“So … this is kind of an awkward phone call … but we weren’t that safe last night … and I just wanted to see if you would be willing to take plan B or if you are planning on it.”
So went a recent phone conversation between a Yale sophomore and Quinnipiac girl on a Sunday morning early spring semester, the sophomore told me. He was starting to realize that his latest visit to Toad’s Place could have messed up the rest of his life. But the girl had it covered, having already taken emergency contraceptive, she told him.
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“Well, hey,” he replied, “if you’re down and in New Haven at all, give me a call.”
It was an interaction that was noteworthy only for how closely it conforms to what Yalies seem to think happens all the time. The name “Quinnipiac” — more commonly rendered “Q-Pac” on the Yale campus — conjures thoughts of “drunk and hot” girls wearing six-inch miniskirts stumbling back to the shuttle on Saturday nights — or stumbling back to your entryway. But on the school’s Hamden’s campus, it’s “QU,” not “Qpac,” and with the different nickname comes a different perspective.
* * *
For incoming Quinnipiac freshmen, the first image of Yale comes from a 2003 scene article titled “The Road to Nowhere (aka Quinnipiac).” It begins: “I don’t have chlamydia. And since I have no desire to acquire it, it would seem strange, at least according to conventional wisdom, for me to have any interest in Quinnipiac University.”
This article is required reading for the mandatory “QU 101” course that the entire school takes during freshman fall.
When freshmen Yalies are watching skits with cardboard shuttle cutouts and scantily clad females gold-digging for Yale guys, QU students are confronting the same stereotype, but on the receiving end.
“It got everyone’s blood boiling,” said freshman Adam Colon. “We don’t like our school getting trashed and looked down upon.”
Other students explained, though, that reading the article helped them confront the unfair perception.
Qpac (or QU) is simply not the doormat many Yalies think it is: U.S. News and World Report ranked Quinnipiac 10th in 2010 among Northern universities that offer undergraduate and master’s programs. A private university, QU has doubled its enrollment since 1987 to over 5,900. Its suburban campus is gorgeous, surrounded by tree-covered hills and scattered with modern Georgian architecture.
And according to the campus tour, Quinnipiac is one of the first campuses in the nation with high-definition TVs, but its own Commons still has regular def.
* * *
Over the course of a weekend before spring break, I ventured into the center of Yale-QU antagonism to get a better sense of Quinnipiac students and their social scene. I took a half-hour cab ride to QU senior Sarah Elisabeth Rosenbaum’s large off-campus house. In 2001, Hamden passed a town ordinance that prohibits more than four unrelated people from living in a house together, but Sarah’s place is listed as a two-family home so she can live with six other girls.
After a minute of introductions, we jumped in her car and headed toward QU.
“Try to look inconspicuous,” she said as we approached the guard checking off the cars going in and out. Quinnipiac has a closed campus, and since she lives off-campus she couldn’t register me as a guest. But the guard just waved us through.
We arrived at a 21st birthday party for a couch (yes, a couch!) named Lincoln.
But the irony didn’t end there. The scene wasn’t nearly as debauched as expected; even the music was kept low so as not to attract the attention of the residential advisers (RAs) who live in underclassmen dorms.
Sarah explained, “You’ll never see a huge party … It would be at risk of getting busted up by RAs. They’d come in, kick everyone out, and they could write up the people who live there.”
Though Quinnipiac is not technically a dry campus, it’s much harder to party than at Yale. Frats have no houses, don’t host events, and spend most of their time doing community service. The school’s policy on alcohol is significantly stricter than Yale’s, though a spokesman would not comment on specifics. As QU senior Scott Sheahen put it, the current president “has been bringing the hammer down more.”
“If you’re on campus and in someone else’s room, generally they’ll take down everyone’s name,” said Matt Andrew, editor-in-chief of the university’s independent online newspaper, the Quad News. “If you’re hosting [the party], you have to go to the residence hall director, and they’ll have a meeting with you and put you on probation.”
And getting caught can have serious consequences; for Sarah, probation for one drinking citation sophomore year almost cost her the chance to study abroad.
“I had to go through an appeal process where I needed four letters of recommendation from professors,” she said.
