In 2007, while I was searching for a school, the University of Chicago was ranked by the Princeton Review as having the number one “Undergraduate College Experience.”
When I got here, I bought many of the funny T-shirts that the U of C had to offer, from the self-deprecating to the smug to the self-deprecatingly smug (or smugly self-deprecating). I was so excited to be at the U of C that I could be proud to be from the school where “the only thing that goes down on you is your GPA,” where “the squirrels are prettier than the girls,” and where we assert that if we’d wanted an A, we would have gone to Harvard. I thought it was all in good fun, a celebration of what made us unique, and that the complaining was at best subtle boasting about how intelligent we really must be in order to attend such a difficult school and still laugh about it.
But I soon learned that the self-deprecation was more than a joke for many, and that the cynicism about the U of C was based on an earnest self-hatred. I was disappointed to learn that the joking inferiority complex displayed by so many wasn’t really a joke. At some point I began to feel that all of the complaining was actually keeping my fellow undergraduates from enjoying themselves.
Of course, I’ve done my share of complaining about some of the quirks of the U of C, such as the two-day reading period, the shortage of food options around Hyde Park, and the eternal mystery that were SOSC papers. But I disagree with the essentialist nature of many of the assumptions about life at the University of Chicago, and I especially lament the fact that they sometimes actually affect people’s experiences here.
I am sure that my success in having a fulfilling social life was in large part because I never accepted the idea that this was a boring campus and that there wasn’t anything to do. I’ve had my share of awkward experiences, from frat parties where guys and bodies far outnumber girls and alcohol, to parties among insular social groups where I hover with my drink by a corner and awkwardly introduce myself to anyone who looks even slightly friendly. But awkward experiences were the exception rather than the rule. I sought, and for the most part found, fun and exciting things to do.
These outings were more than frat parties and social parties. I modeled for MODA one weekend and had a Settlers of Catan tournament the next. I accidentally participated in an impromptu freestyle rap session, and had parties at my apartment dissolve into drunken men singing Russian pop songs. As head designer of the Maroon, I often saw the sun rise after production nights that could feel, really, like sleepovers with friends, if those sleepovers had happened to include hard work. I doubt I could have had any of these experiences if I had gone to another school, or if I had believed that this is the place where “fun goes to die.”
Ultimately, complaining about the rigors and idiosyncrasies of the U of C should only go so far as not to actually prevent the university’s population from having as fulfilling of an experience here as possible. Although the self-deprecating humor of the U of C lends to our quirky personality, I also think it can be actually damaging to our experiences here. Believing that there isn’t something to do on Saturday nights can lead you to spend them indoors watching television, or (perish the thought) actually doing homework.
So, repeat the jokes, and wear the T-shirts, and envy those at “party schools” or the Ivy League for their more definable allures. But my advice is to only go so far down this road. Incoming first-years or underclassmen, keep this in mind: You will get as much out of the U of C as you put into it. For upperclassmen and graduating seniors who have always envied those at party schools or the Ivy League, accept what you should have accepted years ago: For better or for worse, you came to the U of C.
My years here have been fulfilling academically and socially, although I am skeptical that these spheres could ever be fully divided. Life is life, and for me the “life of the mind” never stopped being lively.
Ivy Perez is a fourth-year in the College majoring in history and English.