Thursday, July 21st, 2011
321

What's Invisible At Harvard: A Conversation

Last week, The Paris Review's blog ran "Harvard and Class," a piece by Misha Glouberman (co-authored by Sheila Heti) about the challenges of dealing with class after attending "an upper-middle-class Jewish day school" in Canada and then going to Harvard—which, hmmm! As two recent Harvard grads ourselves, we wanted to offer a slightly different perspective on class, race and the Ivy League, as well as what it’s like to be offered $40 by your peers to remain invisible, please.

SJC: The first thing I thought of while reading the article was Dorm Crew [a student-run cleaning service]. You were one of the first people I met at Harvard—we both signed up to do Dorm Crew the week before freshmen normally arrive on campus. In retrospect that was one of the few prescient choices I actually made while at Harvard—it sucked, but it helped me meet a lot of people from backgrounds similar to my own straight off the plane.

KW: Oh man! Dorm Crew. It seems like so long ago, and I think part of that is actually because the experience of Dorm Crew was so very different from the rest of my experience at Harvard. When we finished that week, I thought, "This is a thing I could keep doing as a job while I'm at school." And it paid pretty well, and I did it for about a year, and during that year I realized, "This is not socially acceptable, apparently."

SJC: SAY MORE.

KW: Okay, so I signed up for Dorm Crew like, pretty quickly, because it just seemed like the obvious choice. I didn't really have any other options for having money upon starting school. It seemed like "having money" would be a good idea, and "getting a job" in a city I had never been to before seemed impossible. And everyone was so cool! We listened to Michael Jackson all day long and cleaned, and it was really fun, and I remember thinking, "These people are not intimidating, they're pretty normal." And everyone was from somewhere different. It was actually really diverse, and it didn't really dawn on me until a while later that that’s not reaaaaally what Harvard is like.

SJC: I signed up for the same reasons, but it seemed fishy to me from the start that there were all these pre-orientation programs, and you could, like, shell out $400 to do a week-long arts program or an outdoor camping trip, or you could get paid $8 an hour to clean toilets for a week. It was better to do Dorm Crew at the end of the year, I think—you found all the stuff people left behind after moving out of their dorms. A friend found that Burberry scarf once; people would leave crazy stuff, couches, televisions, appliances. I think I got an Ethernet cable. I was juiced. Those things were $10!

KW: Oh yeah, I FORGOT. That is such an interesting and crazy thing, that as you clean rooms, you find all of these often-expensive things that graduating students just LEFT BEHIND. And you can keep them if you want. Someone on my crew found a tennis racket and said, “Sweet, I'll sell this on eBay." It was like, "How fun! Plunder!"

KW: But also, that’s insane.

SJC: Yeah, Dorm Crew is actually a good shorthand for the class situation at Harvard. To some people the service is totally invisible, and to most of the people doing it (at least, to me) it is a window into a world that is equally invisible. A world where you’d abandon a brand new Burberry scarf ($325).

KW: Yeah. And a TV. And a tennis racket. And a winter coat. Because they’re “just too big to move.”

SJC: Scarves do take up a lot of room. Do you think the reason you found it uncomfortable to do Dorm Crew during the semester was that you actually had to enter occupied rooms and clean classmates’ bathrooms, instead of just cleaning up after people had already left for the year?

KW: Yeah. That was a big part of it—but I don’t think it’s only that, because when I decided to do it during the year, I thought, “It COULD be awkward cleaning the toilets of your peers, but I don’t think it will be.” The culture they tried to create around Dorm Crew was "it’s respectable to work"; it makes sense to get paid to do something useful while you’re in college; doing “service” work is not something to be looked down on. And I kind of just thought you’d show up to people’s dorms and they’d say, “Yeah, I did Dorm Crew too.” But actually a very small percentage of people do it.

I also suspect that one of the reasons dorm crew even exists is to save Harvard the money they would have to spend hiring unionized workers to clean the bathrooms. Because then they would have to pay for benefits like healthcare. So you're actually simultaneously helping Harvard to fuck over its domestic workers AND being judged as inferior by your peers. Which is all very complicated and difficult to deal with as an 18 year old, really.

[I]t seemed fishy to me from the start that there were all these pre-orientation programs, and you could, like, shell out $400 to do a week-long arts program or an outdoor camping trip, or you could get paid $8 an hour to clean toilets for a week.

SJC: Right, and the theory behind Dorm Crew is probably also motivated by a healthy dose of the "working for your education teaches you character, and cleaning toilets teaches you even MORE character!" line of thinking, which is its own separate Harvard problem and is reflected by many other financial negs that constantly only affect people who have little money—yet were intended to teach all of us about sacrifice, character, etc. I HAVE SO MUCH CHARACTER NOW, THANKS. That’s why I’m taking part in this classy conversation, dissing our alma mater.

KW: There’s this myth of self-sufficiency and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps that is cultivated obviously not only at Harvard, but Harvard is such a great way to hyperbolize it: You, Harvard Student, are no different from anyone else in this country. You could start with $0 in your pocket and through hard work and ability become the president one day. All you have to do is avoid the temptation of spending all your money on take-out. Feel great about the fact that you’re here, because it means you’re smart and not lazy like all those poor people out there who didn’t make it to Harvard. It definitely has nothing to do with privilege or social capital.

SJC: I believe you have my favorite Harvard story about secret wealth. Several of my favorites, but I’m talking about the car one.

KW: Wait, which car one? I’ve already forgotten it.

SJC: The one where the chick from your section had the secret Escalade? That her parents paid for her to park at the Charles Hotel all year? To me that was the epitome of Harvard class interactions: everyone seems relatively normal, then all of a sudden you find out the person next to you in lecture has a Cadillac they pay to park at a four-star hotel.

KW: There are so many stories like that. And it's not as if everyone at Harvard is super-rich, although certainly plenty of people really, really are—but you feel discouraged from talking about class. So everyone ends up assuming that their peers are "just like them," because they are just like you in the sense that they're 18, and scared about taking college classes. And it’s only when things accidentally slip out that you realize you have very little in common OTHER than Harvard. I feel like the only place I ever really got to talk about class was with other students in the black community, because it’s impossible to talk about race without talking about class, so we learned to be pretty honest with each other.

SJC: In my experience everything about class was silent and coded. It would slip out in weird ways sometimes. Once I had invited this professor (who shall remain unnamed, but who was, for the record, a genuinely smart and lovely person and a dedicated teacher who gave me the first A I ever got on a paper at Harvard), to a faculty dinner. We were making small talk. He asked me where I was from. He asked me what my parents did, and I said they were a nurse and a cop. This was, junior year? Now I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t get an A until junior year, but whatever—it was far enough in that I had figured out that lots of people in the Harvard community were weirded out by jobs like “cop” and “nurse” even though I had always thought those were really pretty middle-class jobs? Ah, naïveté. I still remember the look on this guy’s face—and he said, in possibly the most weirdly condescending tone possible, “Oh, how interesting. So how do they feel about you being at Harvard?”

KW: Jesus. Yeah. I don't think I ever told anyone what my parents even did. I told people my mom was a teacher and left it at that.

SJC: Oh my god, is your mom not a teacher?

KW: No, she is. But even when we first got there, it was very apparent that “teacher” might be acceptable, although “professor” was preferable, and that I should only tell people my dad was a construction worker, and that he had passed away, if I wanted to suffer through the worst conversation of my life. Because that was zero people's experience. And no one knew how to react.

SJC: Before and after college I felt/feel extremely lucky to have had the background I have. But there? It was essentially my first experience learning that class didn’t necessarily correlate with money.

KW: Exactly. One of the things Harvard does train you to do is to fit in. You don’t want to make a scene when people are putting on their big display of middle/upper class-ness. And even if you did want to make a scene, there’s almost no language in America to assert the idea that being from, say, working-class, rural America doesn’t make you the butt of some joke or another, without falling into the equally problematic language of “real America” and "Wall St. vs. Main St," etc.

SJC: And trying to fit in just ends up meaning you’re not a part of ANY group, which was the saddest part of Glouberman’s article to me. This line: “There was someone who was the first person in her town to go to Harvard, and she talked about how this completely tore her apart, and how the whole time she was at Harvard she always felt out of place and everyone treated her badly, but when she went home everyone thought she was stuck-up so she felt out of place at home, too.”

I think a lot of what we’re talking about now is not Harvard itself, but Harvard as a lens for what happens when you get stuck between class “spaces” in America. There is probably a social sciences word for class "spaces.” Feel free to insert it.

KW: Actually, there’s not. Social scientists LOVE the word “spaces.”

SJC: I also want to talk about that ONE SINGLE LINE about race in this piece.

KW: God.

SJC: Let’s see: “There was this African American guy who described a kind of racism that had been invisible to all of us."

KW: SO MANY THINGS are wrong with that sentence. 1) You feel so uncomfortable using the phrase "African American" that I can feel your discomfort through the computer screen; 2) what the hell, "us?"; 3) despite the fact that he told you, you obviously didn't listen because you can't describe the racism—you can only call it "a kind of racism;" 4) it was invisible to all of you.

SJC: The "us" really gets me there, as well. Was every single other person at that panel white? Literally, no one had been confronted with their own privilege before then? This reminds me of the house dues debacle, actually. How did that even start?

KW: First, there was an email about the house formal, which is ever so fancy—and such a nice way to train your young little Harvard students to go to black tie events and swing dance with champagne. Anyway! To go you had to pay “house dues,” which were, let's say, $40.

SJC: And if memory serves, the event was so popular they would lock down the entrances to the house for two days around the event so people couldn’t sneak in. Meaning if you didn’t buy a ticket it was actually a hassle to get into or out of your home for a while. Plus the obvious problem of being excluded if you couldn’t afford the $40.

KW: And since they didn’t sell the tickets through Harvard’s official box office, the financial aid fund for student events couldn’t be applied. And I thought that must be a mistake. So I sent an email to the house open list saying something like, “Hey, I can’t remember but I thought there was a financial aid thing for this—if you’re on financial aid what should you do?” and happily left the house thinking, “When I get back someone will have answered my question.”

SJC: Oh, innocence.

KW: When I got back, there were a billion emails waiting, each angrier than the last. People were fighting about whether the cost was too high or whether $40 was “not even much money,” and blah blah blah. So I sent another email, thinking, “This has just been a misunderstanding.” It read something like, “Hey guys, sorry for unsuspectingly causing a scene, I just wanted to know what the policy is. Can anyone tell me?”

SJC: But it wasn’t a misunderstanding.

KW: It was not. The two emails I remember most vividly are: 1) the girl who informed me that a Subway had just opened in Central Square, and if I didn’t have $40 maybe I should get a job; and 2) the guy who said he’d “pay me $40 to stop bitching.” Seriously, what the hell?

SJC: And the thing you sent back, which I remember vividly, explained that you already had not one, but two jobs.

The whole thing seemed structured to teach you, “Yes, as long as you can talk loudly and confidently enough that everyone shuts up and listens, you have the right to tell me I don’t have any rights.”

KW: But the icing on the cake was that after that, me and another friend get called to go down to talk to THE HOUSE MASTER (…because no one thinks that title is problematic), because we were being disruptive on the house list and they didn’t want a fight. Overall, he was nice, and agreed to put monitors on the open list and not make us pay for the formal, but at the end of the day it was still a situation where my friend and I had to explain why we were mad and ask for help. Whereas the people who actually said incredibly classist and racist things, did not, in fact, have to answer for their actions.

SJC: Typical Harvard. Happy to throw money at problems when you point out they exist, but there is very little “let’s teach people how to be respectful” or “let’s be proactive about potential conflict” in this situation where everyone’s interacting with people with very different backgrounds for possibly the first time.

KW: "Oh, you've been demeaned constantly every day you've lived here? Here's $40. Enjoy the chocolate fountain."