Sheahen agreed that the party scene wasn’t ideal: “The rooms are only big enough to have 30 people (and that’s far too much) … [they’re not] big enough to get a party together on campus and up until this year it seemed like every off-campus party I went to the QU security showed up with the Hamden police.”
In contrast, though the Yale Police routinely break up dorm parties, there are normally not disciplinary consequences.
And this Quinnipiac party was more sanitary than those at most Yale fraternities. Kids in polos were playing Beirut to the side, but they had their beer in hand and kept water in the cups to stabilize.
“It’s just after swine flu and all,” one kid explained.
Though half of the party was listening to top-40 hits and drinking Keystone Light, jealously guarded — even girls had to pay a few bucks for a can — around the corner sat 10 kids listening to Wavves. Some wore plaid; others had unkempt facial hair, and still more were working on a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. They weren’t part of what the 2003 scene article described as the “Tube Top League.” In fact, they’re members of a Quinnipiac indie scene, and they’re frustrated with the dominant campus culture.
* * *
“[At home] someone asked me if I ever watched ‘The Jersey Shore,’ and I said that I didn’t have to because I go to Quinnipiac,” said senior Sam Chaney. “When I was a freshman and sophomore I led a protest on the Iraq war and people looked at us like we had three heads because they hadn’t seen something like that before.”
Sheahen agreed: “I hate watching QU kids go down on the ‘slut buses’ but too many kids here are uncreative in going out.”
The first UrbanDictionary entry for “slut bus” is “The bus that carries Quinnipiac girls to Yale to party. Requirements for getting on bus: threeor fewer pieces of clothing, drunkenness, a low self esteem. And be ready to screw.”
The definition received nine “thumbs up” and one “thumbs down.” And, according to the Web site, a “slobcat” (playing on the school’s “bobcat” mascot) is a girl “who blacks out on the shuttle ride back to campus.”
“It’s a very top-down school where frequently, in order to get something organized, students have to get the proper stamps from student government, student center, stuff like that,” Chaney said. “There’s this environment where students are afraid to do stuff that’s risky or demonstrative,” he added, referring to his protests.
There’s also a sense on campus that the administration, led for more than 20 years by president John Lahey, has been holding a hard line in trying to clean up the university’s image. For example, Quinnipiac recently hired a special security officer for investigating drug-related activity; two sophomores were arrested on drug charges in October 2009 for possession of 21 grams of marijuana. The Quinnipiac security officers entered the students’ suite in the middle of the night, after being told they didn’t have permission to come in, according to the Quad News.
The article also recounted how, when the security guards shook a half-asleep student awake, he put one of the guards in a headlock. One commenter on a Quad News article said, “It is such a double standard that security is busting kids for chilling in their rooms and smoking pot, yet they HELP hundreds of OBVIOUSLY drunk and intoxicated students onto shuttles to new haven, [sic] twice a week.”
Lahey also cancelled May Weekend, a three-day bacchanalia before finals week, which in the ’80s had a beer tent for upperclassmen. The school replaced it with a significantly tamer “Spirit Week” and conveniently scheduled a “Relay for Life” during the final weekend in April, when May Weekend was traditionally held.
What the administration told the Quinnipiac Chronicle when it was cancelled back in 2007 was telling: “The goal of the university is building community, and May Weekend no longer appeared to show the university’s mission,” said Associate Dean of Student Affairs Carol Boucher.
But students were left asking: show to whom?
* * *
Quinnipiac’s image campaign backfired when they tried to crack down on the Quad News, which was formed when editors from the school-sponsored Quinnipiac Chronicle grew frustrated with the school’s policy of restricting the publication of breaking news. The University “stonewalled” the news source, instructing administrators and even student athletes not to talk to them and barring them from using most university facilities, according to current editor-in-chief Matt Andrews, who is descended from the second head of Yale.
But Quinnipiac students showed more grit than today’s Yalies might in standing up to harsh administrative policy. They publicized their plight and got the story picked up by national media organizations. Eventually The New York Times published an editorial condemning the administration’s behavior, writing that “instead of encouraging the students for their remarkable initiative, the school tried to retaliate against them for resisting its control and not toeing the line.”
“They’ve picked the fights, and we’re trying to fight back.” Andrews said. “Quinnipiac’s gotten some bad press over the past few years, and I’m not too sad about it.”
