I’m sure everyone at Yale has complained about Harvard at some point. I know I was less than thrilled with their lackluster undergraduate tailgate this year; I walked in, found myself in a sea of lumpy misanthropes and, with no keg beer to keep me afloat, left. Immediately. That night, I was again anti-impressed with the opportunities for gentlemanly social life (which basically entails a lot of yelling, as far as I’m concerned), as, apparently, “the Kong” was full. Much as I recognized the obvious party potential of a Chinese restaurant that served beer (move over, Toad’s), I wasn’t too broken up — I would’ve preferred fist-pumping to fortune cookies. My Yale friend and I ended our night eating cheesesteaks and watching “The 13th Warrior” in his Harvard-attending brother’s room, so at least the two hours of Vikings disemboweling cannibals ensured that the drive into Boston from my house hadn’t been a total loss.
But it’s only once every two years that the mundanity of our rival is really a salient issue for me. I take it pretty seriously when somebody doesn’t seem to understand that the way I support my football team is by milling around and falling over in a field hundreds of yards from the stadium — but the rest of the time, I don’t really worry about Harvard. It seems like a waste of time to contemplate the fun that I’m convinced somebody’s not having two hours north of here, when I could instead focus on the entertainment available here. I prefer the absolute question of how much I’m enjoying my time at Yale instead of a measure relative to some imaginary Lowell House kid who’ll spend the duration of his life regretting his non-matriculation to Yale. Maybe cutting little Y’s into his forearms.
Others here apparently feel different, though. Most folks at Yale don’t actually dwell obsessively on the intricacies of how and why Harvard is lame, or insist on pronouncing the school’s name “Hahvahd.” (Haw haw, it’s an accent; that’s funny for some reason!) Still, though, when some Yalies do have episodes of overzealous Harvard-animus, especially in public, it’s embarrassing for all of us. For the sake of an example, please refer to the 455-member Facebook group “Yale Is For Lovers; Harvard Is For Douchebags,” whose description acknowledges Yalies’ “fallen peers who have succumbed to the pinnacle of douchebaggery known as Harvard University.” The group’s one message board thread is titled “How to desicrate [sic] a Hahvad [sic] Certificate of Admissions aka [sic] Ticket to Hell,” in which various freshmen, admittedly prior to their arrival on campus, discuss how they’ve transformed that certificate into a mini-backboard over a trash can or reproduced it on a T-shirt with an anti-Harvard slogan — truly, some of the classier things you can do with admissions paperwork. One of the posters even suggests an “enormous ritual sacrifice of all things hahvahd” for incoming freshmen. (I myself contributed to this thread. My post assumes a markedly different tone from the others; of course, it’s unprintable.) Somehow, I am not reassured that we’re the future of American leadership by a jumble of vulgarity, misspellings and arbitrary capitalization.
Don’t get me wrong — I love Yale. I’m proud to be a current Yale student, and I’ll be proud to be a Yale alumnus. I look forward to showing up to the Harvard-Yale tailgate in a crisp blazer, laying out a delicious picnic and shotgunning a few beers with loved ones. You know, stuff old people do. But I’m proud to be an Eli because of the positive virtues I see in Yale, not because it’s a characterless complement to evil, mustache-twirling Harvard. I understand that it’s easier to forge a sense of shared identity in the face of an Other, but we have better things to bring us together than a bogus Boston accent. When Yalies fall back on these anti-Harvard tropes, it makes us all seem needy and self-conscious — it looks like the kind of insecurity and self-loathing that, were I a Harvard student, I would laugh at. (I laugh at those kinds of things.)
There’s nothing wrong with a healthy rivalry, of course, and competition can drive us to excel. But who we are shouldn’t have to be framed in terms of who we’re not, and fixating on how much someone else’s school “sucks” just distracts from how much ours, you know, doesn’t. If folks insist on loathing “Hahvahd” and the “douchebaggery” it stands for, that’s their prerogative, but I’m just not interested. I understand the historic rivalry and I appreciate it for what it is, but really, I don’t care about Harvard — I go to Yale.
Sam Heller is a junior in Pierson College. His column appears on alternate Fridays.