SJC: I remember having “discussion section” for a course being just baffling to me, too. It's pretty much the exact opposite of a working-class public school classroom: you get taught there—and at home, if your parents are like mine—that the teacher/authority figure is in charge, infallible, and should be listened to without interruption. Being told to discuss 400 pages of Clarissa with my classmates at Harvard was like being asked to do this completely alien thing, opposed to everything that had been scared into me about the way education works. So basically I sat there for four years seething, thinking, “Why are my parents paying quite a bit of their hard-earned money for this unwashed grad student to sit back and watch me talk?”

KW: The current grad student in me wants to point out that I do actually shower regularly, but yeah, I think that’s really interesting. In my freshman writing class we had to read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and then tell the professor what we thought, and I just remember thinking, doesn’t this guy know the answer? Why is he forcing me to sit here and listen to assholes go on and on about something? But I think a lot of it is really training people that they have a God-given right to voice their opinion on any subject. Because we all know Harvard turns out a lot of politicians. And you need that skill.

I remember another infuriating moment in a moral reasoning class; we were having a “debate” about what counts as a human right and what doesn’t. And this guy was going on and on about how education is not a human right and here’s why, and it just dawned on me that one day this guy is going to have a job in government. The whole thing seemed structured to teach you, “Yes, as long as you can talk loudly and confidently enough that everyone shuts up and listens, you have the right to tell me I don’t have any rights.”

SJC: TALK LOUDLY WITHOUT AN ACCENT AND PEOPLE WILL LISTEN. And now we have serious opinions on Harvard and class which we want other people to read, so I guess that the system works? Did this conversation just eat its own tail?

KW: Yeah, I was just thinking, why bother writing a thing; people will just think, "Oh look you Harvard douchebags, writing another thing about Harvard.”

SJC: I agree, BUT I do think that for one reason or another people actually read things written about Harvard (see: social capital), and those things don't tend to be written by people with this perspective, really. Unless it’s really sensationalized and made-for-TV-movie-ish.

KW: True. Harvard also teaches you how to act as though you are more worthwhile than other people, despite the fact that it doesn't teach you much of anything worthwhile. Which is why it’s no wonder people who didn't go to Harvard immediately try to prove to you they're more worthwhile than you, upon realizing you did. I have had my feelings hurt more than once by someone who thought they were elevating themselves to “my level,” but actually it just felt to me like they were putting me down for no reason—when what was actually going on was "Harvard."

SJC: You know, our five-year reunion is next spring. I was pretty opposed to going for, oh, all of the reasons covered above, but a friend was in town last week and we fell into talking about how Harvard was a miserable place to go to school in a lot of ways, and probably only the people whose entitlement it most rewarded were going to go to the reunion, and she said, “Fuck it, we can’t let them take our reunion. It’s our reunion too. We have to go.” I mean essentially we ARE Harvard as much as the people who fit the archetype—they let us in, so we don't have to buy the myth…

KW: …that we don’t belong?

SJC: Exactly.

KW: I will go to the reunion, because that is the thing—it might have overall been a horrible institutional culture that teaches you terrible things about class and race, but there were also a lot of people there who were smart and kind and self-aware who learned to be critical of that culture. And I would like to see all those people again, and have drinks with them at Charlie's Kitchen, whilst eating waffle fries.

SJC: And if Harvard grads are going to “run the world,” it could very well be people who think the same way we do. It will not be me. I’m too lazy. But it would be a real shame if we just ceded that social capital Harvard does convey to the people who were loudest and acted most entitled.

KW: Wouldn't it be nice if one day Harvard was just a school and not all of these things people like to imagine it is? But as long as it is all of those things, we don't do anyone any good by allowing them to believe that the only people who come out of it are upper class, white and hate you.

SJC: We should make t-shirts. "I went to Harvard, and I love you.”



S. J. Culver is a writer with limited web design skills. Kaya Williams is probably a graduate student somewhere.

321 Comments / Post A Comment

iantenna (#5,160)

cue the troll from the unemployment stories thread…

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@iantenna as boyofdestiny alluded to yesterday, Daniel.CLS is sleeping (we tucked him in tightly) and we don't want him awakened, shshshsss…

jolie (#16)

HOO BOY.

You know? I think I'm going to step away from the Internet and have a glass of wine for lunch.

jolie (#16)

@jolie Before I go though, let me tell you why that girl hid her car: She was afraid that you'd assume she thought herself better than you (and a whole host of other things that people assume when you come from money) because of her family's wealth. She wanted to been seen by her peers as 'normal' not 'different than'.

deepomega (#1,720)

@jolie Indeed! I mean, but, there is a lot to unpack there? Like, why did she have a Cadillac at all? And where did the idea of "normalcy" come from? Was it something she wanted, or something her parents wanted for her? Etc. (I'm not trying to lure you back into an argument, promise)

jolie (#16)

Disclosure: I have never hid a Cadillac.

deepomega (#1,720)

@jolie: As the saying goes, let he who has not hid a Cadillac cast the first blog comment.

cherrispryte (#444)

@deepomega The idea of normalcy can be traced back to Warren G. Harding's presidential campaign of 1920. He ran on a platform of returning life in America to its pre-WW1 state.

City_Dater (#2,500)

@jolie

Or (as in a similar situation at my own stupidly expensive and private undergrad U) the poor little rich girl's parents simply could not wrap their minds around the idea that their daughter did not need a car and first-year students were not allowed to have a car on campus anyway, so they got around the system by paying a mint to store the thing elsewhere.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Golf carts.

@City_Dater : DING DING DING WE HAVE A WINNER.

Seriously, did we go to the same school? Because obviously we knew the same girl and once we found out, her life was a living hell. Not because her fellow first-years mocked her for being a child of privilege, mind you — a living hell because we were constantly harassing her for rides to the beach. I mean, SHE HAD A CAR.

In retrospect, I think it was a Volvo station wagon rather than a BMW, but damn her overprotective parents must have paid so much money for off-campus parking.

Jon06 (#18,237)

I was class of 2006 and I'm sad that we weren't friends. Thank you for so perfectly articulating everything about Harvard that makes me so uncomfortable about having gone to school there.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

I kinda thought this was the best thing I've read about any Ivy in ages? Well, maybe tied with this.

jaimealyse (#647)

@dntsqzthchrmn Amen.

This was great. I've heard and seen other people speak about this education not being a right thing and it repulses me. Fight the power.

Weird, I've never read any article on what it was "really like" at any other school unless I was reading an alumni magazine in somebody's bathroom. I guess the rest of the nation's college grads have already figured out that nobody cares where you went to school or how it did or did not surprise you. Why does Harvard think it is exempt from this rule? The Social Network or something? It's hardly acceptable in polite conversation to rant on like this and while I know the Internet conversation is not always "polite," I think a few of the same rules still apply. Such as, STFU about your college that no one else went to. Wait, I feel like the Internet shorthand is not quite forceful enough: Shut the fuck up.

jaimealyse (#647)

@Missing Child No Reward I didn't go to Harvard and found this really interesting, especially in the ways it reflected my experience, and in the differences between what these two are writing about and how college/class/etc was for me. Differences that then, yknow, taught me things about my own experience and about other people's lives. God forbid we should get a glimpse into another person's experience of the world.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@Missing Child No Reward: So you're saying this was a humblebrag. Also, you studiously avoid David Denby (wise choice) and therefore missed Great Books. OK. I disagree, but whatever.

By the way, the ending of your comment was uncalled for.

roboloki (#1,724)

@Missing Child No Reward know what i really like about teh internetz? the little close tab thingy at the top of the page. sounds like you should try it.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Missing Child No Reward: Indeed! Who would want to read about someone else's experience that they did not have? NOT ME, FOR ONE. Someone please create a vertical for TheAwl that is entirely about things that have happened to me.

iantenna (#5,160)

@Missing Child No Reward And I quote, "It's hardly acceptable in polite conversation to rant on like this", and "[s]hut the fuck up". Your self-awareness is off the charts. Oh, also, shut the fuck up.

@dntsqzthchrmn The spelled out STFU was directed at the larger Internet/other alums who might be writing similar pieces.

@iantenna See? Doesn't that feel good?

@deepomega I'm saying this is an experience we've read about many, many times before.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Missing Child No Reward What would a cunt like you know about polite conversation?

@Kevin Knox What would a piece of shit like you know about cunts?

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Missing Child No Reward I clicked the "thumbs up" button on this comment to thank you for illustrating my point. Have a nice day.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

Well that escalated quickly. Now that the prudes have been scared away, we can really get into this.

deepomega (#1,720)

@whizzard Sounds like something a piece of shit would say.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@deepomega No, you are.

"We're dicks! We're reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks. And the Film Actors Guild are pussies. And Kim Jong Il is an asshole. Pussies don't like dicks, because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes: assholes that just want to shit on everything. Pussies may think they can deal with assholes their way. But the only thing that can fuck an asshole is a dick, with some balls. The problem with dicks is: they fuck too much or fuck when it isn't appropriate – and it takes a pussy to show them that. But sometimes, pussies can be so full of shit that they become assholes themselves… because pussies are an inch and half away from ass holes. I don't know much about this crazy, crazy world, but I do know this: If you don't let us fuck this asshole, we're going to have our dicks and pussies all covered in shit!"

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@whizzard "Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident."

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@Kevin Knox Yeah I saw that.

Samantha (#11,171)

As a non-Harvard former Ivy Leaguer, I have to say that this is so spot on that it makes my stomach hurt. In fact, I want to make it into a pamphlet that I can hand out to people when they ask whether or not I liked my school.

@Samantha Seconded by another non-harvard ivy league grad. I did get a good education, bookwise, and I also got a more insidious education in How People Act In Order to Win in the World that, frankly, I would have been happy to skip. Except maybe it was a good (if painful) lesson to learn early in life, IDK.

rebeccakp (#16,182)

@Samantha So agree. I've occasionally been asked to talk about my alma mater (not Harvard, but similar student demographics) with kids who are applying to that school, and I can't figure out how to clue them in, diplomatically. It was a privilege to attend my school, but students might be better off going into the experience knowing that "trying to fit in just ends up meaning you’re not a part of ANY group".

deepomega (#1,720)

Fucking great. Seriously. I would like to buy each of you a chocolate fountain and give you forty dollars.

(I am so, so, so glad I went to a smallish state school right now?)

Bittersweet (#765)

@deepomega: Seconded. I went to a smallish private college with many of the same race and class issues but fewer unwashed TA's and none of the Harvard brand awareness. Sometimes it's good to be anonymous.

All my friends who are Harvard alumni are generally too embarrassed or vaguely ashamed to talk a lot about their college experience, but WHOA Dartmouth people, they sure seem to think they invented college.

jolie (#16)

@Charismatic Megafauna Oh honey. It's called "false modesty" and it's a Harvard specialty. (See: "I went to school in Cambridge.")

Backslider (#819)

@jolie The more sophisticated articulation is, "I went to college in Boston, well, Cambridge actually."

zibzob (#18,241)

@jolie GAH, i don't think anything sounds more condescending than "oh honey." seriously, that makes my skin crawl.

jolie (#16)

@zibzob Mmm you may be on to something there!

jaimealyse (#647)

@jolie I went to a different shmancy school, and I honestly am sometimes, depending on the situation, reluctant to name it. Sometimes it's an asset, sometimes it's impressive, and for myself I'm glad I went there because I learned a lot and met my best friends and had a great four years (similar in some ways to what's described here, but happier, I think). But sometimes to tell people where I went to college is to set up all sorts of wrong assumptions about where I come from and what my attitudes are.

Also plenty of times people respond with, "Whoo, you must be smart," which, I mean, in some ways, sure, but "Fuck yes I am" is never a helpful response.

