Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

A look into the tradition, history and impact of spirit groups on campus

Courtesy of The Cactus Yearbook

The national amusement with the sorority rush process at the University of Alabama left people intrigued by the inner workings of sorority culture. On top of its own Greek life community, UT has a system of social organizations completely unique to the University known as spirit groups. These groups each have their own traditions and histories that are deeply tied to the University as a whole.

What is a spirit group? 

A spirit group, similar to a sorority or fraternity, works to promote service or spirit while also fostering a community for students. Each group has its own unique traditions, pillars and focus, but they all generally share three core values: service, spirit and community. 

While spirit groups offer similar social and service opportunities as Greek life, it’s an accessible alternative because of its cheaper member dues. Some groups even offer scholarships and payment plans to alleviate any financial burden for members. 

Texas Lassos’ president Meghna Kundur said being in a spirit group makes it easier to volunteer while balancing school. 

“You’re able to learn more and feel more engaged in, not just your campus, but also the local area of your college town,” Kundur said. 

Each organization raises funds and awareness for their chosen philanthropy. To support their cause, groups host bake sales, profit-shares and some hold an annual event like the Texas Lassos’ Barnyard Bash to raise money for their respective charities.

Most groups contribute to on-campus student life through initiatives and events where they invite the UT community to come together. Texas Lassos are known for leading on-campus initiatives like Longhorn Against Drunk Driving and On the Moov, an organization meant to assist students with disabilities navigate campus.  

Orange Jackets Alumni Association chair Shelby Hobohm said she feels these connections have positively impacted her life. 

“I still have a lot of people from the organization that are some of the closest people in my life that pushed me to be a better person, even today,” Hobohm said.  

Spirit groups are known for their tremendous school spirit and on-campus presence. Before football games, spirit groups host tailgates for the community with food, games and music. In 2001, spirit groups Tejas Club and Texas Spirits created the Flashcards section at football games, where they created images with large flashcards held up by the entire section. 

Texas Spirits, which was founded in 1941, was originally a secret society that supported the UT football team. Members from sororities were selected to “spook away” the bad luck from the football team, decorate their lockers the night before games and give them pep talks.  

Aidyn Mentry, who works as the organization’s traditions haunt, their title for historian, said these traditions play a role in uniting Spirits. 

“We have this little saying in Spirits, ‘there’s a bond,’” Mentry said. 

The history of spirit groups at UT

The first spirit group started in 1922, known as the Texas Cowboys. The Texas Cowboys was founded as a men’s service organization by Bill McGill, then president of the Longhorn Band, and head cheerleader Arno Nowotny. Their goal was to establish a group of men who were interested in leading and serving the local community.  

Texas Orange Jackets was founded in 1923 as a women’s service organization for women looking to become community leaders and impact campus life. Recognized as the University’s official hosts, Orange Jackets act as campus representatives and lead on-campus initiatives like Voices Against Violence, an outreach program that focuses on preventing interpersonal violence. 

The organization recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary. Since its inception, Orange Jackets have planned year-long service tasks known as Tap projects, which have left lasting impacts on UT’s campus. 

In 2002, first-year members known as Tappees worked to get a statue of former U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan on University grounds as their Tap project. Jordan was the first African-American woman elected to the Texas Senate in 1966.

Impacts beyond UT campus

Spirit groups have been a tradition unique to UT for decades, but similar organizations have recently spread to other universities across the state. Some spirit groups are chapters of the original UT organizations while others are focused on supporting sports teams specific to their respective universities.

At Texas State, the Ice Angels support the university’s hockey team through marketing and advertising efforts. Their goal is “making lifelong friends and memories” by going to hockey games together and hosting monthly socials. 

The Sweethearts and Texas Angels have chapters on other college campuses. The Texas Angels UT-San Antonio chapter was started in 2017, and Sweethearts has active chapters at Texas A&M and University of North Texas. 

The North Texas Sweethearts president, Meredith Krause said while the UT-Austin and UNT spirit groups share the same name, they have different philanthropies. 

“I found people that I connected with, which can seem really intimidating coming to a school that’s so big with so many people but I was able to find … a community,” Krause said.

Krause said they are hoping to start a chapter at Texas Christian University in the next few years. 

A built-in community

Community is integral to spirit groups. Organizations like this strive to build diverse groups where students feel represented. For example, Texas Fuego is the first and only co-ed Latinx spirit organization that hopes to provide a space where Latinx students can feel like they belong. 

Spirit groups like Texas Blazers, Texas Orange Jackets, Texas Spirits and Texas Lassos have also recently started accepting all gender identities in an effort to be more welcoming to non-binary and LGBTQ+ students. 

Kundur said she’s grown as a person in her spirit group by being surrounded by people from diverse majors and opinions. 

“Campus just feels a little smaller,” Kundur said. “You have the ability to create these relationships with people that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to come in contact with.”

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