away from joining clubs. So, this year, I decided to actively seek out those moments. It’s my last chance to engage in the student experience I have missed out on. 

The first step, naturally, is to obtain some school pride. Which left me wondering: does VIU have school pride? Do I have to understand sports to be a Mariner? I can’t pinpoint a moment or put my thumb on what exactly school pride looks like. 

Smaller institutions like VIU have a lot to offer: intimate class sizes, one-on-one education, and in some cases, stronger graduate employment. In 2015, I was excited to enroll, eager to learn, and cautiously optimistic about forging the relationships with my professors and fellow students that the smaller enrollment and departments offer. However, I was hesitant to verbally express this excitement by the start of my second year. VIU seemed ridiculed as being a transfer school—a place where students started before moving on to bigger, more prestigious campuses—if it was heard of at all.

A mere six years before I enrolled (11 years ago, this September), Malaspina University-College became Vancouver Island University. The hailing of a new era under the amendment of the University Act; recognition of our institution, after forging into new territories with the inclusion of a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies. But it is still hard to shake the dusty college that seems engraved in people’s minds. Despite this, however, VIU continues to stride ahead and I continue to grow in my respect for attending. I’m sure that, thanks to what makes our campus special, I have been shaped to fulfill anything I put my mind to. 

Since the 2008 name change, VIU has won many honours, including last year’s Provincial Award, the 2018 Perry Shawana Award, which acknowledged the institution’s commitment to Indigenous Learners. This award followed VIU’s win for the Award of Excellence (1998/99). And that’s just the institute, nevermind the professors or students themselves. Awards and scholarships aren’t just provincial, but internationally recognized for passion, scholarly focuses, and expertise. From Skills Canada Awards to Scholar-athlete awards, we’ve pretty much done it all. The VIU Mariners, to which we owe our applause, had a record-breaking year in 2018/19. 

VIU’s evolution, physically and mentally, into a modern world means that the student mindset is constantly evolving. For me, that means coming to love, appreciate, and own my school. 

Our professors are fantastic; I have witnessed their desire to raise responsible, intelligent, contributing members of society. They recognize our contemporary student problems and know what we need from them to flourish. As a result, our campus and our programs are constantly evolving. Our reputation is crossing BC borders, and students are coming not just from the island, but from all over Canada and the world. More and more, the VIU and Mariners name is getting out there.

I know all this and more about the institute. And yet something is holding me back from becoming a Mariner myself, and that is my sheer inability to understand sports. You know what they say: you can’t play the game if you don’t know the game.

Step two is to understand how I can possibly be considered a Mariner. It took me nearly half of my degree to properly pronounce ‘Mariners’. (It’s meh·ruh·nr, not marine-ers.) To better understand how to infiltrate what seemed to be an elite club, I spoke with the director of Recreation and Physical Literacy, Stephanie White, in hopes that she would be able to translate the coded language of sports to an arts student.

“I want every student that comes to VIU to see themselves as a fundamental part of the fabric of VIU and that they are Mariners,” she told me. “Mariners should not be only reserved for student-athletes.”

This was good news for me. Since I go to VIU, I am a Mariner.

“Studies will tell us that students that are engaged on campus, whether they join a club at the VIUSU, work out at the gym, come to Mariners games… any engagement raises the odds of the student completing their degree and having a more fulfilling experience. How do we build that sense of belonging that comes with being a community?” White said.

Being a Mariner is not just about the fact that our sports teams are exceeding and becoming top-tier competitors. It’s not even about understanding the intricacies of the game. It’s just about being one. VIU is our chosen family, our chosen community. 

“Let’s celebrate what makes us different and makes us unique. Bring what you, as a student, can bring to create a more fulsome fabric for who we all are here at VIU,” Stephanie said. “The rabbits are our own unique little thing. We have something really special here. There are lots of beautiful aspects of this campus that we can celebrate.”

Knowing that just by being a student and engaging in campus activities, I would be welcomed as a Mariner. I was enlightened to the fact that VIU truly is an institution that I took for granted. It was easy for me to feign ignorance in favour of my own program and to make excuses for the lack of my school spirit, but in the face of encouragement, I felt I could do more, and could do better. 

So I approached those who I was intimidated by. The student-athletes. While I had once been confident in my role as an outsider where I felt as though I couldn’t hold my own; the same could be said for any student. Departments and titles separate us from empathizing and mingling in studies other than our own. Where I felt uninformed in the arena of competitive sports, perhaps others felt the same way looking at my program. 

Confident now in the unity of being a Mariner, I thought it best to look at the other side of the coin: a sportsperson. Or, more aptly, Garret Halls, one of VIU’s hockey players. (An aside: I find hockey and golf the most intimidating of all the sports because of my sheer lack of understanding positions, plays, and the arena.) I wondered what it could mean to an athlete to carry school pride, and whether there was a distinction between team pride and school pride. 

“The community at VIU creates a strong sense of pride that I noticed with my first step on campus,” he said. “I lived it, I felt it, and I’ve grown with it. To me, Mariners pride means being proud to wear our school’s crest out and about. It means being proud to say that I attend a university that promotes diversity and equality.” 

Halls continued, “Mariners pride is noticeable from all corners of the campus. Events like Rock the Boat, Frosh week, and VIU discovery days all promote VIU pride. Mariners pride is further embedded after a Thursday night at the Student Pub where lifelong friends are made.” 

There is still a giant hurdle involved in my own journey to becoming a Mariner, despite being assured that I am. It’s a self-induced barrier that’s stopping me from fully embracing my Mariner personality. 

“I would recommend attending games if you haven’t already,” Halls said. “Get out of your comfort zone and maybe watch a sport you’ve never seen before.”

Going into this investigation on school pride, I had anticipated proving that VIU needed to turn up and be more vocal in their pride. Being a proud Mariner is an essential part of being a VIU student: they intertwine like DNA. It is what makes our school who they are. We can be proud of our assignments, our commitment to classes, our awards, and our place.

This semester I will be warming up for when VIU hosts the women’s national basketball championships by attending every possible event, tailgate party, and game so that I can stand tall in the bleachers and barbarically yawp Mariner pride. I may have no confidence in my ability to understand the game, but I have every confidence in my fellow Mariners. After all, it’s a great thing to be a sturgeon.