A student at the University of California, Irvine, Marilyn demonstrated for me the colleges chosen gesture and the phrase that accompanies it. The hand gesture, done with both hands, is supposed to represent an anteater, the school mascot. Students raise their index and pinky fingers while placing the middle finger, ring finger, and thumb together, then sliding the thumb back slightly to create the snout of the animal. Opening and closing the snout, the students call out, Zot zot at the same time. Although Marilyn said that she does not know the specific details of the gesture or calls origins, she guessed that they were probably somehow established at the time when the mascot was chosen, and that the word zot probably refers to the sound an anteater makes when eating. She went on to say that she first learned the gesture and call at a deans welcome assembly that was mandatory for all freshmen during the beginning of the school year. When I asked about her opinions of the gesture and accompanying phrase, Marilyn responded that although it might seem strange or cheesy, she likes it because it is necessary for the cohesiveness of the student body. She further explains that though most universities have competitive football teams, UC Irvine does not, and therefore is not able to provide students with similar experiences of football games, pep rallies, and the general campus-wide fervor caused by major sporting events. So while she admitted to regretting the lack of certain sports programs at her school to increase the sense of school spirit, she appreciates the feeling of togetherness that the gesture promotes. To her, having an established hand-sign and special call is a good indicator of community and is almost the sole source for student unification. With the hand signal and call, UC Irvine students are able to recognize one another, remain a part of the same community, and share similar identities.
As an undergraduate student myself at the University of Southern California, I can identify with Marilyns claims and beliefs. At USC, there are similar hand gestures and calls that are used to encourage a sense of unity and community among the student population. While mostly employed during football games and the like, the gestures and calls are not exclusive to sporting events. T-shirts and posters emblazoned with images of the hand gesture and printed with the slogan, Fight On! pervade the entire campus as constant reminders of community and shared identity. Gestures, though sometimes unofficial, can serve as great catalysts for developing identity and preserving community.