As I was walking through Commons yesterday, looking at all the anti-Harvard apparel, purchasing my 18th pair of “Harvard Sucks” sunglasses, and wondering, “wait, did Harvard actually kill the dinosaurs …?” it hit me: maybe we’ve been a little too hard on our neighbors to the north.
Wait. Don’t stop reading. I’m serious: In this time of global turmoil, political cacophony and really strange weather patterns, it is perhaps more important than ever to appreciate our fellow man for what is good in him, rather than perpetuate petty stereotypes and unnecessary rivalries. There are good things about Harvard, and it is up to us, as the more mature, more cosmopolitan and more humanitarian of the two ancient rivals, to find and appreciate them.
For example, its mascot! What better supports world peace and harmony in these troubled times than representing your school with one of the only nouns in the English language that couldn’t possibly defend itself or cause harm to others: a color! There were so many directions they could have gone with that — while seemingly harmless — that would have left open the door for potential destruction of their fellow man. Trees (see: Stanford) can fall on people. “Volunteers” can sometimes be overzealous, and some made-up mascots like Kent State’s “Golden Flashes” even sound like they could wreak some havoc. Hell, even Dartmouth and Cornell add “Big” to the front, which implies something that at least has mass, might be intimidating, and therefore could, presumably, enact violence. But with an eye towards safety, conflict resolution and global stability, Harvard has chosen Crimson. Truly admirable.
Similarly impressive is Harvard’s willingness to set aside historical differences in order to embrace present realities. Rather than hold a grudge against the English nobility that had forced the colonists to head for the New World in the first place, rather than create a new, uniquely American brand of higher education in the colonies, John Harvard & Co. took a very different approach. They gave money to the Massachusetts legislature to build a school modeled exactly off the haughty, elitist institutions of their (beloved …?) England. In a show of cultural respect and forgiveness only Harvard men could display, the university’s founders modeled their school quite closely after one of the bulwarks of English cultural elitism: Cambridge. Same town name, same Cantabs (a name for a “Cambridgian,”), same superiority complex. Why try something new when life under the Church of England and English bureaucracy had been treating them so well on English soil? Certainly better to forgive differences, subject yourself to the king, and instantly establish a hierarchy on the New World’s formerly blank canvas. Again, there’s much to be learned from here.
But this week is about sports, and while we compete as enemies on the field, we really can take a lot from the athletic endeavors of our ancient rivals. They made some pretty valiant efforts against Yale teams this fall: For one, they mustered a whole seven shots against our eventual Ivy League Champion Bulldog field hockey team in a 5–1 loss (admittedly, we had 36, but who’s counting). They also almost won a set in two 3–0 losses to our eventual Ivy League Champion volleyball squad (certainly nothing to scoff at), and the Crimson pushed our men’s soccer team to the brink in a heartbreaking 1–0 loss. Hell, Harvard even won a game in New Haven this fall, needing no more than a highly questionable overtime penalty shot to get a player free of Yale’s defense and convert the game-winner against our women’s soccer team. Pretty impressive stuff.
So when the Elis and Cantabs take to the field at the Yale Bowl Saturday, let’s not make it a day about hated rivals, but rather a day of mutual respect. They are, after all, U.S. News and World Report’s No. 1 university in the country according to the 2012 rankings. And those tell the story. Retention rates, alumni giving, class size — undoubtedly infallible judges of a school’s worth. And while those rankings would certainly have a different look if things like student happiness, overall kindness of the student body, and general student attractiveness were considered, we need to give Harvard its due. The phrase “Harvard Sucks,” in itself, then, is simply not correct. Rather, just remember: it’s all relative: “Harvard sucks compared to Yale.”