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Harvard State U. Slumming

THE FRONT PORCH

By Lucas L. Tate

Last Saturday I got another e-mail from the harvardparties.com guys. Not such a bad deal, I thought. Nice to have someone improving the Harvard party scene rather than just complaining about it.

I saw the title: “Harvard State University party.” Didn’t feel right from the start. Knew where it was going, knew the sentiment, didn’t like it.

I open it up.

“Ever wanted to party like they do at that state school you could have coasted through?”

Gag me.

Unsuspecting, unaware, reading my Lowell-Open e-mail, instead of hearing a chill party without pretense, I am hit full in the face with unchecked Harvard elitism.

The response on the list was tepidly questioning at first, wondering what sort of angle the harvardparties.com guys were taking, what sort of attitude they were projecting. Some wanted to give them a free pass, suggesting that it shouldn’t matter how a party is advertised; ultimately, it’s just a party in the end.

I didn’t wonder about their tone, and I didn’t excuse it. The attitude of the message was clear, and that attitude is unsurprising here at Harvard. But the story of our elitist tendencies is always danced around, because it’s uncomfortable to talk about. Why don’t we tell it like it really is?

The Facts:

Most Harvard students think they’re better than state school students.

Most Harvard students think they’re better than other people in general

Too many are so insecure about their status here that they reassure themselves by reiterating time and again how much better they are than state school students.

And don’t think it ends there. Harvard student love the opportunity to declare themselves better than other people, whether by gaining entrance to a super-duper secret handshake society, getting the only A in sophomore government section, or snagging an editorial column in the Crimson—you see, we’re no different. My mug shot in the paper every week, my viewpoints in print. It’s nice to have people hear what you have to say, isn’t it?

The throwaway line in that party advertisement about coasting through a state school reflects an attitude of elitism that pervades social life here in our Ivy tower.

The culture of success at Harvard is often railed against; I know I’m not the first. But it’s interesting to see how that culture we generally adopt to gain entrance here tends to color social and extracurricular life during our four years.

After spending a lifetime being evaluated and measured up against their peers, too many Harvard students take a perverse delight in switching roles—being handed the keys to the door. Final club punch pageants, The Crimson executive “Turkey Shoot,” comp parties at a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine: all of these events are about who gets in and who gets left out. In the end, it hardly seems to matter what you’re joining to do in the first place.

State schools that harvardparties.com ridicule in their e-mail usually don’t have this problem. Fraternity pledge processes are more open, more honest and less heavily reliant on backroom politics. And whether you get in has more to do with who you are and how you act than where you came from and what your parents do. State school parties are most often open to whoever shows up at the door with four dollars for a cup. And advertisements for those parties just invite people to come without playing to our own students’ greatest weakness—the need to feel special and elite.

That’s what it’s really about, in the end. After a preliminary lifetime of trophies and awards, scholarships and fat envelopes in the mail, our need to feel special is cultivated here at Harvard.

There’s nothing wrong with throwing a party for “Harvard State University.” I think most students would agree that state schools generally have better, more open parties than our final club-dominated scene. But it’s sad to see that in throwing a party open to all Harvard students, we must be constantly reminded of how special we are, and we must continue insulting the plebes who couldn’t play the admit game past their state school.

It doesn’t surprise me when people in Southie or Arizona or Middle America hear the Harvard name and assume they’re about to meet an elitist jerk. They should know that they’re working hard to lead lives that we could have just “coasted through.” We remind them of that fact in our attitude, our choices and our party advertisements. Why should they think differently of us?

Lucas Tate ’05-’06 is a government concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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