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Sometimes, you’d rather not say “Yale”

It’s a pretty straightforward question: “where did you go to college?” But for a lot of Yalies, answering that question can be complicated.

We heard from some of those alums on our Facebook page last weekend after we posted a link to an article in Slate talking about Harvard grads who offer a vague “in Boston” when asked where they went to college. Slate’s L. V. Anderson is not charmed by this convention:

I must, at this moment when many undergraduates are headed home for the summer, urge all Yale, Princeton, and Harvard students and alumni—and anyone else tempted to use a geographical euphemism to describe their august alma mater—to please stop doing this. Cease and desist. Cut it out. I’m sure you are a kind and smart person, but this verbal habit makes you look like a patronizing, self-serious jerk.

We asked alums if they ever respond with a mere “in New Haven” when asked about their alma mater. It turns out that for many, the only problem with that answer is that it’s too specific: they’re more likely to say “in Connecticut.” Some cited humility; others said they just want to avoid talking about it. Stephanie Elizabeth Small ’99 spoke for many when she said she opts for a vague answer “because 90 percent of the time when I say ‘Yale,’ people have a really weird reaction.”

We know, we know, first-world problems. But we were interested in the variety of responses from our readers. Don Gooding ’80 agreed with Small. I do this less now than when I was younger, but I'm still contextual about it,” he wrote. “There are times when it can be a conversation killer, and why do that?”

Others suggested alternate strategies: “I tell people I went to Trumbull College!” (David St. Clair Wilder ’90) “I just say ‘up north’ and people lose interest.” (Mary Ruffin Hanbury ’88)

But there are those who say they never resort to such hedges. Emily Han Zimmerman ’82 always answers Yale. “I can't control other people's reactions; I can only hope they'll form a direct impression of my true character. . . . ‘Yale’ is not merely a symbol of advantage; being a Yale grad is an actual advantage in many tangible ways. If it's uncomfortable to be identified as such, that's a problem we volunteered for, unlike facing prejudice for skin color or other involuntary circumstances.”

We're all grown-ass adults, so if someone responds in a negative manner, that's their issue,” wrote Susan Gualtier ’00. “I honestly don't think I've ever had a negative reaction, though. Most people don't care where you went. . . . I have seen people respond ‘Connecticut’ instead of Yale, and it comes off as presumptuous and condescending. Especially if the person then asks, ‘University of Connecticut?’ and you have to say ‘no, Yale.’ Then you HAVE drawn attention to it and you look like a jerk.”

For Eston Woodard ’04MAR, it’s a matter of pride. “I’m tired of pretending to be humble and faking that I’m like everyone else. I worked my you-know-what off—still continue to do so—and . . . if your audience isn't comfortable hearing ‘Yale,’ it’s their problem, not mine!”

What do you think? Is it courteous or condescending to hold back naming your alma mater in a social situation?


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.


  • Sven
    Sven, 2:02pm June 02 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    The need to hide Yale alumni status is a sad reflection on our society. Why would anyone need to hide the fact that they had the ability and worked hard enough to attend a top notch university. Is it because achievement has to take a back seat to everyone feeling like they're equal?

  • David
    David, 3:16am June 03 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I simply find it pretentious to have to name drop "Yale." Most people who didn't go to an Ivy League answer based on geography, e.g " I studied in Illinois." Those that feel the need to insert Yale or Harvard , well, you get the picture.

  • Neil Simpson
    Neil Simpson, 9:27am June 03 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    It isn't name-dropping if you are providing the answer to a direct question. When I am interested enough to ask the same of someone else, I would hope they would tell me the specific school. If they answer Massachusetts or California or something along those lines then I'm barely any better off since there are still so many possibilities.

    The bottom line is that people are obsessing over some mostly imaginary baggage - related to a perceived snobbery that simply isn't there most of the time - they think comes attached to their answer. If someone asks you which school you attended, do them the courtesy of replying with the information they're looking for, not with some vague generalization. I always do and always will, not least because because I'm proud of my Yale degree. If that answer rankles with the questioner, that's their problem, not mine - I told them what they wanted to know.

  • Luanna E. Devenis
    Luanna E. Devenis, 9:39am June 03 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Why would one want to hide one's academic origins or status? I am proud to be a third-generation Yalie, as is my fellow alumnus, Ming Tsai, who named his restaurant BLUE GINGER in honor of his secondary school (Andover) and college (Yale) colors. It is neither "pretentious" nor "name-dropping" to respond to question about where one attended college with "Yale." In my experience, most people answer this question with the name of their college or university and then add its geographical location if the school is not well-known. Only the most "pretentious" among them answer this question with "Cambridge" or "Boston" for Harvard or "New Haven" or "Connecticut" for Yale based upon the assumption of the superiority of their college over other schools in the area.

  • Michael L. Lazare
    Michael L. Lazare, 1:18pm June 03 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Reverse snobbism is as objectionable as snobbism.

    Michael Lazare '53

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