It was 1 a.m. when the e-mail arrived in our inboxes. “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY,” the subject line glared. Only a week before The Game, there was little time to respond and little room for compromise: We were being sent on assignment.
Two days later, clad in nondescript clothing, we met under the gaudy, gilded ceiling of New Haven’s Union Station. Boarding a fluorescent Peter Pan bus (which later proved to have none of the grace or youthfulness of the fictional character), there was nothing but four hours and 18 inches worth of Subway Melt separating us from our final destination.
On a mission to understand a foreign land, our questions swirled, and the giddy conversation flowed freely like Santa Teresa Orange Rhum.
We were intoxicated.
As the dark set in, we arrived amid a cold, silent intersection. It was Friday night, and there was no noise, no revelry, no life.
We had arrived at Harvard.
But as miserable as this welcome may have been, we had no idea of the true horrors set to befall us over the next 48 hours.
What’s the Harvard Boola Boola?
When first planning for the trip, we speculated that we would have to maintain a low profile as two blue-blooded Elis amid Crimson cronies. But upon arriving, we were immediately told by Harvard-affiliated accomplices that our school ties would be relatively meaningless to most of our Cantab subjects.
“We don’t really give a sh– about other schools,” a Harvard sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous because of a passionate dislike for university publications, said. Indeed, 12 students interviewed over the weekend confirmed this notion. Indifference to other colleges is a common feeling among Harvard undergraduates, they said.
One Harvard junior, who asked for anonymity because she said we made her “feel weird,” attributed the aloofness to a noticeable sense of egocentrism among undergraduates. But it’s an issue of pride in the individual, rather than in the institution itself, because Harvard students don’t really give a sh– about Harvard or its traditions.
While swinging our Greyhound refreshments in the air on our way to Cambridge, we stumbled across a question that inspired our theory: Does Harvard even have a school chant?
We tried reflecting on our time at The Game last year but failed to remember any distinctive cheer from the red half of the stadium. So upon arriving at Harvard, we surveyed students on their cheers, only to find that they were mostly uninformed about university songs.
“I don’t know, maybe, ‘Go Harvard’?” the aforementioned anti-Yale sophomore suggested.
Skeptical, we turned to the Internet, only to find that the spirited roar of “Go Harvard” isn’t far from the truth.
A Harvard Crimson article titled, “Rally Calls for Yale’s Demise,” published Nov. 16, 2007, notes that Harvard students used two primary cheers during a pep rally for The Game that year. The first cheer was the “Go Harvard” derivative, “Let’s go Harvard.”
The other, the article states, followed a more minimalist approach: “Harvard.”
The cheer was soon thereafter embellished, the article continues, with a “slow clap.”
To the dozen Harvard students interviewed, this lack of enthusiasm came as no surprise. Five of them said they had planned not to attend this year’s Game, instead choosing to spend the weekend studying, working on papers or entertaining guests from out of town.
Does that seem sad?
Don’t fret, it’s not. Harvard students are perfectly numb to their apathy.
“We also don’t care about not caring,” our dear anonymous sophomore said.
‘It’s Nancy #^%*#$@ Pelosi!!!’
Realizing the severe lack of school spirit on Harvard’s campus, we quickly came upon another query: Why did these students pick Harvard in the first place?
“I had many Ivies to choose from,” Harvard freshman Mel Begley said. “But at the end of the day, Harvard is Harvard.”
A single student doesn’t necessarily represent the opinion of the institution, but the 12 students asked this question echoed a similar explanation for their enrollment in Harvard.
“I mean, it’s Harvard, right?” Harvard junior Alexander Pinerot said.
So we’ve heard. But going to Harvard because “it’s Harvard” is about as smart as lighting yourself on fire because it’s cold outside.
From our interviews, we found that many of the students had the chance to attend another, potentially better-fitting, university. Yet the decisive hook was the name of an institution that recently whored itself out as a clothing line.
After a disorienting 24 hours in Cambridge, we were in need of reformulating our previous question — what the hell does Harvard MEAN to its students? The closest we ever got to an answer was Pinerot’s explanation straight from Harvard’s viewbook: “The resources here are pretty great,” he said. “The libraries, the professors, that kind of thing.”
For most of its 6,648 undergraduates, Harvard seems nothing but a tool that provides the right path to accomplish lifelong professional goals.
Allow us to illustrate:
A common type of student found at Harvard is the “political prominence seeker,” the kind of kid with a very clear, though supposedly secret, Napoleonic agenda. He is the first-semester freshman in the second row of “Introduction to Comparative Politics” (Gov 20) whose overeager use of the phrase “economies of balance” shows he’s also taking “Microeconomic Theory” (Ec 10). But don’t take his inane conversation to mean that he’s boring. No, he’s spicing things up by taking “Elementary Modern Chinese,” and he can totally deal with “Honors Abstract Algebra” (Math 55) — a course the Harvard Mathematics Departments Web site deems “probably the most difficult undergraduate math class in the country.”
