I grew up in a house divided. My mom and I went/go to Stanford, my father and older brother to USC. That family dynamic, along with my upbringing in Newport Beach, California (where at least a third of the baby-boom generation of USC alums decided to settle down and raise families) left me a rare outsider on the inside of the infamous, very tight-knit Trojan family. And, up until very recently, that family drove me crazy.
The Fight Song on repeat. The peace-sign/victory wave. The ocean of red and yellow (ahem… “Cardinal and Gold” as my father would chastise me through childhood). The football obsession. The Tommy Trojan references. The endless parade of license plates, stickers, and flags adorning the cars in my hometown. The ridiculously perky “Fight On” attitude. For the longest time, I found the culture so nauseating that the only way I could take refuge from their inexhaustible pride was to adopt the outsider attitude and disregard all of it. I would make jabs about whether being platinum blonde was still a requirement for admission. I would assume that all USC students were vapid, superificial, and unfocused on anything but getting wasted. I made the U$C jokes and took pleasure in the puns: “You can’t spell ‘suck’ without USC”, and the classic “University of Spoiled Children”. With a school like Stanford in my sights, I wanted to make it clear how much above their shallow antics I was. I wanted my attitude to demonstrate how much better Stanford was than USC: how much smarter, less conservative, more diverse, and more successful we are.
But one weekend changed my perspective. With little to do and an itching for a bit of fun, I swallowed my pride, dropped my preconceived notions, and asked my brother if I could tag along for a couple days and get an insider peek at his life as a Trojan. The experience that followed was anything other than what I might have expected. The classes were incredibly engaging and dynamic; the campus was extremely welcoming and filled to the brim with excited students advertising their interests in every culture and activity, and a night on the infamous 28th street left me wanting more.
Admittedly – any college brochure will give you that. But what really caught me off my guard was how authentically friendly and kind everyone was. When I told people that I go to Stanford, every single person I spoke with was genuinely excited to hear about it, showered me with compliments about the Farm, offered references to friends of theirs’ who go here and rave about it, and were noticeably reverent of our fair university – usually tossing in some form of, “I applied there but didn’t get in. But I would have loved to go there”. Not one person had anything rude or snarky to say about Stanford, nor did anyone seem to be withholding any such comments.
Even this past weekend, when the university played host to what one USC student called “one of the most epic games and biggest letdowns I’ve seen in my college career” – Trojans were still surprisingly respectful of the Cardinal win. Especially under circumstances that most Trojan fans identified as “the closest thing to a bowl game we’ll come to this year” – my in-person interactions with students were generally tame. Understandably, most students were disappointed, felt they got gypped, and said they won in spirit, but I didn’t run into anyone who was out to seriously bash Stanford. The harshest comment I heard came in the form of Facebook status: “Whatever Stanford, your helmets are still ugly”.
Which begs the question – why do so many Stanford students seem to harbor such resentment – whether legitimate or in jest – toward our private Pac-12 peer? Why do we feel the need to put down USC at every possible opportunity?
One of the primary complaints I’ve heard against our SoCal neighbor is rooted in the rumored “spoiled children” attitude and their alleged sense of wealth and/or entitlement. My jury is still out on this one: on the one hand, more than 64% of students receive some sort of need-based assistance from USC; on the other hand, anyone who hangs out on campus long enough will soon notice the markedly higher percentage of luxury cars speeding down Figueroa Street, designer handbags dangling from tan arms, and – if you look carefully – maybe even the flashing of a Black AmEx or two. I will admit, from my observations, Trojans do tend to be a little more up-front about what they can afford. That said, I would be curious to see just how similar USC’s socioeconomic profile looks when compared to Stanford’s; despite our tendency to rock the esoteric start-up t-shirts and rumpled jeans look, it’s tough to argue that there isn’t a sizeable demographic of wealthier students buried under all of that casual, Northern California attitude.
Another misconception I’ve heard railed against USC is their apparent lack of diversity. This was something I’d always felt to be true about the school growing up. Seeing many friends and classmates from my hometown attend USC perpetuated in my mind the truism that a sizeable portion of the USC student body is from California – Southern California specifically. This fact lends itself to an image of a homogenized, stereotyped-“Californian” student body. And while, admittedly, many USC students do fit the tan, blonde-haired, blue-eyed mold, many more do not. USC claims the largest population of international students in the nation, and more than 55% of the student body identifies themselves as students of color. And, we –as Stanford students – should recognize, even people from geographically close places have very different stories to tell.
And then there’s the partying. I feel like a lot of Stanford students (for some reason unbeknownst to me) feel the need to look down on USC for their heavyweight social scene. If, for a moment, we can put aside the politics of Greek life, alcohol consumption, and sexual health and instead focus on aspects like the strong football/athletic culture, the downtown LA location, and a very community-oriented student body – it’s tough to argue that Trojans don’t hold a remarkable sense of pride in their school or know how to have a good time. And for people who are looking for a memorable party scene in college – what’s so wrong with that? Are Stanford students jealous? Maybe it’s the idea that hard partying is intrinsically linked to lower academic standards, but USC still beats the odds on that front too. When it comes down to it, USC is a strong academic institution. With almost 20 different schools of study, including the noteworthy Marshall School of Buisness, Leventhal School of Accounting, USC School of Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Thornton School of Music, and Ostrow School of Denistry, USC has a lot to offer for students with specific fields of study in mind. What’s more – kids very clearly want to go there. USC’s acceptance rate dipped to 23% in the most recent admission cycle, and, with this year’s transition to the Common App, many speculate that those numbers will fall considerably lower. And, from what I can gather from ProFros, I would guess that for every Stanford student who applied to Harvard, Yale, or MIT, there is at least one who applied to USC.
Which brings us back to that question: why are we hating so hard on USC? I hope that my observations of USC insults are merely in a competitive spirit. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for friendly rivalry and really enjoy the exciting tension that builds during insane games like that of last Saturday. But for those of you who look down on USC just because – I hope this changes your mind. And if it doesn’t – I urge you to spend some time with Trojans. Most are very cool people once you get to know them. And for those of you who choose to completely discount everything I’ve said here – then please just be the bigger person. If you think USC students, alumni, and fans really are that bad, then don’t match that stereotype by hating or stereotyping. Prove that, as a Cardinal, you are better than that. For fear of sounding like the desperate assembly-girl from Mean Girls, I’ll end on this note: USC isn’t so bad. In fact, while I love the rivalry, I think if you put our laid-back, inventive Northern California ying with their high-energy, big-spirit Southern California yang, we’d have a pretty sweet alliance. So Fight On, Cardinal.