I was in Boston for a Sunday crew regatta during which Harvard’s lightweight women’s crew would hand us a beatdown of our own. But on Saturday, Tiger pride ran high. Jealous that we were missing out on the campus festivities, the crews stalked Facebook newsfeeds with religious fervor; we exclaimed “F*** Harvard” and walked around Boston as if we owned the place. The atmosphere was one of righteous vindication.
Yet, all this arm waving, expletive exclaiming, Tiger roaring left me underwhelmed.
Call me un-Princetonian, but I don’t hate Harvard. Sure, I catcall during the Triangle Frosh week show with the best of them. I laugh at “would’ve been an A at Harvard” jokes. I root against the Crimson when we play them in sports. But, when the applause dies down, the laughter fades or the clock stops, I forget my bursts of Tigerism.
When I stepped on Harvard’s campus for the first time, I didn’t feel a sense of indignant Tiger pride. When I finally saw our rival school, I was struck by the feeling that it would be a nice place to spend four years. Just that, in spite of what Princetonians may say to the contrary, Harvard is a top university set in a beautiful location. In fact, I have nothing but respect for the students at Harvard who face similar pressures to “live up to their potential,” to “make a difference in the world,” to “become the next generation of leaders.”
Yet, I find few on campus who share this positive view. Whether the anti-Harvard sentiment is expressed jokingly or seriously, there is no denying that Princetonians like to hate on Harvard. While Yale garners its fair share of criticism, it isn’t bashed as frequently or as fervently. Consider the difference between our reaction to our win against Harvard and our recent victory against Yale. The Yale game led to a round of #yalesucks posts on Facebook, but the Tiger spirit was more pro-bonfire than anti-Yale. Which begs the question: Why do we hate Harvard uniquely?
The most popular theory is that we hate Harvard because we’ve always hated Harvard, that Princetonians and Harvardians have a historic rivalry. After all, both are old schools steeped in tradition; both have met in athletic competition with their own shares of success; both look to attract the same high-achieving students to their ranks.
There are valid reasons to see Harvard as a competitor. It would be easy to dismiss the anti-Harvard culture on campus as bravado stemming from a long tradition of athletic and academic rivalry, but the culture goes deeper than that.
If the anti-Harvard culture were just about rivalry, it wouldn’t elicit the type of rancor that it does. People don’t just say “ Harvard sucks” while celebrating a football victory; I’ve heard the phrase in dining halls, libraries, classrooms, and dorms on campus. The feeling is so pervasive that Princetonians can’t seem to let Harvard float by in conversation without adding an obligatory “F*** Harvard.” Ask fervent Harvard haters what is wrong with the school and they’ll rattle off any number of excuses: the people are pretentious, it has exclusive secret societies, the undergraduate courses are taught by graduate students, it turns people into snobs. Leaving aside the fact that these are some of the same misguided characterizations that people often make of Princetonians, these excuses slide past a reason that is never mentioned.
What critics won’t say, and what is hard for me to admit as a die-hard Princetonian, is that we resent Harvard because it carries a little more prestige, perhaps because of its graduate schools, perhaps because it has been around longer. This is not to say that Harvard is a better school. Arguably the Princeton undergraduate experience trumps that found at Harvard. So, it irks us that Harvard pulls more applicants and posts a higher yield rate. It bothers us that “dropping the H-bomb” causes more stir around the world than “dropping the P-bomb.” Not that Princetonians want to be more like Harvardians, far from it. But I think a part of us, whether we express it, wants to see our school get the same worldwide recognition that Harvard receives. It is a hard truth to admit and one that rarely comes up in conversation, but one that shadows each “F*** Harvard” exclamation or “would’ve been an A at Harvard” joke.
So we don’t admit it. We push our insecurity down and prop ourselves under the mantra that “Harvard sucks” when really it sucks that Harvard doesn’t suck. It sucks that Harvard pulls more applicants and posts a higher yield rate. It sucks that Harvard says “Princeton doesn’t matter.” It sucks that Harvard undergrads don’t have to deal with grade deflation. It sucks that the Harvard name carries more prestige. It sucks.
But, what really sucks is not admitting it.
Rebecca Kreutter is a sophomore from Singapore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/11/19/31865/