I went to college in Connecticut. Deal with it.

Perhaps because it’s college graduation and reunion time, L.V. Anderson at Slate has written a column entitled “People Still Say They ‘Went to College in Boston,’ Meaning Harvard? Please Stop Doing This.” She claims that by giving such an evasive answer, one “buy[s] into the overblown mythos of Harvard and the presumption of Ivy League superiority.” Or worse, it “functions as an elitist dog whistle,” and that those who may “react inelegantly” upon hearing one went to Harvard/Yale/Princeton and others are “insecure people who perhaps have not yet learned that Ivy League schools confer degrees on plenty of idiots every year.”

Um, wow.

Here is why I usually say “Connecticut” or “New Haven” when I’m casually asked about college  by passing acquaintances: it’s just so much fucking easier in almost all situations. Perhaps because Anderson lives in Brooklyn, and as she notes, works with colleagues who “have degrees from universities that rank highly on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list,” she runs in circles with many of those who do understand that Ivy League schools confer degrees on plenty of idiots every year. Great for her. This is not universal. 

Let me suggest that she spend some time in flyover country. Where I come from in rural Ohio, very few people give a shit about Yale, or Harvard, or MIT. At my high school, way more people aspired to attend universities in the Big Ten than in the Ivy League. I’d not even heard the term “safety school” until my first week at Yale, or realized that so many in my Yale class considered institutions like Wellesley and Swarthmore to be such. (To be honest, I’d never heard of those colleges, and didn’t even know where Yale was precisely located until I applied. Somewhere out east was my best approximation). My alternate schools were both institutions in Ohio rather than the typical Ivy backups.

The Ivies just aren’t on the radar for many of us outside of the coasts, even those who could be prime Ivy material. Even Yale acknowledges this, as I wrote before–calling students in these states “low-hanging fruit” and claiming that we are tough to find. Over the years, even though I’ve enjoyed attending reunions and keeping up with my classmates, I’ve felt increasingly distant from my alma mater. Anyone surprised that there’s no “Yale Club of Cedar Rapids”?

So when I’m here  in “flyover country” and discussing college, I’ve found in my 20-year-experience as a student and alumna that to bring up Yale in many circles is to do just what Anderson is accusing those who say “Boston” or “New Haven” of doing: buying into the overblown mythos of Harvard and the presumption of Ivy League superiority. Really, what conceivable reason do I have to name-drop? To many here, Yale might as well be Mongolia–people travel there about as frequently, and understand it about as much. It’s practically mythical, and those who’ve gone there may as well be unicorns when it comes to the frequency of encountering an Ivy alum in many areas. The Ivies are places of Romneys and Bushes and Kennedys, where people shit gold bricks and dress like this:

How Ivy Leaguers probably look on campus, to an average Midwesterner.

As such, it creates an artificial distance between myself and those I’m conversing with. I “other” myself by saying that I graduated from Yale. This might not be important in Anderson’s line of work, coaxing other upper-middle-class foodies to “go ahead and eat the cookie dough,”  but when I’m out speaking with farmers and other community members in the rural Midwest,  or meeting with potential students coming to a state school, you can bet that my background from a farming area in Hancock County, Ohio is way more important and relevant than my four years spent at Yale. 

As Anderson should know, some of these conversations come down to knowing your audience. In Brooklyn, or in workplaces that are Ivy-heavy, I may agree with her. Maybe they’re really being faux-modest if they answer the inquiry about their college with “Boston” or “New Jersey.” In my professional biography I put Yale, and certainly will say that to academic colleagues when the topic comes up. But she’s flat-out wrong when she claims that “there is never any reason to answer the direct question ‘Where did you go to college?’ with an evasive half-truth.” In many of my conversations, I just don’t see the point in going into it, and in the past, it’s made both people involved feel awkward. If this makes me a “patronizing, self-serious jerk,” so be it. I’m the one who gets to claim my identity and own my biography, and I’m fine with being one who went to college in New Haven.


Student guest posts–summer course

Years like this are rough on blogging. As previously noted, I teach an every-other-year spring course on infection and chronic disease. Well, every summer I also teach an intensive course (basically a semester crammed into a week) on the topic of applied infectious disease epidemiology: taking what’s known about ID epi and learning how to actually “do” it. For this course, which this year was exclusively taken by either DVM students or practicing veterinarians training for their MPH degree, their final assignment is a writing assignment. It’s pretty wide open: they can write about any area of infectious disease epidemiology that interests them, but the posts are supposed to be written for a layman audience. The first of 10 will be up shortly. As always, please keep in mind that these are the students’ posts, and that they’re learning, so feel free to post questions/comments but be respectful.

Following Aetiology…

While I’m at it, I might as well add that I now have a twitter account, for those of you who’d like to follow along there: http://twitter.com/aetiology

Or, if RSS feeds are more your thing, Aetiology’s is http://feeds.feedburner.com/scienceblogs/aetiology

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Misc. link-lovin’

I’ve been really terrible at spreading around some link love this year, largely because my time to read other blogs has been significantly diminished due to my other responsibilities. However yesterday I was able to do a tiny bit of catching up.

I’ve not blogged much on HIV denial recently (no time, alas, to keep the comments cleaned up). However, regular readers may recall how much the HIV folks hated to be compared to creationists. ERV points out a post by an evolution denier championing HIV denial as well. Birds of a feather…

In a related vein, James muses what should be done about “pseudoskeptics”, period. His focus is on climate change but the same arguments and questions can be posed about those denying HIV, germ theory, evolution, etc.

To switch the focus from anti-science to interesting science, this week’s Grand Rounds carnival is all about the intersection of medicine and evolution.

I’ve also run across some new-to-me blogs and podcasts to add to the sidebar: Persiflagers Infectious Disease Puscast and This Week in Virology. Science writer Rebecca Skloot has also just joined Scienceblogs, so check out her blog, Culture Dish. Any other good sites I’m missing out on?

In the field…

Back out swabbing today (noses this time, not asses). Heading out with 3 grad students who’ve never done field work before, so should be a fun day. Meanwhile, just got another manuscript submitted last night; that makes four currently under review with still a few other in draft. In the meantime, don’t feel [or feed–TS] the troll(s)–I’ll be back to clean up when I can.

Smallmindedness in small towns

I rarely talk politics here, but I received this email from a cousin the other day:

According to the Book of Revelations the anti-christ is: The anti-christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuassive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal…. the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destory everything. Is it OBAMA??

The email itself, unfortunately, isn’t out of the ordinary; many of my family members believe we’re in the End Times. What made this one unique is that the Washington Post has an article up about my hometown (Findlay, Ohio, “Flag City USA”) discussing this phenomenon; more after the jump.
Continue reading “Smallmindedness in small towns”