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Hating Harvard

Postcard from Philadelphia

By Mark A. Adomanis

PHILADELPHIA—Even today, it seems, we’re still those same old stereotypical scions of privilege.

Harvard has radically changed over the past 30 years, but the way it is viewed has not. Harvard students still take the rap for an era when the Yard was the exclusive domain of Andover, Exeter and St. Paul’s graduates. And while the actual students these days might not be as arrogant, conceited and haughty as they once were, many people’s opinions have yet to change.

Harvard kids are jerks, automatically. Not the most clear-headed thinking, but exactly the sort of reasoning that was in force on a recent trip of mine to the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. I journeyed down to West Philadelphia for a barbeque thrown by a local club-rowing program. I was expecting a relaxed evening of hamburgers, hotdogs and small talk about crew in all of its obsessive glory. What I instead got was a rather harsh lesson about the amount of bitterness, anger and envy that word “Harvard” can conjure up, and a jolting reminder that people, even very smart well educated people, are often totally irrational.

At the barbeque, I was gawked at, I was cursed at, and I was threatened with physical violence. This seemed quite odd to me. I did not know most of the people in attendance and was on friendly terms with virtually everyone I did know. How, then, did well over a dozen people come to despise me?

The one thing that everyone in attendance knew, the only thing that most knew, was that I was a coxswain for Harvard. I had never said a word to them, they have never said a word to me, several of the people who insulted me had never even talked about me except to note what school I went to. What was known was that I had won several regattas and that my racing shirt was crimson with a white collar. For many in attendance, that was enough. Ipso facto I was arrogant, a jerk, snotty, annoying and worthy of scorn.

It would not have surprised me if people had said how they had a dislike for Harvard’s program. Since the Crimson has earned more championship titles than most schools combined and consistently brings mountains of hard-won shirts back to Newell Boathouse, it would make sense to expect a certain amount of resentment. This, however, is not what happened. While there was a good deal of hatred for Harvard as an institution, most of the antipathy was directed at me on a direct, personal, level. This wasn’t a simple “Oh, I hate Harvard.” This was “You row for Harvard; I hate you.”

I’m not a very naïve person, but I thought that sentiments of this type had been forgotten by most fair-minded people. Yes we all like to joke about the characterizations of various schools, and I am no exception to this. For the most part, though, my impressions were backed up by actual experiences. Actually getting in someone’s face for what school they went to seemed a bizarre throwback, something from a different era.

The whole episode left me with sadness far more profound than that which would normally accompany being called a “douche” or a “jerk.” I, like many of my peers, thought that people of our age had moved beyond many old stereotypical rivalries. My experiences had previously led me to believe that, deep down, Harvard students and students from the other schools had realized that we’re all pretty similar. It really makes no sense for us not to get along and to label each other as if we’re really all that different. Is it logical for one middle-class, private-school-educated, suburban, Philadelphia rower to hate another simply because one goes to a school in Cambridge and one goes to a school in Philadelphia? No. But people have a nasty habit of throwing rationality to the wind, especially when Harvard is involved.

Mark A. Adomanis ’07, a government concentrator in Eliot House, is an editorial editor of The Crimson. He will continue to coxswain the rest of the summer. As far as he knows, he is not an arrogant jerk.

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