Balk: Let’s retire the ‘state school’ chant


Tim Balk, Assistant Opinion Editor

On Saturday at Ryan Field, sometime before the Wildcats’ game with Iowa got out of hand, Willie the Wildcat turned to the student section from his spot near the sideline and held up a big poster board with the words “State School” scrawled on it.

The students took note and a “state school” chant began to shower down from the Homecoming crowd, directed at the Hawkeyes and their fans.

What an embarrassment.

The state school chant is an old standard at Northwestern football games. It is just one of the various “we’re better than you” chants NU students use at sporting events — when there are enough of us to actually get a chant going. Much like the jangling of the key chains, “safety school” chants and the like, the state school chant is intended to assert an air of dominance, if not in sport then in academics and life. Given NU’s football history, it makes sense that students might favor such traditions, and they can be charming, endearing and fun.

The state school chant, though, is different from others in a critical way. It does not merely suggest NU students’ superiority; it implies that NU is better because it is a private institution. What an elitist, nonsensical crock.

Putting the merit of academic boasting aside and recognizing NU is a fantastic school, the idea that NU is fantastic because it is private and that our Big Ten peers are inferior because they’re public is total nonsense. There are plenty of great public colleges and universities across the country, from UCLA to Michigan to Virginia, and many in between. There are also many less-than-great private colleges.  

Public and private schools both offer their own advantages and disadvantages. There is no basis that I am aware of for being proud of attending a private or public school per se. I attended a public high school. It was a great school. I attend a private college. It is a great school.

Truly, the chant is a thinly veiled declaration that, “We’re better than you because our college has a higher price tag.” Or, put more bluntly, “We’re better because we’re richer.” Which sounds bad because it is. I hate the chant and have always hated the chant. But what really bothered me at the Iowa game was that it was, to some degree, school-sponsored snobbery. Willie should never have been leading the chant.

I would be the last person to be confused for the fun police. NU students generally show a dearth of creativity in game-day chanting and cheers. I wish the student section was more active and engaged. At the Minnesota game, I worked, mostly unsuccessfully, to start a “Leidner sucks” chant directed at Minnesota’s quarterback — sorry Mitch, I didn’t mean it — and a “we want ‘Bama” chant as the Cats took over the game. I love yelling at refs. I would storm the field after every win if it were socially acceptable. Most of all, I wish we had more puns, more fun and more creativity in the student section.

Still, we can be creative without socioeconomic snobbery. We can have fun without being uppity.

If I had been an Iowa student at the game on Saturday, I would have left thinking NU students are jerks. The state school chant is obnoxious and dumb.

After the 40-10 beatdown, we can probably kiss any hope of a 2015 Big Ten title goodbye. We should say goodbye and good riddance to the “state school” chant along with it. It needs to be retired.

Tim Balk is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.