I guess that means I hide my Cadillac of a degree. Probably in my invisible backpack.

jolie (#16)

@jaimealyse Darlin' from now on I'm going to insist you answer them with "Fuck yes I am." It's what I've done forever and always when people give me that response (OOOH HUMBLEBRAG I ALSO WENT TO A FANCY SCHOOL!) and I just laugh and laugh every single time.

'Cause you know? Fuck 'em if they're gonna make assumptions. You can't change what people will think, nor can you change the truth. Which is what I would tell Cadillac gal if I could get my hands on her.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

@Charismatic Megafauna I've told people I'm from New Hampshire and got "Oh, I went/go to school in New Hampshire." Obviously I probably know the school you went to, there are like six of them. They just like to hear you ask "where." Work for it.

jolie (#16)

@Joey Camire "Oh UNH is a lovely school!"

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

@jaimealyse Whenever anyone asks me where I was before I moved to New York, I personally am never quite sure whether to say "At an august institution you would tremble to look upon, plucking the fruits of highest knowledge from the tree, bow before me, peon," or "Oh, just up in New Haven."

sakade (#52)

@jolie "Wait wait, lemme guess…Franklin Pierce? Keene State? No?"

At fancy Massachusetts boarding school, "I'm from New Hampshire" was always met with "Ohhhh cuuuute I have a house in New Hampshire!" I started responding with "SHUT UP no waaay! SO DO I!"

jolie (#16)

@MollyculeTheory "Oh Albertus Magnus is a lovely school!"

jolie (#16)

@sakade I'm trying to refrain from both screaming with laughter and asking "Oh which school?"

jaimealyse (#647)

@jolie Okay yes, and I do love to be like "Yes I am!" but sometimes I am trying to make things easier, like when meeting my boyfriend's extended smalltown family and trying not to peg myself as so strange and different, already being Jewish and New Yorkian and Artsy. (I'm not sure they all knew about the Jewish.) So while I don't lie or demur, it's not something I'm eager to volunteer. You don't always have the freedom to just fuck 'em for making assumptions.

sakade (#52)

@jolie I usually HUMBLEBRAG about it and just say "I went to school in Concord" but then sometimes if they know their shit they'll press and be all "Oh, Concord Academy?" [subtext: you? boarding school? musta been one of those "artsy" schools, like NMH, or CA] and then I drop the bomb: Middlesex, ya'll. GO ZEBRAS?

jolie (#16)

@jaimealyse In such cases "I studied really hard in high school" coupled with a shurgsmile has worked for me. Because, again, if someone's fmaily is going to judge me negatively for going to a good school so what? (And they have! I have had that happen to me! But what am I going to do about it?) Also if it's not come up in conversation, why would you volunteer it? That's not hiding something, that's just not being the kind of person who randomly interjects factoids about themselves into a conversation.

jolie (#16)

@sakade lolllllllllllll

klemay (#18,251)

@Charismatic Megafauna I am also from NH, and from now on, when anyone tells me they have a house there (everyone has a house there!), I'm going to take your "NO WAY, so do I!!!!"

pkle (#18,258)

@Charismatic Megafauna: "I went to college in Boston, well, Cambridge actually."

I hate this so much because now whenever I tell someone – even someone from Boston – I go to school in Boston, they ask, "Which one, Harvard or MIT?" I doubly hate that it makes me feel like a failure for not being at one of those two.

And then I hate myself a bit for being comforted by the fact that I'm working on a PhD, as if somehow playing any version of the classist game doesn't mean I lose. Why do I still buy into these broken models of success/worth/happiness?

jaimealyse (#647)

@jolie Fair point, I thought-slipped from answering the question to having had other people volunteer it about me, and having felt embarrassed.

Also: four years ivy league, Still can't spell embarrassed.

RK Fire (#10,307)

@jaimealyse: I used to do the "I went to Boston in grad school" because I felt awkward about some of the possible reactions, but between having other people volunteer it about me (as you mention) and learning from the internet that it's seen as humblebrag, I've just decided to own the fucking thing. I am going to be paying back a fuckton of student loans, so why not?

Joey Camire (#6,325)

@jolie You worked really hard in high school? ** Fans Hisself**

jolie (#16)

@Joey Camire Aww!! I give you an A for effort and a B minus for execution.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

@jolie Thanks, Dear.

RK Fire (#10,307)

@RK Fire: Hm. Let me take that back: I'm not going to be, I currently *am* paying a lot in student loans. It's been a long day, etc.

atipofthehat (#797)

@MollyculeTheory

Was "Blocks" Biloxi really class president?

jolie (#16)

@Joey Camire Now that?? A++

Joey Camire (#6,325)

@jolie I had just been itching to get that first one out for days. Once I got comfortable it was just… wonderful. I've been studying your ways for some time now.

@Joey Camire : To be extra comfortable, wear a nice summery dress. That's what all the cool kids are doing.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose I'll drop the cowboy hat immediately!

haelig (#18,239)

As a Crimson alum, all I can say is a resounding Yes: this dialogue is spot-on about the weird class issues that permeate the place. I think a lot of us eventually found the circles where they fit in: for me, my friends came from similar middle-class backgrounds, all on financial aid/working jobs and we shared interests; and then there were the people who were regulars on Newbury Street and the finals club scene, the athletes, etc. But I skipped the 5-year reunion and am still on the fence about the 10….

lempha (#581)

"I think a lot of what we’re talking about now is not Harvard itself, but Harvard as a lens for what happens when you get stuck between class “spaces” in America."

It's funny cos you are also exiled from your space in non-upper class America, generally, when you come out, even if only to yourself.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Harvard is so great.

Why is everyone so fucking nasty about the fact the these two crazy kids went to harvard? Wow they were bright, had goals but didn't have a lot of money. ASSHOLES.

atipofthehat (#797)

Are there colleges in the U.S. where there are no class differences?

Or is this a discussion that could have been much more general, peppered unnecessarily with a single brand name?

melis (#1,854)

DeVry.

@atipofthehat Hampshire.

seejohnstun (#18,621)

@My Number Is My Address That is definitely false. As a recent 5-college grad with a number of Hampshire friends, I found that college to have one of the more bizarre versions of higher ed class tensions, mostly because a large portion of the population there so earnestly branded themselves as social activists 'fighting the good fight'. It was a different form of classism and performance of privilege that at Harvard, but all of the things these two writers discussed happened at Hampshire- and at the other 5-colleges, to be sure.

@seejohnstun I don't doubt it for a minute.

Eric Spiegelman (#3,968)

So here's a legit question. In the film industry, if you ask someone where they went to school, and they say "Boston," what they mean is "Harvard." Is this a pretentious thing or an insecurity thing? Or maybe a pretentious form of insecurity? ("I think you'll think I'm superior if I say Harvard and I don't want to put you through that.")

jolie (#16)

@Eric Spiegelman It's a pretentious thing. And the response you should give is either "Oh B.U. is a lovely school" if they've used the Boston version and "Oh M.I.T. is a lovely school" if they've gone the Cambridge route. Makes 'em NUTS. It's so satisfying!

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@jolie bu sucks

Annie K. (#3,563)

@Eric Spiegelman I agree it's pretentious. I think it's a reaction to the olden and even more pretentious days when you didn't say, "When I was in college," you said, "What I was at Harvard." Olden joke: how do you know if someone went to Harvard? because they'll tell you.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@Annie K.: You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much haw haw haw bleeaaghgghgh oh I'm sorry was that a REAL persian rug?

@jolie Speaking of, how come no one ever writes about that other place in Cambridge? Doesn't anyone care about the nerd experience?

jolie (#16)

@major disaster I think those pieces run on Splitsider?

@jolie Ha! Touche. (But also, technically that's more geeks, than nerds, isn't it? And also, sorry, I can't help it.)

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@major disaster I have a pipe dream of furthering my geekiness at MIT, if you were referring to that one. Also, the MIT Simpsons episode was pretty good.

Mandanza (#18,255)

@Eric Spiegelman A Harvard grad told me that she hated the reactions that people had to "Harvard" – often, fawning awe or threatened defensiveness – so she was trying to just avoid that conversation without lying outright.

@whizzard Yep, that's the one. Partly I was trying to get in a half-jokey reference to how we saw Harvard when I was in college. Harvard gets made fun of a lot at MIT, but a lot of it comes from a weird place of insecurity because Harvard gets sooo much more attention.

Nabonwe (#12,500)

@Eric Spiegelman I'll start some shit about MIT. Last night, I went to play tennis at MIT with a ladyfriend, and we signed up for some courts. I – as POLITELY as I possibly could – told them we had reserved the spot, and let them play another game. As they left, I said, "Thanks, guys, we really appreciate it." And the dude did not reply, but looked me up and down, and then said, in his most withering voice, "Do you even GO to MIT?" My head almost exploded off my shoulders in rage, because you know he wouldn't have asked us that question if we hadn't been ladies.

I lied and said "yes" because the true answer to his question (my boyfriend does and he gave me his ID number) would have reinforced his worldview so hard, but I wish I could have preserved my honesty and murdered him instead.

Annie K. (#3,563)

@Nabonwe That wasn't about you, or about anything about you, or even about your ladyness. It was @EricSpiegelman's question about pretension or insecurity and in this case I diagnose at long-range, extreme insecurity and a low GPA. He was a fucking idiot, is all. They're everywhere.

Bobito the Payaso (#44,569)

@Eric Spiegelman It's an arrogant thing. I know. I used to give that answer. I secretly thought I was better and smarter than all the rest of the assholes. It's false modesty. Humility comes later, when one realizes that without cash it's hard to buy a Harvard degree.

Kate Ward@facebook (#18,244)

Class of '05. Fired from Dorm Crew for "sedition."

Once referred to Abercrombie as "overpriced" on a House Open list and got ripped a new one.

Also think it's wack to act like the great prophet of Harvard's class issues in an article in the Paris Review.

Thanks for this.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@Kate Ward@facebook Were you surprised that someone ripped you a new one for dissing a line of clothing which is worn by a large number of people over an email list with several hundred people on it?

Bittersweet (#765)

@Kate Ward@facebook: "Sedition"?!? What did you do, ask the kids to pick up first before you scrubbed their floors?

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@The Best Jeffrey No, she was surprised that so many people felt that much attachment to and umbrage on behalf of a fucking brand.

melis (#1,854)

@The Best Jeffrey And you, sir, are no Jeff Barea. That is the Awl's first, and best, Jeff.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@melis I know, I'm living a lie! Also, I'm not actually a Jeffrey, which pretty much rules out being the best one.

@Kevin Knox But I think the criticism of the brand was taken (and perhaps intended) as a criticism of the customers too in this case. As in, "look at these fucking rich kids who have all this money to waste on Abercrombie". I mean, if that wasn't sort of the implication, why was it even mentioned in this thread?

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@The Best Jeffrey For someone who's accused the authors & some commenters of misreading the motivations & intentions of others, you certainly have a pretty free hand with the sweeping generalization.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@Kevin Knox If you'd like to give an alternate explanation of why Abercrombie was brought up in this thread and of why people on the house list were bothered by the email, I'm all ears.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@The Best Jeffrey Or you could just ask the original poster.

Nicholas Jahr (#5,267)

"Discussion sections" killed me. I worked my way through most of the latter half of my life as an undergrad, and had to choose my classes accordingly. Then there would be extra classes, held at hours determined by consensus, in which everyone would get a sense of which of the 1,000 pages of material assigned that week they should actually be reading. Drove me nuts.

laloca03 (#8,010)

funniest line in the whole piece: "Wouldn't it be nice if one day Harvard was just a school and not all of these things people like to imagine it is?"

er… no. because then it wouldn't be Hah-vahd.

leahpapazoglou (#18,242)

Props to the intelligence of this conversation, but I think you were on to something about "eating its own tail," though not maybe in the way you think. Elements of the dialogue read like an exercise in privilege itself. Having to clean toilets instead of going on an Outward Bound excursion? Working two jobs? Yes, you did these things – while you were enrolled at the most elite institution of higher learning in this country, a place that is a byword par excellence for privilege and access. Consider that many, MANY people who lack your academic pedigrees work several jobs, many of them more unsavory than domestic housework, and at the end there's no brand-certified diploma and network of alumni awaiting them. They don't have access to discussions of "spaces"; in most cases they lack the social capital to advocate effectively for themselves. Thank you for shedding light on the particularly pernicious and hypocritical ways that Harvard's culture worked to keep privilege invisible (which, QED, is what privilege always is), but my sympathy is provoked mostly by your naivete in not expecting you'd find this atmosphere at a place whose whole existence is built around exclusion and perceived superiority. (Though, in fairness, what 18-year-old can tell privilege from a can of Pringles?)

