Perhaps because it’s college graduation and reunion time, L.V. Anderson at Slate has written a column entitled “People Still Say They ‘Went to College in Boston,’ Meaning Harvard? Please Stop Doing This.” She claims that by giving such an evasive answer, one “buy[s] into the overblown mythos of Harvard and the presumption of Ivy League superiority.” Or worse, it “functions as an elitist dog whistle,” and that those who may “react inelegantly” upon hearing one went to Harvard/Yale/Princeton and others are “insecure people who perhaps have not yet learned that Ivy League schools confer degrees on plenty of idiots every year.”
Here is why I usually say “Connecticut” or “New Haven” when I’m casually asked about college by passing acquaintances: it’s just so much fucking easier in almost all situations. Perhaps because Anderson lives in Brooklyn, and as she notes, works with colleagues who “have degrees from universities that rank highly on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list,” she runs in circles with many of those who do understand that Ivy League schools confer degrees on plenty of idiots every year. Great for her. This is not universal.
Let me suggest that she spend some time in flyover country. Where I come from in rural Ohio, very few people give a shit about Yale, or Harvard, or MIT. At my high school, way more people aspired to attend universities in the Big Ten than in the Ivy League. I’d not even heard the term “safety school” until my first week at Yale, or realized that so many in my Yale class considered institutions like Wellesley and Swarthmore to be such. (To be honest, I’d never heard of those colleges, and didn’t even know where Yale was precisely located until I applied. Somewhere out east was my best approximation). My alternate schools were both institutions in Ohio rather than the typical Ivy backups.
The Ivies just aren’t on the radar for many of us outside of the coasts, even those who could be prime Ivy material. Even Yale acknowledges this, as I wrote before–calling students in these states “low-hanging fruit” and claiming that we are tough to find. Over the years, even though I’ve enjoyed attending reunions and keeping up with my classmates, I’ve felt increasingly distant from my alma mater. Anyone surprised that there’s no “Yale Club of Cedar Rapids”?
So when I’m here in “flyover country” and discussing college, I’ve found in my 20-year-experience as a student and alumna that to bring up Yale in many circles is to do just what Anderson is accusing those who say “Boston” or “New Haven” of doing: buying into the overblown mythos of Harvard and the presumption of Ivy League superiority. Really, what conceivable reason do I have to name-drop? To many here, Yale might as well be Mongolia–people travel there about as frequently, and understand it about as much. It’s practically mythical, and those who’ve gone there may as well be unicorns when it comes to the frequency of encountering an Ivy alum in many areas. The Ivies are places of Romneys and Bushes and Kennedys, where people shit gold bricks and dress like this:
As such, it creates an artificial distance between myself and those I’m conversing with. I “other” myself by saying that I graduated from Yale. This might not be important in Anderson’s line of work, coaxing other upper-middle-class foodies to “go ahead and eat the cookie dough,” but when I’m out speaking with farmers and other community members in the rural Midwest, or meeting with potential students coming to a state school, you can bet that my background from a farming area in Hancock County, Ohio is way more important and relevant than my four years spent at Yale.
As Anderson should know, some of these conversations come down to knowing your audience. In Brooklyn, or in workplaces that are Ivy-heavy, I may agree with her. Maybe they’re really being faux-modest if they answer the inquiry about their college with “Boston” or “New Jersey.” In my professional biography I put Yale, and certainly will say that to academic colleagues when the topic comes up. But she’s flat-out wrong when she claims that “there is never any reason to answer the direct question ‘Where did you go to college?’ with an evasive half-truth.” In many of my conversations, I just don’t see the point in going into it, and in the past, it’s made both people involved feel awkward. If this makes me a “patronizing, self-serious jerk,” so be it. I’m the one who gets to claim my identity and own my biography, and I’m fine with being one who went to college in New Haven.