she said, thinking. "Brown has come up quite a bit. Brown used to be
"Partywise?" I asked.
"Everythingwise," she said. "Boorwise. Borewise. You-name-it-wise.
But lately Brown has gotten, well—really rather nice. Some people think Trinity
has come up, too," she said, "but not me. I see no changes in Trinity.
They still run up and down the stairs at Trinity parties, yelling and banging
the walls with their fists as they go. And if you want to know a place that's
gone way down, as far as everybody is concerned, it's Cornell. Cornell used to
be considered fun, but now, honestly, Cornell is too ghastly for
The most up
college in the East in the Smith girls' opinion—or, rather, the college that
was so secure in its upness that movement up or down seemed not even worth
considering—was Yale. Princeton was a close second, Williams a close third,
Harvard a poor fourth. ("I'd almost put MIT ahead of Harvard," said one
girl.) They added, "Oh, yes, and of course there's Amherst," and they
spoke of it with a disdain that I gathered sprang from the fact that
Amherst—seven miles from Northampton—was so close as to be indistinguishable
from Smith on weekends.
football season it was the relative upness of the colleges whose teams were
playing that counted where the girls were concerned—not the game. "I really
don't understand football anyway," one girl said. "The only reason I go
is—well, it's fun to see people you know in the stadium, and you can find out
who's going to which parties afterward. I never pay any attention to the game.
If somebody next to me yells or cheers, I say, 'Goodness me, what happened?'
The only moving, really moving, part of the game is when somebody gets hurt and
has to be carried off the field. Then I think: What a shame, what a waste, what
a foolish game! All through his life that boy will have a broken nose or false
front teeth. Oh, I suppose it would be different if any of the players were
anyone I knew. But almost always they're boys I've never met."
started me on a chain of thought, the links of which I will now describe. The
idea that our most, august institutions of higher education are in a condition
of perpetual social flux, subtly moving into a state of grace and out again,
was new to me. But it didn't take me long to realize that whether a college is
Up or Down depends entirely on where you're standing and whom you ask. From the
campus of Smith, Yale may be Up, but it is not necessarily so from the campus
of Radcliffe. Dartmouth may be out of fashion at Bennett Junior College, but it
is not at Colby Junior College. To me the more interesting thought was that the
college football weekend—the very symbol of college social life—no longer
seemed to revolve around the quality of the football team, the prowess of some
individual players, the excitement of seeing ancient rivalries brought to the
test again under bright autumn skies or even the slightest degree of interest
in the game itself. Was college football on the way Down, I wondered? If so,
what sports were Up, in its place? I thought of the Smith girl's remark about
enjoying football games more if "anyone she knew" were on the team. I
thought of Grandfather. Had the social standing of football players dropped to
such a point that no one spoke to them any more? Did the sport a man played
determine his position in the college community? Was selecting a sport as
delicately chancy a business as selecting a fraternity? Could water polo be
construed as a gaffe, like using the wrong fork?
questions tugging at my curiosity, I began what I consider to be an extensive
and thorough exploration of the athletic scene at eastern colleges. I have
emerged from this research unbruised, and with what I think are some
I learned, for
one thing, that on most college campuses there are three distinct categories of
male students. There are the Up guys, the Down guys and a third group popularly
known as the straight arrows. An Up guy is a guy who, with a trick of manner—a
kind of clear, blasé self-assurance—is able to convince other guys that
whatever thing he is doing is the most worthwhile and engaging thing, while the
thing that they (the other guys) are doing is probably kind of silly, if not
actually stupid. Down guys are simply guys who do not possess this trick of
manner. Nobody blames Down guys. (Down guys can't help it if nature, or some
other inscrutable force, failed to endow them with the special luxuriance of
mind and spirit that Up guys seem to have.) Down guys may be good guys, but Up
guys are better guys. The straight arrows, as their name implies, are in the
middle. They are the fence sitters, the controversy straddlers. Straight arrows
play it safe. They are on everybody's side. As tides in campus affairs turn, so
do they, but not enough to endanger their center-of-the-road position. (If
straight arrows had any strength of character everybody would detest them;
since they haven't any, everybody tolerates them good-naturedly.) There are
always more Down guys than Up guys. But the fact that Up guys are Up (plus the
fact that a substantial number of straight arrows swim in the Up guys' wake)
gives them stature and influence. They are the thought-leaders.
Just as there are
Up guys and Down guys, so are there Up sports and Down sports. The system is
not as simple as the one Nancy Mitford devised, in which people and things were
sorted into two bins, Upper Class and non-Upper Class or—as she abbreviated
them—U and non-U. The dividing line that I have discovered is somewhat similar,
but what exists on either side of it is quite different. Up sports and Down
sports are not static categories, not as easily separable as Up guys and Down
guys. Instead, they are like two department store escalators moving in opposite
directions, side by side. There are degrees, in other words. If you picture a
number of college sports spread out like passengers on the moving stairs, you
can see that the result is a hierarchy or, strictly speaking, a pair of
hierarchies—one ascending, the other descending.
Also, unlike Miss
Mitford's categories, the various social levels of college sports have no
relation to social upness and downness that may exist in the world outside.
Wealth and lineage, that is, are not, to the youth on college campuses, the
sort of considerations that they may become in later life at Palm Beach. A
whole infield full of Biddies and Rockefellers would not make baseball an Up
sport at Princeton. The requirements are more democratic nowadays than they
were in my grandfather's time, but they are also more complicated.