Nabonwe (#12,500)

Oh, DAMN. You are having a reasonable and somewhat touching discussion about class at Harvard, and then you leap into this shit about grad students and you have to make me smack you down.

You hated Harvard because it was full of rich people who were awful not because they were rich but because they were entitled: because they lived a certain lifestyle and lacked the thoughtfulness and the imagination to recognize that there were other ways of being –different backgrounds, histories, lifestyles, incomes, etc. Being entitled isn't about being rich; it's about being so self-absorbed that you assume that everyone else should conform to your standards, and if they don't, they're invisible to you, unworthy of your curiosity and interest. Entitled people don't question themselves. They are not self-aware.

You can come to Harvard and reasonably say, "I am unfamiliar with the style of learning that happens in a discussion section. I feel it puts me at a disadvantage relative to students who are more capable of performing in this venue, and I have real questions as to how effective it is." That is thoughtful and useful and not entitled behavior at all.

BUT. If you show up to a discussion section and you say (or think) "This isn't the way I'm used to learning! I went to a working-class school and fuck this unfamiliar shit, it means nothing to me and these people I hate are better at it, so it must be a useless waste of time!" you might be entitled.

If for FOUR YEARS you just sit there stewing in your rage about all the MONEY your parents are spending on this bullshit (because spending money means you deserve to get what you want, immediately, no questions asked), you might be entitled. If you don't approach a professor or a TF and ask them about how to participate in discussion or make the meeting a better use of your time make a better use of your time, then you might be entitled. The opinions of your classmates aren't always perfect, necessarily, but surely at least some of them are valuable…though not, apparently, to you, because you are entitled. And if, to add insult to injury, the reason that you reject the discussion section is because only the presence of the "real" professor, the brand-name guy, the authority figure, the famous person – is meaningful to you, and the graduate student (who makes less money than your parents do, and probably makes less money than you are making RIGHT NOW) is nothing more than a faceless "unwashed" subhuman for you to feel superior to, because you are just so sure about how your education ought to work…

Well then. You might – just might – be entitled.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

@Nabonwe The hypocrisy of everything.

I guess, when something makes you feel bad it automatically feels like it is wrong and not your own perspective on it. It's hard to question your own feelings.

Maybe a little acrimonious, but very well said.

yesimagradstudent (#18,248)

@Nabonwe Yes, thank you! The point of discussion sections is not actually just to be assholes, waste students' precious time, and turn them into assholes.

katiebakes (#32)

@Nabonwe That part stood out to me too, particularly the whole "why is this professor asking me about Plato when he already knows?" Isn't that kind of a big part of teaching?

ennaenirehtac (#11,592)

@Nabonwe Yesyesyesyes. I was totally with them until they started complaining about discussion section. Your high school didn't let you discuss what you were learning, so that means it must be a waste of time??? ???

Also, another good thing about discussion section is that it's where your cool grad student T.A. can disabuse the class of some of your brilliant-but-crazy professor's more…dubious claims. Yay, sanity checks.

RK Fire (#10,307)

@ennaenirehtac: And sometimes you can eyeball your hot grad student TA and wonder if they're available..

crap. This isn't Ask a Dude or Ask a Lady?

Joey Camire (#6,325)

@RK Fire That was my absolute favorite game!!! It translates ok on the subway, but you can't build as elaborate of an imaginary story in your mind in such a short time. Over the course of a semester, it get's pretty complex. Fights. Make-ups. Intelectual discussions over jamaican beef patties…

Ellie (#18,264)

Like many of you the comment on discussion sections bothered me too. The best classes I ever took were discussion based. The only problem is that you have to have "good" kids in the class for it to be a good class. I've taken a couple discussion classes where only a small percentage of people ever contributed and that's less fun. I was lucky to go to a school with pretty small class size and I know that at Harvard the class sizes tend to be much bigger. If you had mostly douchebags in a class, which is a scenario I can conceive of, I can see why you wouldn't like it as much.

I was totally with you up until the "discussion section" part. Isn't that the sort of thing that makes great colleges really great? The professor is not supposed to just give you the answer to Plato's Allegory of the Cave. He is supposed to give you the opportunity to consider the "answer(s)" for yourself. The professor's job is to ask questions that never even crossed your mind, thereby expanding your intellectual horizons when you go looking for the answer. And yes, partly, I'm sure it is about getting students comfortable with the idea of expressing and defending their opinions in front of their peers.

But yes, it is super annoying when the same people keep going on and on. Professors should definitely step in once they start getting redundant and allow others the opportunity to speak.

NinetyNine (#98)

They like to tell you they went to school in Boston, frequently.

Ellie (#18,264)

@NinetyNine I find it nearly impossible to believe that this is a real thing. There are a million schools there, including (this may be surprising) a bunch that have such a lack of name recognition that it really would be easier to just say what city the school was in, and if you lived or went to school in the area you'd know how confusing it would be if you actually wanted someone to know where you went to school. In short I'm hard pressed to believe that someone answering "Boston" for "Harvard" didn't actually mean that for w/e reason he or she didn't feel like mentioning the school's name.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

This is a real thing.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@Ellie It is a real thing, typically motivated by not wanting to be the douchebag who can't wait to tell everyone they went to Harvard, sometimes mixed with look-how-humble-I-am.

lotsoftreble (#2,715)

Both this article and the previous one and the comments end up being about the same thing. You can say "I went to Harvard". You can say "Harvard is just college". But saying "I went to Harvard; Harvard is just college" starts a whole weird conversation of its own.

ennaenirehtac (#11,592)

@lotsoftreble: I don't know. I went to college; from these accounts, Harvard does not seem like just college.

lotsoftreble (#2,715)

@ennaenirehtac It is just college, except for the fact that everyone has to have this weird conversation about it all the time.

Bobito the Payaso (#44,569)

@lotsoftreble Move out of the US. Where I live no one outside of university professors has heard of Harvard.

Matt (#26)

Little late on this, I was at lunch (at an Italian place that doesn't grind the pepper for you, the fuckers!), but; has anyone mentioned Yale yet?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@Matt: (Buckley accent) Not directly

katiebakes (#32)

@Matt One in four, maybe more!

Matt (#26)

@katiebakes That was really the only thing I wanted to do with this thread, before Nic turned it into three-dimensional layer tennis.

riotnrrd (#840)

@katiebakes One in two, maybe you?

@Matt In my experience Jalies talk about it (and ALWAYS by name) more than Cantabs but I have more or less perfectly achieved a Cantab-free existence so they might be doing it beyond my hearing.

NinetyNine (#98)

Needs more 9/11 chapter.

Matt (#26)

Dude, screw New York.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

I’ll see you, you piece of shit tomorrow. Love you.

"whilst"

Matt (#26)

WHO THINKS IT'S ALL SUCH A LAUGH AND THE BAKED BEAN STAINS WILL COME OFF IN THE BATH

NinetyNine (#98)

Harvard is so bad in bed.

Matt (#26)

Explain Harvard to me in three sentences.

iantenna (#5,160)

it's that place where minnie driver went to school in that one movie that is basically THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK ON CLASS AND HIGHER EDUCATION, LIKE, EVER. class dismissed (GET IT? YOU GET IT.).

ennaenirehtac (#11,592)

@Matt: Harvard is supposed to be where the smartest people go. When you get there, you find out that it is actually where the richest people go. You are uncomfortable for the rest of your life.

ETA: You can also substitute "America" for "Harvard" and "succeed" for "go" and it still works.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

@Matt "Money, power, respect it's the key to life."

Do I get extra points for one sentence?

Bobito the Payaso (#44,569)

@Matt About half of Harvard students seriously think that one day they will grow up to be President of the US (or whatever country they come from). About half of the rest are actually related to the president of some country (these are the foreign students), or at least some large corporation (these are the minority students). Then there are Matt Damon and a few other kids from around the block.

NinetyNine (#98)

People still want to go to Harvard? Good for them!

klemay (#18,251)

I've experienced something similar at my school. I think the worst part is when you get, "Oh, you go to [expensive private university]?" and they assume you're a privileged asshole. Because, no, I worked my ass off to get here and I have to put up with those privileged assholes every day.

jolie (#16)

@klemay Oh dear, that must just be terrible for you.

klemay (#18,251)

@jolie Excuse me for being frustrated that I had to work much harder than most of my peers to get here but I'm still discounted as a brat anyway.

I realize that there is still a *lot* of privilege in going to school where I go. But mommy and daddy aren't paying my way through, and it's frustrating when people assume that they are.

franolan (#18,253)

@jolie May I ask what your angle is here? I can't figure out what you're doing with all the dears and the honeys and darlings. What is your experience with this?

jolie (#16)

@franolan Oh me? I'm just being a bitch. Dear.

cherrispryte (#444)

@jolie Bless their hearts.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@franolan This is a funny comment.

franolan (#18,253)

@jolie Claiming that classism doesn't exist (or isn't at all significant) in largely upper-middle class institutions like Ivy League colleges and telling people to "buck up, DEAR" because you have not had the same experience that they did is ridiculous. Being bitchy is your right, but those here who seem to suggest that the two writers don't have any legitimate complaints are misguided, in my opinion. You've had your experiences, and I've had mine, in which I was reminded in various subtle ways that I didn't quite fit. These experiences smarted a little. It wasn't the end of the world, and further, that doesn't seem to be what the writers are suggesting either. I asked you what your angle was not be a smart ass, but because I was interested in your opinion. Nothing more. Nothing less.

jolie (#16)

@klemay Actually no I will not excuse you from making the sweeping statement that anyone whose parents have paid for their education is a "privileged asshole" and "brat" who did not work to get to where they are. Sorry.

jolie (#16)

@franolan Where did I claim that classism doesn't exist? Jesus Christ. Your question came off as flip, and I answered in kind, but my apologies if I misinterpreted it. To give you a non-snarky answer read Joey's comment below. I think he does a really good job of getting at what my problem is here.

franolan (#18,253)

@jolie Just because Joey didn't feel that the whole Harvard vibe was belittling in any way doesn't mean that classism isn't relevant or even *significant*. I can appreciate his (and your) sentiment, hell, I may not have made some of the same choices as the authors regarding the house pass, yet taking umbrage that people in these institutions have had different experiences seems petty.

jolie (#16)

@franolan Actually I took umbrage at the fact that klemay up there has created an "us versus them" construct in his mind based on how one pays for education.

franolan (#18,253)

@jolie I was really referring to the tone you've been employing throughout the entire thread.

melis (#1,854)

Not to be a digitist, but look at Jolie's commenter number. God, it's so low. It's so low. Yours is so high. Like, student loans high.

deepomega (#1,720)

@melis *eyes up and down* Do you even comment on The Awl?

klemay (#18,251)

@jolie It's not an "us" vs. "them." I suppose I shouldn't have assumed people would know what I was talking about since I didn't even mention my school, though. There is a population at my school who fit into the "trust fund babies" category and they are truthfully obnoxious and inconsiderate (to the community around our school, to the services workers at our school, etc). They are not the majority of the student body, but to the community, it seems like they are. It's frustrating to be lumped in with them when I am a hard-working, respectful person.

klemay (#18,251)

@klemay And for the record, it's entirely possible to have your education paid for and not be an asshole about it. I'm not going to assume that someone who comes from money is a jerk. But some people just have a sense of entitlement. The rest of us have a right to be annoyed by it.