This ambitious academician will eventually morph into a hollow Harvard hermit, a.k.a. the true Cantab.
The outcome of such Puritanical lifestyle is a hideously skewed concept of social life.
Exhibit A: The feminine voice that resonated across the Yard on Saturday morning was a product of our imagination.
“It was Nancy#^%*#$@ Pelosi!” she said, regarding the Speaker of United States House of Representatives’s visit that Friday.
“Yes, I felt a little guilty because I hadn’t finish my Gov paper, but sometimes I just need to give myself a treat.”
Sure, Pelosi’s a riot, but we’re quite convinced that she still pales in comparison to an actual party.
Exhibit B: Wellesley girls.
“Harvard guys spend four years learning how to behave like they’re in Final Clubs,” a Wellesley sophomore said in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, as she left Harvard’s campus on her way to a party at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “[Guys in final clubs] spend four years being surrounded by beautiful girls and not having to compete with other men, and when they leave Harvard they’re surprised they can’t get girls.”
Hold on. If the lives of current Harvard students revolve around determining the professional utility of each choice made in college — from academic responsibilities to extracurricular activities, leisure and (largely non-existent) personal lives — being a Cantab takes on a whole new meaning.
Maybe Harvard has more school spirit than we initially thought.
Less DownTown Dance club, More Post-Modern dungeon
No hard-hitting exposé would be complete without mentioning Harvard’s most time-honored and pretentious institutions: the final clubs.
Arguably the most famous examples of elite, possibly evil Harvard institutions, the College’s final clubs are “misogynistic dens for tools,” explained a Wellesley sophomore en route to M.I.T. Saturday night in pursuit of “actual parties.”
“When you collect the nation’s most power-hungry and risk-averse students and put them on the same campus, you’re bound to have unnecessary hierarchies,” said a Harvard junior over dinner. She asked us to omit her name because she said she is concerned her comments will jeopardize her chances of being selected as a board member for an organization.
These clubs inadvertently control the majority of social space on campus, the junior said. After poring over the plans of the college for a few hours, we’ve determined that the architects who designed Harvard’s campus were as fun as Harvard itself, so no one ever thought to create open spaces for large collections of students.
But not all Harvardians want to be part of the den. Some, though “punched” — that is, tapped — by a club during sophomore year, chose to reject the club.
“Final clubs were just never my scene,” Alexander Pinerot, a junior, said.
Our female junior friend said she is no longer as desirable as a freshman or a Wellesley students, who are recognized as “desperate, which is really convenient for getting into the clubs,” according to the Wellesley sophomore. So without entry into these clubs, and with few other options for parties, she retired to her room after our dinner on Saturday night to “chill out and sleep, so I’m refreshed for my Sunday morning meetings.”
Wondering if she were indeed serious, or simply tired of our company, we followed her to her room, where she continued to sit with her suitemate for 40 minutes, inappropriately impersonating Terry Schiavo, laughing about it for a few more minutes, then continuing to record the moment on a whiteboard titled “FUNNY QUOTES.”
At this point, we excused ourselves from the room and assumed the junior did indeed plan on going to bed at 9:30 p.m.
But that wasn’t the end of our dogged investigation. After separating, we decided to tour the clubs so as to write a balanced and informed piece of investigative journalism.
Starting with the Fly, we only made it down the entrance vestibule before a really large man guided us out of the house by our forearms, which is weird because we told him we wrote for The New York Times.
So we headed to the Spee and tried to enter by using the name of a friend of a friend. How well did it work? We barely made it into the parlor before we were again escorted out of the club. And then we tried the Fox, and the same thing happened.
But that’s not to say we failed as journalists. After being rejected from the major parties on campus, our options were limited to walking 20 minutes to a mediocre party in the rain or going to bed. We chose bed, and in doing so, we had finally achieved Cantab-dom.
By Sunday morning, we were sadder than Mather House — Morse’s sister house! — for having accepting this assignment. We quickly packed our bags, purchased lunch and headed for home — Yale. We may have missed Prohibition, we may have missed hot breakfasts, and we may have missed 48 hours of our lives, but at least we were about to be back on Old Campus.
When the Greyhound finally pulled into Union Station, the heavy stench of Subway’s melted cheddar throwing itself onto us like a long-lost puppy, we couldn’t be happier to be back in New Haven. We were about to be reintroduced to fun, to inclusivity, to happiness.
“Oh my God, you’re alive!” Cokey Cohen ’12, a Cambridge resident, exclaimed upon seeing us. “I was so scared you’d commit suicide.”
Cokey, if only you knew.