Elitist belittling reflects poorly on the elite

Here are some things that Yale students get away with saying about other universities: “I think that having a Quinnipiac-themed party is a good idea, because then all the girls will come dressed like sluts”; “Quinnipiac is good for one thing: the hot people who come to Toad’s”; “That building looks like something at a state school”; “At least you don’t go to Southern.”

Unfortunately, when people make remarks like these, my reaction is no longer one of surprise. They are so commonplace here that they seem to offend nobody. It is socially acceptable to insult other universities, regardless of how inaccurate these stereotypes are. But these generalizations reflect poorly on all of us.

The stereotypes about these universities and the students who attend them are unfair because they are patently untrue. Forgive me for stating the obvious (unless it’s not so obvious), but we were all really lucky to get into Yale. In the November 2003 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Don Peck wrote, “In truth, many elite schools could fill their classes twice over from the pool of rejected applicants and suffer no decline in quality.”

Those bright and talented students who don’t get in here — or who can’t afford to go — may end up at a school less wealthy or prestigious, but still possessive of a good alumni network and a high caliber of students and professors. One of the smartest people I know goes to the University of California at Santa Cruz. One of my very best classes at Yale was taught by a visiting professor from the University of Colorado.

If all that is not convincing enough, put this in your pipe and smoke it: In the October 2004 issue of the Atlantic, Gregg Easterbrook cited a study by Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale that found that students who were admitted to top-25 colleges but matriculated at less-selective ones made the same salaries 20 years after graduation as their Ivy-educated peers. Indeed, Easterbrook continued, “fully half of U.S. senators are graduates of public universities,” and only four of the top 10 Fortune 500 CEOs graduated from “elite” schools.

I’m from California, where some of the best and most prestigious universities are publicly funded, so when I first arrived at Yale and heard people talking about “state schools” as if they were slums, I was confused. Granted, Berkeley may be exceptionally good, but it’s not the only great public school in the country. Virginia, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin — just to name a few — also have excellent public university systems.

The second problem with our freely offered and accepted insults toward less-fancy schools is that, assuming that there are material and educational advantages to going to Yale, the last thing we ought to be doing is insulting our peers at second-tier schools.

I came to Yale because I thought it was the best college that I got into, and I don’t regret that assessment. Not every smart kid goes here, and not everyone who goes here is all that smart, but my peers generally challenge and impress me. Not all of my classes have been outstanding, but I have encountered some brilliant and excellent teachers, and I’ve gotten a good education. I have enjoyed the advantage of the cultural and social opportunities that a small and wealthy academic community affords its members.

Do we find ourselves doubting the inherent value of a good education at a college well-matched to our own sensibilities? Is the thought of our intellectual equals spending less money on school eating us alive? Is it really that disgusting to us that someone who scored 300 points lower on the SAT may make more money or have more fun?

It is vulgar to make and condone disparaging remarks about perfectly good colleges based on our own bitterness — or on assumptions about their student bodies and their financial endowments.

An eating club at Princeton hosts a semiannual “State School Night,” for which the young men set aside their pastel Lacoste polos and don big T-shirts, chains and beanies, and the women set aside their Lilly Pulitzer dresses and squeeze into revealing tops and skirts. The event is amply attended and gives Princetonians an opportunity to get trashed and act promiscuous. Without a doubt, their revelry comes at the expense of their own karma.

Yale, which is consistently ranked just below Princeton on “best college” lists, and which resides in a poorer and more urban community, is home to students no less insulting. Let’s not stand idly by while our classmates, who should let perspective guide them, express ridicule and contempt toward those who, once we have left the ivory tower, will be equal players in the world we share.



Helen Vera is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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