Ellie (#18,264)

@jolie I tend to agree with you. My parents paid for that of my college that financial aid didn't cover (though I have significant student loans) and I feel terrible whenever someone ridicules and belittles those who didn't put themselves through college, which you will read a lot in internet comments. I know people who significantly contributed to their college education, people who got a full ride and worked for all their spending money (which I did as well), and deeply admire those who did so. There's always virtue in working hard and supporting yourself, but there's nothing particularly virtuous about turning down help from your parents if they are happy to provide, as long as you realize that you are fortunate in this respect, and aren't ignorant of others' situations.

I also feel like it is a frankly ignorant assumption that a person who went to a certain prestigious institution is necessarily materially privileged. With the increasingly huge emphasis on diversity in upper echelon secondary education, it should be obvious to all reasonable people that a degree from somewhere is more a message about their personal merits as a student and individual than of their family's social class. It may be true that more people are "legacies" in the Ivy League but this doesn't count for so much overall.

klemay (#18,251)

@Ellie Yes. Just yes.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Ellie "With the increasingly huge emphasis on diversity in upper echelon secondary education, it should be obvious to all reasonable people that a degree from somewhere is more a message about their personal merits as a student and individual than of their family's social class." aaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahaha. Really? All reasonable people agree that attending an elite university has nothing to do with privilege? Really.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@deepomega Nope, just that it is MORE a message about their personal merits as a student.

Ellie (#18,264)

@deepomega I thought I had mentioned this in that post, but I just realized it was actually in a different post below, where I note that "at many 'good' universities the majority of the student body is probably upper middle class, with some upper class and some lower middle class, and that this is due to social circumstances where being materially advantaged means you're more likely to get into and want to go to a 'good' school."

Of course it's true that those who start out materially privileged are more likely to attend these "great" universities. But it's also important to note that Harvard doesn't just take rich kids; they reject thousands upon thousands of them, and that this is a reason that a Harvard degree means more than that you have money.

What I meant wasn't that it's *likely* that someone with an Ivy League degree has a working class upbringing, but that it is UNREASONABLE to assume that every person who went to a "good" school is from a high social echelon. But when pressed, yes, I have to agree that if you graduated with a high GPA from a challenging university such as Harvard or MIT or wherever, that really does say more about how intelligent and diligent a student you are than about how much money your family has. Ultimately you can't really buy academic success.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Ellie: You can't buy academic success when you're actually in college, no (except when you can a little!), but you sure as shit can buy academic success when you have 18 years to dedicate to it. Yeah, it says something about intelligence and diligence, how do you think the students got that way? This is what I'm saying about privilege. It doesn't mean "paying the professor two hundred dollars to pass a test", it means being brought up in a home environment where everyone (parents kids etc.) is 100% dedicated to getting the kid into an Ivy.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@deepomega Absolutely, a family can "buy" a better environment for a child to learn and to succeed through expenditures of money, time, and effort, and also simply through being skilled parents or through endowing their children with cultural advantage. I think what Ellie is pointing out is simply that the child also has to be an active participant.

Ellie (#18,264)

@deepomega I guess I'm just not so cynical as to think that the only reason some people want to go to good schools, have parents who encourage them to go to good schools, and study hard enough to get into and do well at good schools is because their family has a lot of money. I might be biased because I was very academically successful. But I know many families where one kid in the family wanted to go to a good school (Harvard, even), was motivated to try to get in, and did, and a sibling wasn't interested and didn't go. I probably went to the "best" college of the people in my extended family, and my family DEFINITELY doesn't have the most money of our relatives. None of my relatives who went to a less-"great" school is broken up about it, I'm not upset that I didn't go to a "better" school, and nobody treats me like a child of privilege because I went to a good school. I also really hate the frenzy of college admissions, having read a lot about the subject, and firmly believe that there are many good schools, a prestigious school won't be the right school for every kid, and that unless you have very specific ambitions (a good law school, I-banking, politics) it probably won't matter much where you went to college if you did well and improved yourself. I get the sense that a lot of the readership of this site is the kind of person that is very conscious of the differences between different colleges, but I don't think the rest of the world necessarily feels that way.

You also have to WANT academic success in order to "buy it" via parental encouragement, tutoring etc. over the course of 18 years. Many people with the financial resources to do so aren't interested in it, and many who don't are. I think that academic interest (wanting to go to a good school) is substantially different from other types of expression of financial privilege.

harrumph (#18,649)

@Ellie It's actually pretty reasonable to assume that anyone who went to a "good" school comes from a wealthy background. From a NYT piece earlier this year: "When we spoke recently, [Amherst President Anthony Marx] mentioned a Georgetown University study of the class of 2010 at the country’s 193 most selective colleges. As entering freshmen, only 15 percent of students came from the bottom half of the income distribution. Sixty-seven percent came from the highest-earning fourth of the distribution. These statistics mean that on many campuses affluent students outnumber middle-class students."

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/business/economy/25leonhardt.html?pagewanted=all

(oh, I swore I'd never register. I SWORE! sigh)

Ellie (#18,264)

@harrumph I have a slightly different definition of "reasonable assumption" because I think wouldn't consider an assumption that could be in error as frequently as 15% to be reasonable, but maybe I'm just being hyper-sensitive.

I do think there is SOME merit to the fact that the most intelligent people may tend to be the most successful (financially), in a broad statistical analysis, but obviously this can't possibly account for the way colleges admissions skew toward admitting the wealthy. But you also have to recognize that "good" schools don't have a better way of admitting the smartest, best students than selecting kids with the highest GPAs, with good recommendations, who apply. Harvard has no way to admit a brilliant kid who, say, drops out of school to sell drugs like some of the kids in the 4th season of the Wire, or even a brilliant kid who does great in school and doesn't drop out but is never encouraged by anyone to apply because nobody in his or her world would suggest or encourage it, and both of these scenarios are a function of socioeconomic class. Perhaps Harvard and similar schools should cast their net wider, but a) all such schools are already deluged with the upper-middle-class employees, so it's easy to see why this is not the most attractive prospect, even if it's the morally correct one b) this is one of these problems that you can most easily blame "society" (public schools, the economy, the US's socioeconomic caste system, etc.) for, that colleges have a limited scope of influence in.

I recognize that "Not all rich people go to 'good' schools" is a terrible argument for the fact that "good" schools have a majority of well-off kids at them, but I also think it's a shame to end up saying that kids at good schools are only there because they're rich. It's not true of all the kids at those good schools, as this article ably demonstrates, and moreover it's unfair to all the students equally to dismiss their individual merits like that.

Ellie (#18,264)

@Ellie I bizarrely wrote "employees" where I meant to write "applicants." They sound alike?

Matt (#26)

My Ivy League diploma is good.

osmium (#7,705)

@Matt Harvard seems so passe to me

Matt (#26)

The Harvard Crimson proposal was in 'zine form.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

The Daily Herald was in jpeg and youtube-embed interspersed with text form.

jaimealyse (#647)

@Art Yucko Hypertext!

Art Yucko (#1,321)

oh yeah- and remember how they always gave you three free MP3 download links at the end? good times.

LondonLee (#922)

My wife works at Harvard. If she's still there in 15 years our kids are going there for free, then they too can hate all their classmates whose parents bought them a car, 'cause I sure as hell won't be able to afford one.

LondonLee (#922)

My wife works at Harvard. If she's still there in 15 years our kids are going there for free, then they too can hate all their classmates whose parents bought them a car, 'cause I sure as hell won't be able to afford one.

zibzob (#18,241)

@LondonLee LOLOLOLOL Harvard employees kids do not go for free. (or at least, I'm talking about staff not professors.) Their salaries are so low that their kids qualify for quite a bit of financial aid, but they still have to return part of their salary at the end of the year.

franolan (#18,253)

I once had a college professor who was known to be rather dickish, and upon hearing that I was from a family farm in one of the flat states said to me incredulously, "Why, how did you get here?" This took place during our class introductions.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@franolan "Hitchiking, mostly. Had to blow a few truckers but, you know, higher education & all…"

Joey (#18,252)

I went to Harvard, did Dorm Crew for all four years. Was on financial aid, middle class parents etc. A majority of my friends were in the same boat, though not, by any means, all of them. Some were very wealthy. You guys sound absolutely obsessed by your lack of privilege. Sorry you had a shitty time. People are people, and if you obsess about money and class, well, then people will start to segregate themselves in your eyes. My experience was that smart, funny, pleasant people enjoyed each other's company, regardless of socioeconomic background. And assholes are assholes. Sure, there were some cliques whose parents all had houses on Martha's Vineyard, and they acted all snobby. We didn't hang out with them. Sure, I was a bit shocked when I found out freshman year that some girl down the hall had just spent $400 on dry cleaning (my pizza budget for the year?) But in the end people are people, and if you felt uncomfortable, I suspect it's because you at least partially got off on the concept. The guy who told you he'd give you $40 to shut up is a dick. But the act of emailing the whole house and proclaiming "I'm on financial aid and I want someone to subsidize me some more" is the action of a bomb-thrower. Go to your reunion. It'll be fun. Although, if you weren't able to enjoy college, who knows, maybe not.

jolie (#16)

@Joey I WOULD LIKE TO GIVE YOU A BIG HUG AND MAYBE OFFER TO CLEAN YOUR TOILET FOR YOU.

Joey gets it. <3 <3 <3

Matt (#26)

@Joey MOLOTOV COCKTAIL IS THE MIXTURE OF GASOLINE AND KEROSENE, A HARVARD RADICAL IS THE MIXTURE OF BULLSHIT AND JIVE

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

> bomb-thrower

So what Joey gets is that you're supposed to internalize the class anxiety? Yeah, no.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Joey "the act of a bomb thrower" – any time someone compares talking to blowing people up it gets REAL hard for me to not make unfavorable comparisons to other people who said "sit down and shut up, you'll ruin it for the rest of us." Like I think I have a nosebleed now.

Joey (#18,252)

@deepomega Oh, this whole thing about how we can't use well-accepted metaphors? You've never heard of the term "bomb thrower" to refer to rhetoric? It gets REAL hard for me know where to go from there. Please see defition 3:

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bomb%20thrower

I assume you get equally mad when people "take aim" at something even though they are clearly not talking about guns, etc etc.

Jim Demintia (#1,815)

@Joey "People are people"

This seems to me to be a good way to avoid having to talk about class differences, since it begins by making differences irrelevant.

Joey (#18,252)

@dntsqzthchrmn Straw man. There's a world of a difference between "internalizing anxieties" and announcing something to the entire listserv (and then being shocked, just shocked, upon getting some dickish responses, even though dicks exist everywhere). I had dozens of productive and fascinating conversations about class and race in my four years there. None of my friends ever "internalized" any of this stuff. My point was just that when emailing hundreds of people, about, well, pretty much anything, you should have a reasonable expectation of what may result. See Mandanza's comment below on a nuanced take on how one might address the issues that inevitably to come up. It's telling that you refer to these fault lines as "anxieties." Do you think that a student-wide listserv is the proper venue to resolve one's "anxieties"? Would you email the whole dorm about your fear of spiders?

@Joey We didn't learn the term because we didn't go to Harvard.

Joey (#18,252)

@Jim Demintia Sure. Conversely, seeing the world through a perpetual prism of class differences seems to me a like a good way to ensure that the differences between you and other people will inevitably prevent you from bonding over what you have in common. Discussing differences always goes over much better once you've established how much you have in common. I realize not all people feel that way.

Joey (#18,252)

@Butterscotch Stalin Constructive.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Joey Yes yes sure. Also "I don't see race" and "women just need to try harder to break that glass ceiling" and &c &c. We'll fill in the Meritocracy Mad Libs from here, bro.