* * *
A 2006 article in the Quinnipiac Chronicle titled “What Makes an Ivy?” opened with the hypothetical scenario of the Ivy League shopping around for a few more members.
“It turns out,” it read, “Quinnipiac’s chances might not be too bad.” The article listed size, a Northeast location, athletic competitiveness, but then conceded only that “Quinnipiac may (emphasis added) not yet be able to compete on an academic level with the Ivy League schools.”
Chaney explained that “a lot of students have this mythological view that Quinnipiac is second best only to Yale.” We are their only rival, but we’re also big brother that doesn’t pay them any attention. “It’s tough to get between Yale-Harvard,” added Sheahen.
Quinnipiac’s equivalent of “The Game” is the men’s home hockey match with Yale. Even when the team was having a losing season, the arena was filled with over a thousand undergraduates wearing yellow “Beat Yale” T-shirts and brandishing thunder sticks.
The university opened its “TD Banknorth Sports Center” in 2007 at the cost of $52 million — the arena feels more like a concentrated Madison Square Garden than an ECAC rink. Aside from when QU scored, the crowd was at its loudest singing along to “Party in the USA” over the sound system.
I spent the time at this year’s game on Feb. 27 getting a sense of what QU students thought about Yale. Many expressed frustration over Yalies’ treatment of them during nights out in New Haven.
One female student said that “on Yale’s campus, it’s like cute girls only, and they just think of you as an easy piece. A Quinnipiac guy would never pick up a Yale girl.”
Freshman Ben Zaino added, “they’re all fucking pricks with tiny dicks.”
Adi Kamdar ’12 summed up what is perhaps the most prevalent Yale attitude towards QU, all jokes aside: “I don’t think about Quinnipiac at all, unless the news quotes a Quinnipiac poll,” he said. “It’s kind of an out of sight out of mind thing.”
Quinnipiac’s Polling Institute represents the university’s largest national presence. Rosenbaum explained that “it’s nice to be known for something. Back home it’s the first thing people think of.”
* * *
When I asked to talk to someone in the Quinnipiac administration about the relationship between Yale and Quinnipiac, I received this e-mail from spokesman John Morgan:
“Yale and Quinnipiac have enjoyed an excellent collaborative relationship for many years now and we look forward to that continuing as Quinnipiac experiences an unprecedented period of growth.”
I spent the end of the hockey game with four freshmen in the first row behind Quinnipiac’s goal. They had attended every home game, persevering through a 10-game winless streak through the dark of January.
This was the first game that they had covered their faces and chests with blue and yellow body paint, but they planned to do it for next season. They tried coming up with some anti-Yale chants before the game, settling on “Yale was my safety school” (though they admitted chanting that during the Harvard game as well). For one of them, Pat Duffy, Yale was the “cross-town rival, a real enemy to focus on” to get the campus united and behind their sports teams.
One asked me if it was “as packed at the Whale for the Quinnipiac game,” almost as if he wanted Yalies to care as much as he did. It was, but only ever since the Yale team’s started winning.
When Yale was at home, the students showed a lot of hostility. In the third period, Matthew Ellison ’10 explained that the whole Yale student section began chanting “fuck you, guidos.”
Ellison also attended the away game and noted that “the Quinnipiac kids were remarkably well behaved. I was waiting for the counter equivalent [of “fuck you, guidos”], but it didn’t come.”
The QU freshmen didn’t show any of the cynicism that marked my interviews with seniors.
“There’s nothing I’ve found out that I don’t like about the administration,” said Duffy. “There’s been a lot of expansion, which is great. They announced a new medical school, and since I’m in the physician’s assistant program, hopefully we’ll be able to work hand in hand with people who will eventually be physicians.”
The party scene wasn’t as crazy as the Yale stereotype let on. “We’re not partying every day like Animal House,” Brendan Geraghty said.
Adam Colon added, “it’s not like the movies where everyone is out of their mind crazy and belligerent. Most things are pretty controlled.”
They said they really appreciated the school’s recent athletic successes, seeing it as a way to unite a campus which houses students on very disparate tracks. Their parting message was this.
Said Duffy: “we’ll get you in hockey next time too.”