By Tyler Pike
It’s not a secret that the University of Montana has found itself in quite a morale slump and fiscal crisis. When I was a freshman in Knowles Hall, I remember a time at UM where across campus the study lounges in the Residence Halls were being converted into temporary bedrooms because of a booming freshman class. Those days now seem like a distant memory with multiple floors of Aber Hall vacant, with only the emergency lights keeping the quiet hallways company. As much as I like UM, it’d be silly not to admit its shortcomings. Between scandals, a history of poor academic advising, a few unhelpful tenured professors, budget cuts, and a declining student population this slump shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Despite UM’s recent struggles, I’m convinced that little chunks of hope, pride, and enthusiasm hide buried in our campus.
I was about nine years old when I got my first taste of Missoula and the University. Back in 2005 my family drove up from Great Falls to Missoula for the weekend so my Great-Uncle Bud could take me to my very first Griz football game. I watched the Griz play Cal Poly on October 22nd, kickoff was at 1:05 PM, and we beat them 36-27. I don’t remember the game, but I remember being totally blown away by the crowd and energy in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Selecting the right college wasn’t an active thought in my head then, but that day I subconsciously committed to becoming a Grizzly.
My hometown has the energy of an old industrial town that peaked in the eighties. I grew up on the old side of windy Great Falls. My middle school felt frozen in time with weight-room lifting records from the 1970s still clinging to the walls. My beloved Great Falls High pridefully hangs state championship banners from the fieldhouse ceiling that show how dominant Great Falls was during the 30s, 70s, 80s, but there aren’t many additions since. The town’s economy relies on an Airforce base, an oil refinery, and hospitals due to former residents moving back to retire and die. Great Falls is still riding the high of when Lewis and Clark made an appearance in 1805 and had to port the waterfalls. Needless to say, the excitement and energy of Missoula grew on me.
When I’m on campus I still feel that part of my nine year old self that’s thrilled to be here. I love the opportunities UM created for me. Maybe I’m just glad to not be in Great Falls, but I think it’s something more.I still get excited about having Mount Sentinel as a backyard. I get excited when I see an orientation leader walking around campus backwards. I get excited when I hear about student involvement on campus.I get excited seeing our new handsome President rally hope into people. I’ve worked as a Resident Assistant, I’ve helped submit a KRELF grant, I can actually get excited about going to classes, I’m a captain of the men’s ultimate frisbee team, I accidentally became president of the Judo club, I currently work for UM Housing at the Lewis and Clark Village, and I still get excited about it.
I know not everyone gets dealt the same opportunities, has had my experiences, or loves Missoula as much as I do but I can’t be alone. I imagine that there has to be people like me all over campus, because I’m extraordinarily average. I know I’m not the only one who has made lifelong friends, memories, and found impactful experiences at UM. I understand why people get so critical of UM and I think of it as a sign of endearment. Though right now doesn’t appear to be UM’s peak, we’re all fighting for the same thing. We want UM to be the best version of itself.
I love UM, but I’ll let you know if I love it less after I start getting calls asking to donate.