RK Fire (#10,307)

@deepomega: Mad libs? Isn't there a bingo game now?

@Joey It is, because it happens to be true.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@Joey: If you don't assume that I'm going to copy and paste a prepared remark about scare quotes, I won't assume you've got an explanation of straw men at the ready, 'k?

Or maybe we should just all listen to Bobby Bare's The Winner now.

Joey (#18,252)

@deepomega An whole marching army of straw men advance on your command! I wave a white flag. Well done. P.S. I'm a girl.

It's completely mystifying as to where Harvard grads got the reputation for being so insufferable, because this discussion has been very rewarding.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Joey: Huh. It's almost as though… women…. can be unfeminist? Or… or poor people… can be assholes about class? O brave new world.

To get down off my high snarkhorse (it is a type of horse, look it up on urban dictionary) ((sorry)): "I was middle class at Harvard and didn't feel any class issues" is bullshit. It's just as bullshit as "I'm black and I don't have any problem with the Rodney King beatings" and "I'm a woman and have never had a problem getting a job." And you are definitely welcome to add your voice to this conversation, but then you say "if you felt uncomfortable, I suspect it's because you at least partially got off on the concept" and that crosses the line from sharing a different perspective into being. Well. Uncharitable? I'll leave it at uncharitable.

Joey (#18,252)

@Butterscotch Stalin Too many years at Goldman Sachs has rendered us immune to sacrasm, so I'll just say, why thank you, I've very much enjoyed the discussion as well :)

Joey (#18,252)

@deepomega you called me "bro."

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

> it gets REAL hard for me to know where to go from there

First, breathe. Next, say, Oh! I think we have a misunderstanding. I was using that term to mean x, and you read it as y. Oops! Then, we all hold hands.

Then I say, no. You're still judging KW for not having understood the rules of the game, and actually you're probably a lot harsher about what you perceive as her mistake because, I don't know, maybe there's some there but for the grace of going on. Whatevs. It's your (and Harvard's) world, I just herd text in it.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Joey: Bitches can be bros, gone brush your shoulders off.

Joey (#18,252)

@deepomega Any time someone draws a comparison between the discomfort one might feel about a man getting beaten nearly to death for being black, and the discomfort someone might experience, on the way to acquiring a diploma from one of the world's elite univestities, from the fact that some of his classmates wear more expensive shirts, it gets REAL hard for me to.. _____ (VERB, NOUN)

Also, I don't think I ever said "I didn't feel any class issues." In fact, I think I gave several concrete examples.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

> Too many years at Goldman Sachs

You don't have to do this.

@Joey He could have called you "br0."

And, ah, I see that it's ok to feel discomfort about violence now. Glad you were able to make that transition, duder.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@dntsqzthchrmn "Backdoor bragging is sneaking something wonderful about yourself in everyday conversation. Like when I tell people it's hard for me to watch American Idol cause I have perfect pitch. You try it."

Joey (#18,252)

@dntsqzthchrmn The reason the sentiment of this piece ticked me off is I guess this: we aren't talking about poor people here. We are talking about middle class people. People who still take vacations, (just not to St Barts) and who wear perfectly normal clothes, who go out to eat sometimes, just not at the drop of a hat. I'm sorry, but the people like this that I knew at college, and I knew many, did not feel under siege. We did not feel like we were under a microscope, and our lives weren't full of polite condescension. We lived in nice, pretty dorms, and had full meal plans, and did all the same stuff as the super rich kids, except over breaks. We all drank the same liquor and smoked the same pot. Sure, there were moments here and there when little things would come out, but it just seems like these little things somehow managed to ruin the whole four years for these kids. The idea of not going to a reunion to see all your friends because of these isolated incidents just seems like such a waste to me. I guess I wanted to share a different perspective – from people in similar positions who did not feel overwhelemed by all the mean, jerky rich people, many of whom were perfectly nice, and were my close friends (and still are) and wouldn't suggest you join them on a trip to Tahoe, because, yes there were some unspoken divisions that people understood, and managed to navigate to the best of their abilities, sometimes more clumsily than other times. It's just shocking to me that this stuff is *all* that the writers above saw. Perhaps I was too dismissive. But let me assure you, I am not suffering from false consciousness, nor do I worship at the altar of meritocracy. Maybe I get sad when I see that people had a lot less fun than they could have had?

Joey (#18,252)

@Kevin Knox Wow, we definitely live in different worlds if you think that saying you work at Goldman Sachs is "bragging", even backdoor. Especially on this blog? Anyway, I don't. Sorry, joke fell flat I guess.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Joey Fair enough. "The Problem of Tone on the Internet, Case #________"

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@Joey dudecheckit, you're not just going to leave it at that, are you dude-brah?

Matt (#26)

HARVARD ABOVE YALE JESUS CHRIST YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Y A L E

NinetyNine (#98)

"Invisible at Harvard" would be a good name for a band.

hman (#53)

@NinetyNine Oh man, that was worth scrolling down for. Thanks mister.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

"I invented Swag." – Princeton Eating Club

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

And three hours later, Princeton.

Matt (#26)

Ask A Harvard Groundskeeper

LondonLee (#922)

Jesus, didn't mean to say that twice obviously

Bittersweet (#765)

@LondonLee: Hey, if my kid got to go to college for free, I'd be posting it 50 times on every blog I know. And then trying to figure out how to spend the 529 fund.

Matt (#26)

I graduated Harverd, myself.

RK Fire (#10,307)

@Matt: not Haahvaaaahd?

Art Yucko (#1,321)

it's pronounced "Hard".

plumap (#11,583)

I'm sorry for your crippling advantage? I never know what to say…

(Maybe I can understand, though I went to a public school without nearly the cachet… Being from a minority working class background the fact that I have a degree at all leads people back home to question my cred. But this exchange, it seems like a luxury? Sorry you encountered otherness.)

Matt (#26)

Going to an Ivy is *a* way.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

IVE MIND

NinetyNine (#98)

The worst thing about Dorm Crew? They don't even give you a blanket.

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

@NinetyNine Dorm Crew? Were you a cox or a stroke?

Matt (#26)

Over three red cups of Natty Light at ATO…

NinetyNine (#98)

Have your tried the Ivy repressed-privilege view?

checkonetwo (#3,234)

This is what it's like at most private colleges in the US. Except the students who come from families below the upper-middle class are more scarce than at Harvard because those schools don't have Harvard's huge endowment and so can't give the same financial aid.

The problem exists at any school with a price tag like Harvard's, only at the GW's and Boston U's of the world, those students feel even more alone.

Mandanza (#18,255)

I was a poor kid at a west coast private school, and thank God it wasn't as nutty as Harvard, but I also dealt with a lot of the same issues that you guys describe.

We had the same sort of "college bubble" going on, which meant that most social events were free or cheap, and that also helped equalize everyone, so that class was not super visible. There were a lot of little cues, though, that everyone was richer than I was: the way they all talked about buying clothes at J. Crew and Anthropologie; the way they could all go out to dinner on a whim, and I was the only one who had to check my budget first; that kind of thing.

Or the time when an older friend of mine was graduating, and she told me that she was nervous because it was going to be the first time in her life that she would have to worry about money. 22 years old and she'd never had to worry about having enough money to do anything that she wanted to do, or to buy anything that she wanted to have. Just so amazingly different from my experience. (By that time, I had started being pretty open about my background, so she realized a minute later what a weird thing that was to say to me – although I hadn't said anything about that; I was too stunned to, really – and we had a good conversation about it.)

Now that all of these friends are living on their own and supporting themselves, I feel that they understand me much better than they used to.

But yeah, being a poor person in a sea of well-off-and-rich people is weird. I pretty much stopped concealing my background by the end of freshman year, but it was always a challenge to talk about class in a way that is productive and helpful, and not make people feel like you're just being like "LOOK AT ME I'M POOR." You just can't respond to most blatant displays of privilege and wealth by saying, "wow, I've never bought a single thing from J. Crew, must be nice to be able to afford it." That's not actually enlightening, just annoying. Pointing out class differences had to be done skillfully and selectively, I found, but in the right context it could make for a good conversation.

Marco Romano (#4,090)

What about the history of ideas at Harvard? That's doneski history. And Woody Allen's quote about Harvard making mistakes because Kissinger taught there. I turned down going there. I got turned down by MIT. I was told that I was not a genius. Good town to go to college in though. "Harvard takes perfectly good plums as students, and turns them into prunes."
Frank Lloyd Wright

youngphenom (#18,257)

Compelled to create an account and comment after reading this great story and following comments. Gave me some perspective on Harvard for somebody who's never been there. Next time I see a Harvard Grad, I'll be sure to tell them how sorry I am.

Totally see your point about going to your discussion session run by the TA. I'd feel the same way in your position, but there's always something to learn from every life experience and am glad you found your lesson here as well. If they wanted you to have a discussion, you can go ahead and have it with your fellow classmates without and away from the TA.

hman (#53)

I could never get into any (Operation) Ivy.

Matt (#26)

FUCKING WHITE SKA

hman (#53)

@Matt LOLBerkeley.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Pinkertonites.

Matt (#26)

There was once a concerted effort on the University of Delaware campus to install as much ivy as possible so that we could be considered an Ivy League school.

NinetyNine (#98)

Listicle without Commentary: Members of RATM who are Harvard Alumni that 40 can recite from memory, in order:

1. Lindsay Buckingham.

Matt (#26)

Last of the Live Nude Wah-Wah Pedals

Matt (#26)

MY UNIVERSITY ISN'T EVEN IN PRINT ANYMORE, YOU PONCE

iantenna (#5,160)

so, the takeaway message here is that everbody from the northeast, regardless of class, is an asshole, right?

Bobito the Payaso (#44,569)

@iantenna At Harvard they are called massholes.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

The authors are basically describing the experience of going to a college where they feel most students are not like them in some way. It's hard being the construction worker's kid on a campus full of kids of lawyers and professors. It's also hard being the kid from rural Tanzania on a campus full of Americans, wondering if the privileges of language, cuisine, and national culture are invisible to the construction worker's kid too.

And I don't know if the authors recognize it, but the experience is actually also sort of uncomfortable for students from the rich/powerful end of the class/income spectrum. How do you think the girl with the Cadillac feels? Do you think she thinks there are many other people who understand her, either at Harvard or in the world as a whole? How do you think she feels to be judged for her family's wealth, for people like the authors to tacitly suggest that they can't be friends with her because they could never really understand and be understood by someone from her background?

Harvard really does try hard to create a student body where people come from different backgrounds. The purpose of this is not to make college more comfortable for everyone. The purpose is to make college uncomfortable. The purpose is to generate conflict. You hope that people respond to that conflict by listening and engaging with good intentions rather than by assuming that anyone different from them is just lazy, stupid, ignorant, or entitled.

If the authors remember their own Commencement, Bill Gates talked about how, when he was in college, he essentially had no clue how much human suffering was out there in the world. Harvard failed his education by not pushing him outside of his comfort zone. To the extent that you leave college feeling you were placed in uncomfortable situations, then you've been well-served and you can call yourself lucky even if the experience felt frustrating. The people who should be concerned with their educations are the people who came to Harvard inside a cocoon of relative privilege and then wasted four years at the Porc surrounded by people exactly like themselves, not studying abroad and never taking the red line past South Station.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@The Best Jeffrey "Do you think she thinks there are many other people who understand her, either at Harvard or in the world as a whole?"
It's highly likely that yes, she does. It seems to me that this is one of the points the authors of this piece are trying to make.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@Kevin Knox And how would the authors (or you) know? A cursory glance at both the article and the comments shows that many people from lower class backgrounds have a contempt for their classmates from upper class backgrounds as lazy/privileged/snotty/didn't earn it, and that students from upper class backgrounds therefore often take steps to conceal their backgrounds because they are uncomfortable being judged for it.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@The Best Jeffrey You seem to be taking all of this quite personally. Is there something you'd like to share with us?

