Other than the throngs of people in the Events Center, I remember very little about this year’s Binghamton University Admitted Students Open House. I do, however, distinctly remember a moment where I was sitting next to my dad in the green plastic seats, listening to a particularly energetic speaker introduce the University to the crowd in the stands. He glossed over BU’s academic standing, and began making a comparison between the University and another on the West Coast: University of California, Berkeley. The crowd stirred and I shot my dad an eye roll.
I don’t remember the rest of the speech, but it must’ve been inspiring and educational, because here I am, a first-year student at BU. But ever since my arrival, I’ve heard this same sentiment — this equivalency drawn between BU and some elite university with gobs of academic clout echoed everywhere. I’ve heard BU described as “the Harvard of the SUNY system,” as the place where those who are too frugal or too relaxed to attend Cornell University go, seeking haven as a member of the list of “public Ivies.”
If I hear someone assign the phrase “premier public Ivy” to BU without a hint of irony, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to suppress the scowl that appears on my face. It’s not that I take issue with fellow students and staff being proud of the impressive national standing of our school. BU is the highest-ranked university in the SUNY system, sliding into 79th place in the 2020 U.S. News and World Report’s “Best National Universities” list. Within New York state, and even in neighboring states, BU is a recognizable name with a solid academic reputation. It’s no secret that the University attracts students who are sharp, with a tendency toward both scholarship and practical decision-making when it comes to the price tags of higher education.
My distaste for drawing parallels between the University and other excellent universities is derived from the fact that it shifts the focus away from our own accomplishments and offerings as a school and as a community. Instead, we appear desperate to appease popular sensibility by cramming ourselves next to schools steeped in legend and prestige. In claiming that our halls are a few green sprigs short of being ivy-covered, we abandon our identity as a federally funded university that seeks to provide students with a high-quality education — downplaying the opportunities for growth and learning special to the BU campus.
Relying on these equivalencies to convince others of BU’s value as a university is not only a weak rhetorical strategy, but a poor marketing technique. Anyone in search of a premier university can easily access that U.S. News and World Report “Best National Universities” list and see that there are many schools, 79 to be exact, of equal or higher academic and cultural reputation. But those schools don’t have the same things we do. For example, they don’t have a nature preserve that stretches more than 180 acres on campus and is easily accessible to students. They also don’t have the Dickinson Research Team (DiRT), a research program created specifically for students living in Dickinson Community that provides them with an opportunity to conduct research even as undergraduate freshmen.
Frankly speaking, we are not the counterpart to UC Berkeley, Harvard or even Cornell. We are Binghamton University and we exist outside the realm of uber-selective, uber-expensive universities. We are our own school, with our own exhaustive lists of academic and cultural activities, so we need to start acting and talking like it.
Madelaine Hastings is a freshman double-majoring in English and economics.