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@Kevin Knox Yes, there is something I'd like to share with you all, and you can find it by scrolling up about four comments. If you'd like a shorter summary, it's that feeling unlike your peers in college in some significant way is practically universal, and not entirely unhealthy.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

> How do you think she feels to be judged

Do you understand why this is not a strong argument? Or do you write a column for the Times.

Ellie (#18,264)

@The Best Jeffrey I went to a good university and it took me a while to realize that some of the people I went to school with were really rich. This could be my naivete but I also think that for the first couple years when you live in dorms and eat in the dining hall and are in a city so there aren't cars, it's not necessarily obvious how much money anyone has. You can basically only tell from clothes and if people mostly dress in thrift store shit and Old Navy it's harder to tell until it gets cold and you see who has a North Face jacket.

I agree that at many "good" universities the majority of the student body is probably upper middle class, with some upper class and some lower middle class, and that this is due to social circumstances where being materially advantaged means you're more likely to get into and want to go to a "good" school. But I also think that a shared educational/student housing milieu is an effective equalizer of students. This may not be the same at every school, but it's been my observation that being at a university does put more of an emphasis on non-materialistic issues in favor of the academic, scholarly and global. But, it's also been my observation of Harvard specifically (I grew up nearby and have many connections) that the student body there skews to be more materialistic and class-oriented than at other comparable institutions.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@Ellie I totally agree with you that everyone being on the same housing and meal plan hides differences which would otherwise be more obvious. I haven't spent enough time around comparable institutions to be able to make a meaningful comparison about the level of materialism at Harvard vs. elsewhere.

@dntsqzthchrmn I'd love for you to explain what you think is wrong with that comment in the broader context of what I was arguing.

Again, my broader point here, which nobody seems interested in engaging in, is that there is really nothing special about feeling marginalized or looked down on because of your family income and social status as opposed to, say, feeling marginalized because of your religious beliefs, because of your political beliefs, because of your sexuality, because of your country or region of origin, etc. But if you focus on a single axis of marginalization, you lead yourself to believe that you're the only odd duck on campus. People have every right to feel however they want to feel, but I think everyone would be happier and the community would be healthier and more educational if people recognized the universality of awkwardness in any diverse community and decided to embrace it rather than withdrawing from the community over it.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Jeffrey. (Or Not Jeffrey?) No one is questioning the existence of feelings among the privileged or the rest. Also, no one is engaging your broader point because it is inane.

You're laboring under a category error. What you call family income and social status and what I'd call class is not the same kind of axis of marginalization as religious belief, sexuality, country of origin, etc. (Nice touch, btw, to etceterize all otherness.)

What your argument sounds like, and I'm pretty sure you know and discount this, is please stop making me feel what you are feeling. Or, it is distasteful to draw attention to our differences. That's privilege itself, in a nutshell.

I'm pretty sure you're aware that this is what you're saying, and I'd speculate that it's also a main point of what your education and mine have in common.

In any case, thank you for the opportunity to explain what is wrong with your comment and your argument. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@The Best Jeffrey I thought people would be happier if they treated each other based on the merits of their individual personalities, and not on their race, ethnicity, cultural/religious background, or class. I understand it's not an easy thing to do, but dammit it – if we can almost get it right here on the streets of Brooklyn, is it really too much to expect a little bit more at the fucking Harvard? Saying "oh, it's noting special to hear about the Harvard having the same problems as Rwanda" is down right idiotic.

The Best Jeffrey (#18,249)

@dntsqzthchrmn Thanks for your thoughtful reply. To be clear, I think it's CRUCIALLY important for people to express their perspectives and for others to be eager listeners. Once again, the purpose of having a diverse campus is to force people to see the world through new sets of eyes. Having to observe differences and listen to how others see the world is not distasteful; it's the whole point!

What I simply don't want is for people to become discouraged by the adversity they experience in these environments — to give up on engaging with the rest of the community because it's difficult. I recognize that this seems to place an additional burden on people who lack privilege, and maybe that seems unfair. But if you look at it as everyone on campus having to push themselves out of their own comfort zone, I think it's a lot easier to convince yourself that you can do it. Nobody ever promised that college would be comfortable.

Matt (#26)

THIS IS CAMBRIDGE NOT ORANGE COUNTY

NinetyNine (#98)

I don't care about your diploma.

(HT ________)

Matt (#26)

Organized Around My Sorority Letter Hoodie

NinetyNine (#98)

I was told there'd be cake.

brendonb (#8,966)

Though I didn't come from a family that could in any reasonable sense be described as poor, I have to say I identified with much of this, coming from a solidly middle-middle-class background in south Texas to Dartmouth.

The minor Ivies have a real propensity for attracting people who are less on-guard about their own class prerogatives, and Dartmouth, with its exorbitant dues for the frats and sororities that 70% of its student body belong to, is pretty grim in that regard.

It doesn't help that the Upper Valley is a really economically depressed area, Hanover excepted, and that classmates would pretty regularly snark on locals.

meliz (#15,566)

@brendonb heh…you should have heard what the waitresses at Lou's had to say about *some* of your classmates!

Thingsplint (#18,260)

I thought the most important sentence in this article was "… our five-year reunion is next spring".

Matt (#26)

Degrassi taught us that Banting is the Harvard of the north.

Annie K. (#3,563)

The Commentariat: On Class Consciousness in America.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

Just trying to get here before nobody.

Matt (#26)

Harvard invented LAST

Matt (#26)

b/w So this is what The Hairpin is like.

NinetyNine (#98)

@Matt Downfall mashup all my backchannels as a dot wav

NinetyNine (#98)

The Eight Truths About Harvard (That Everyone Who Went There Tells You)

Matt (#26)

How To Split A Tuition Bill For Harvard

jfruh (#713)

I'm a middle-class public school kid who went to Cornell and experience no class anxiety there, except occasional bemused contempt for the wealthy? This could be because (a) it was the '90s and Bill Clinton's socialism salved our economic wounds or (b) CORNELL, ha!

jfruh (#713)

@jfruh However I DO kind of get the "I went to school in Cambridge" thing! It's because when you tell people "I went to [Ivy League school, even Cornell]," many people act FUCKING WEIRD. The hedging defensive maneuver is sub-optimal in many ways, obviously, but you're 22 and dumb and you're reacting to weirdness.

Louis Fyne (#2,066)

@jfruh Lulz that you think any outsider thinks Cornell is an Ivy.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Wharton Business School is Moving to New York

Matt (#26)

John Carney Was Right

jcsme (#18,262)

This was to me partly very spot-on (there's definitely an "upper class" and it can be awkward) but definitely felt exaggerated in places. Yes, Eliot formal (seriously, who calls their formal Fete?) is well-known for being ridiculous, but that's one out of 12 houses, which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. And Eliot is (I believe) the only house that has Dues. The other ones just charge like 15 bucks for a formal ticket, and do go through the box office so people can get financial aid benefits.
Also, whether or not it's with genuinely good intentions, Harvard works very hard at maintaining the best financial aid program in the country. And enough of the student body is on financial aid that I found it embarrassing to admit that I was paying full tuition. In my circles (yes, I had circles, very supportive, valuable communities) it was by no means the norm.

NinetyNine (#98)

@jcsme which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23. which means one out of 24 house formals per year, and let me tell you that it in no way resembles the other 23.

Matt (#26)

NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98) NinetyNine (#98)

@jcsme : Out of curiosity, where can I buy one of these supportive, valuable communities?

Art Yucko (#1,321)

My Harvard is so smart, but I'm worried about my Harvard.

atipofthehat (#797)

Goddamn that Stradlater!

Matt (#26)

Anyway, I'm out of here. See you all at the

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GRENDEL'S DEN

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Where'd you learn to Google like that!? Harvard?

Jillsy Sloper (#12,648)

I wonder if "Oh, how interesting. So how do they feel about you being at Harvard?" was an attempt on the professor's part to engage with some of these class issues that the authors felt were mostly glossed over on campus.

Swich Licour (#17,541)

I went to Cambridge (England), and although the easier access to the funding for education breaks down a little of the issues with money, there are still well-defined enclaves where the public school guys gather – namely the older colleges.

It generally wasn't cool to be explicit or overbearing with wealth or privilege, though, so I found myself faced with a bizarre mix of people enthusiastically trying to pretend they hadn't gone to Eton, Harrow or Westminster but obviously having done so. Still, better than flat out condescension, and the education was genuinely inspiring.

Swich Licour (#17,541)

@Louis Fyne I think a lot of that is not so much to do with the University itself, but rather broader social problems and issues with perception of Oxbridge among black would-be applicants. In fact, I don't think Cambridge is particularly under-represented in other minority ethnic groups, so it's not exclusively (or as near as) white. Black students are definitely under-represented.

The University takes this issue seriously, though (as far as can be told from public statements to that effect), and blame instead the means at its disposal for judging applicants – first, their A-Level grades (where public school students are at an advantage), and second, the interview (see previous bracket). Also, I think able black students may well feel that Oxbridge is only for rah-rah toffs, so don't even consider applying.

@Swich Licour I'd like to commend this use of the extraordinary phrase "rah-rah toffs," and advise everyone to begin using it immediately.

This was exhausting.

hockeymom (#143)

Here's my Harvard outsider story. A high school friend went there and invited me to his house dance. He was the captain of the hockey team and some sort of class officer. Kind of a big deal. Anyway, I was excited to go and spent weeks agonizing over which dress to wear.
I bought two (with money I earned covering high school sports at my Big Party School in the Midwest.)
One was a long, cream colored satin, strapless dress. It was beautiful.
The other was white linen, flapper-like and I thought it looked like something someone would have worn on East Egg. It hung on me like a sack, but I thought it said "old money."
I chose the linen because my hockey playing date said "Don't get too dressed up, it's not that big of deal."
I picked wrong.
Every other girl wore a gown and looked at me (at least in my head) like I had just fallen off the turnip truck.
I'm not sure what my point is…except I really, really wanted to fit in at Harvard for the 48 hours I was there.

Bittersweet (#765)

@hockeymom: Your point is, don't rely on a hockey player for fashion tips.

(Sorry you had a bad Harvard experience.)

hockeymom (#143)

@Bittersweet Yes, that is my point. Also, I wonder why my 20 year old self thought that going to a dance at Harvard was one degree away from actually GOING to Harvard.
And thirdly, I'm pissed at my 20 year old self for worrying about the damn dress the whole time instead of relaxing and having a good time with my friend.

PoisonIvy (#1,229)

Argh! Why can't I email this (or maybe I can and I'm too computer illiterate to figure it out)?! Anyway, my dad is 63 and this is essentially his story, but add in a little dash of transitioning from a segregated black high school in the south during the height of the civil rights/black power movement. I'd love for him to read this.

mobileas (#18,266)

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roboloki (#1,724)

you went to fucking yale didn't you?

Lemonnier (#14,611)

How is the title "housemaster" problematic?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@Lemonnier: You want we should use the title "overseer"?

Though I (disclaimer about parents' money / self-aggrandizing "disclaimer" about parents' lack of money), I found when I was at (Harvard / non-Harvard Ivy / "really, that's an Ivy?"), people (with/without) money are often (uncomfortable / too comfortable) with their (social status/lack of social status). Granted, we did have (traditional social event / creepy social construct), but really most (Ivy / lesser-Ivy / "no, seriously, that's an Ivy?")-league schools have something similar and the ones I (was part of / avoided) were really (typical / atypical) and I think that (says a lot about / doesn't really reflect on) the kinds of students there. I mean, all (Ivies / lesser-Ivies / "was that a correspondence school or something?") have a mixture of rich people and (poor people / middle-class people / really obscenely rich people) and I (think / don't think) we should look down on the (educational experience / students / Tiger Moms) because of it. In any case, I felt embarassed enough about (paying full tuition / being on scholarship / stripping my way through college), and now that I look back I (can / can't) really say that at least the (fine education / gobs of money I spent / inculcation in the language of cultural warfare) was worth it. On the other hand, I'm still (somewhat / very / self-congratulatorily) embarassed whenever I have to admit that I went to an (Ivy / lesser Ivy / "I guess I'll take your word for it")-league school. Anyway, at least I didn't (Cornell joke).

Sarah Silverman has some wonderful lines about the thickness of Harvard Lampooners as writers at SNL.

Thanks for providing a more honest alumni perspective of Harvard. As a current Harvard student, I do feel some of the discomfort expressed, especially pertaining to conversations about class, race, and mental health. What I would like to hear is…what the hell should we do about it? How do we bridge the gap between alums' resentment expressed over the internet and the experience of Harvard students today? Can we make students at Harvard feel like they're part of "the real Harvard"? (which I honestly don't think has to be defined by Eliot's Fete or someone who has a Cadillac parked at the Charles)

Matt (#26)

For graduate stim try Harvard with graduate attach.

proactol (#18,384)

:)

Art Yucko (#1,321)

I have a fucking Shield. HAVE YOU SEEN MY SHIELD?!!!!

scrooge (#2,697)

Just as I've always said: America is so much more class ridden than England. Nobody ever believes this.

I am resolved from now on that whenever anyone asks me where I went to college to say "I forget" and move quickly on. Luckily I'm old enough it doesn't happen much (as, indeed, it doesn't much past the age of say, 31). It wasn't Harvard but I hate it anyway. Too boring.

animalmimicry (#18,626)

Great article all around. I really enjoyed it, and as a current PhD student at Harvard, it was really illuminating about the sort of parallel universe that I live adjacent to.
But the snide comments about grad students, as has been noted by others, were silly and damaging to the piece's point. Graduate students at Harvard (at least in the Humanities, and with very few exceptions) have their tuition paid for and live off a salary provided by the University. There are a variety of arrangements, but typically this stipend is offered in exchange for teaching and continued progress in your program.
The class position of graduate students is definitely in a borderspace. I (like many of my fellow grad students) didn't go to a fancy college and have committed myself to making less than 25,000 (at best) a year for the foreseen future before going into a very uncertain job market, to a series of temporary jobs with little financial or geographical stability before (fingers crossed) one day finding a permanent position on some school's faculty. This is a choice I am very happy about. I love what I do, and am not capable of doing anything else, really.
Now, what I've just noted above is an exceptionally lucky and extraordinary position to be in for a graduate student. A school like Harvard can afford to pay its grad students, so that we can focus on our research and teaching. The money I make is enough to offer me stability and comfort as I work. This is not the case in the majority of colleges where the financial/professional struggles of future professors are far far greater. (insert apocalyptic comment about the systematic destruction of funding for and privatization of post-secondary education.)

Long preamble, but the comments in the piece above smacked of entitlement of a different sort. Teaching at Harvard is an exercise in dealing with privileged young people who feel that your job is to provide them with a wonderful four years of pleasant back-patting and specialness-reinforcing, and ushering them into their lives in the American elite. And not, you know, challenging them with the unfamiliar and the difficult, and evaluating their work fairly and accurately as compared to that of their peers and the course expectations. Caveat: I have encountered many many incredibly lovely and brilliant students here to whom none of the above applies. Mostly I feel for them and the shit they must have to deal with–hence my sympathy for the authors of this piece. But the dissing of discussion sections is so typical of the now-reigning corporate model of university education and the sense of entitlement that so many undergraduates feel: University should provide you with easily digestible servings of specialized knowledge, or at least credentials, to ease your assimilation into a neatly prepared place in society. And at a place like Harvard, where many pay unfathomable sums to be (and many others are paid to be, like grad students), getting a fair but low grade, or having one's preconceptions challenged, or experiencing educational situations that can't be reduced to means and ends–this feels like getting ripped off. Cue the privileged whining.
The discussion section is a place (ideally) where one is judged based on one's ideas, where ideas can be challenged and worked through for their own sake, where everyone's opinion is (in theory) valued equally, and where problems (in my case, problems specifically about history and class, as it so happens) can be worked through and ideas shared regardless of whether they are controversial, or a challenge to the dominant way of thinking. Or, at its best, dealing with ideas that are even challenging to the institutions within which they are carried out: namely, Harvard, for one.
This is an ideal picture I've just painted, and it sucks if this wasn't your experience. But this is why we have discussion sections. And almost all the grad students I know are committed to providing their students with this sort of experience–one which is increasingly rare today.
If you want someone to check a box giving you an A to facilitate your entry into the upper-class… grad students will probably disappoint you. This is not our job. If it was our job, it would mean the total collapse of what higher education means, and has ever meant. This would be sad.
Before you shit on grad students, I invite you to think about our precarious financial and class situation, the privilege that you have as an undergraduate compared to us, and the model of education that we stand for and are willing to dedicate our lives to work for.

Thanks, and sorry for the maybe sanctimonious tone. I am tired and over-worked and frustrated. But… dedicated.

Ellie (#18,264)

@animalmimicry Great post!

wawl (#11,474)

Intelligence is the salient extraction and organization of information. In a vast pantheon of stimuli/data there are two choices available… adapt to the environment, or adapt the environment.

One uses one's intelligence for these two tasks but the overarching choice of which to choose depends upon one's intelligent/accurate/keen gathering & processing of information.

As we are collective creatures, this task is disbursed and aggregated.

That said, one may find it worthy to be as selective and impactful in one's choice of how to frame the decision (and thus it's subsequent outcomes).

In other words, it may be wise not to spend one's attention on retread or on not incisively (and saliently) apprehending a)which choice to make and b)how to accomplish the task -of adapting one's self, or one's environment. (There can be(/inherently is (/is there a separation between self & not-self(/are we really here?))) interplay between the two).

When it comes to social constructs, a significant environmental factor/factoid,

the decision of whether to adapt one's self to the situation or the situation to one's self becomes somewhat more personally endemic to one's sense of self (and so even more fraught than the usual difficulties of acquiring knowledge).

Gathering/elucidating information is a key step, however

processing that information is a bit more difficult/challenging (perhaps one may also say interesting).

What I mean to say, is that pointing out the obvious may call attention to a situation that may be adapted to too readily/automatically, in other words "it was so obvious, I didn't see it" OR it may not add much to the conversation, alternatively.

I would argue for both cases. This is one reason I like Gawker's illegitimate spawn. But, I would also strongly urge the step forward into making use of deconstructed information. I would put forth the construct that yes we are all different and yes we are all the same and the more that we understand this the better off we are. How one frames a dialectic (the essentialist dialectic being of selfish bastardism vs "love" cool peoples-ism… if one argues that at some crucial point there is the juncture at which the child moves from recoiling from bambi's mothers death to participating in order to partake in the warm bath of collectivism lest be ostracised… does one not simply absorb cultural transgressivenesses rather is there a decision made NOT to deviate… make the selection of the first choice of adapting self and not environment after weighing in the risks – a not altogether unintelligent choice).

This sort of sums up higher education, an institution that has an internal conflict between "education" and stratification/self-interested bastardism. Is there a (nother/subsequent) point, at which these two merge? Is it possible that framed most cogently, there is NO dialectic (and the "universal" truth is revealed).

In other words, maybe we have been looking at this wrong. When you peel the onion, perhaps there is nothing there "except now" and now can contain intelligence rather than confusion.

PERSONALLY, I did not go to Harvard, or higher education, because it was abundantly clear that what I considered important to learn was not offered in the curriculum [to my chagrin]. But when one strips oneself, and realizes the barriers to one's healthy interaction with the world is not reliant upon clothing but upon honesty. And, the truth is, we are not scared-ass horrible creatures who conform rather than be cast out and henceforth are horribly warped by a collective consciousness gone amok. That's one potential truth.

As for the gnarly issue of class (/survival/buffer from the elements) when parsed completely, the issue is no different from the base dialectic which precedes class, and from which class arises. No matter where you are on the spectrum, that's ultimately irrelevant except inasmuch as it offers you perspective… perspectives which are then added up to make a whole. And the whole is not that we are selfish bastards. That's the default baring intelligence. But if you deconstruct the thing fully (if you learn from the class and do the work and put the effort in) it is my contention that we are not in fact fucking assholes (holier than tho or not). All evidence to the contrary not withstanding. Even if we are really fucking stupid (slow learners, not that quick on the uptake).

wawl (#11,474)

Or should I say, immersed in the challenge. (Damn, that class was hard!)

But was it fun?

It was… real. And a trip.

wawl (#11,474)

There's an opportunity here that was hard-earned and hard won. And there's inspiration in going forward.

And the nice thing is, it's so possible. Theoretically. So good luck working on it! (Or, have fun killing bambi's mother, if that's your thing, I guess. Disney-metaphorically-speaking — such perversity those anthropomorphisms and moralality tales!)

wawl (#11,474)

Inspiration = antidote to lazy.

So thanks for the fun/interesting/provocative article (perhaps even… inspiring, in it's honesty, inspiring others to share their viewpoints & think)! Sometimes making a positive contribution is organic and fun, not "work-work" but just the natural flow of your being (alive).

Red Black@facebook (#18,666)

I worked dorm crew until the job got in the way of all the labs I had to take. (I left without quitting; I asked a friend who lived in my dorm to pick up my final check.) Anyway, two things:

1) I walked in on a junior examining her breasts;
2) I was assigned to clean the bathroom of current New York Magazine film critic David Edelstein when he was a senior; I'll never forget him because he was the only person who ever really talked to me –he even offered me a drink!

Finally, I caught on really fast that dorm crew just wasn't something one does beyond the first semester of college.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Wow, three hundred and twelve comments. Can't turn your back for a minute.

A huge proportion of Awl readers must have attended Harvard.

This was waaaay too tongue in cheek and negative for me. Some great points about race, class and issues plaguing diverse students in wealthy private schools are raised here, but anything positive that could've come from this article (conversation?) is severely undermined by all the sarcasm and "wit." I'm also saddened and embarrassed for them and other students of lower income families or social classes to have felt like they needed to hide who they were and where they came from, especially with parents that worked so hard to put them through school. It sounds exactly like they became the snobs that they were writing about. I don't give a shit, anyone at Emerson College (or any other school I've visited/attended) and anyone who's ever known me, knows I came from the hood, that 90% of my family members were imprisoned at some point in their lives and that I worked my ASS off to get to Emerson College. I understand these socioeconomic and racial issues all too well, but if we're going to discuss our problems, let's be direct about it instead of making a half-assed, jokey, light hearted skit about them.

Bobito the Payaso (#44,569)

I once got offered a job because I had worked for Dorm Crew at Harvard. Actually they hired me on as some sort of cheap alternative to using union labor, and had me doing odd jobs like pressure washing and moving offices. At any rate, I put it on my resume along with all my other jobs (on an hourly basis it paid as well as my current job). I was applying for some economics job, and the fellow said essentially – what made your resume stand out among all these Harvard resumes was the part about cleaning toilets – this job requires a lot of shitwork too.

Bobito the Payaso (#44,569)

The most tiresome thing at Harvard – everybody seemed to have grown up in the 'hood – and everybody was paying his 25,000 a year by himself, out of the money he made in his summer job. We pulled ourselves up from nothingness and now we lick James Rupert Murdoch's ass. What a Trumpesque narrative.

Bobito the Payaso (#44,569)

"Dorm crew wasn't something one did past the first semester of college". Unless one's parents were drunks incapable of helping in the summer job search, and the work study jobs and lab jobs paid less, not enough to cover the apartment and part of tuition. Then one worked dorm crew and whatever else one could find that paid semi-decently.

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