This morning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd made a mistake that has Ivy Leaguers in a tizzy: she referred to Penn State as Penn. The University of Pennsylvania's blog, Under the Button promptly noticed the error and posted a rejoinder: "Hey Maureen Dowd, We’re Not Penn State." Wrote Penn blogger Morgan Finkelstein: "Homegirl is seriously trashing our reputation! ... The mistake has been corrected on the Times' website, but seriously, world, stop confusing us with the brouhaha at Penn State." Dowd was not alone. Out on the West Coast, the Contra Costa Times and L.A.'s The Daily Breeze both ran the headline on an A.P. report: "Official Says Support for Penn's Paterno Eroding." It's a mixup that Penn students and alumni are rather sensitive about. When the scandal broke earlier this week, for example, Mother Jones intern and Penn alum Aaron Ross tweeted "I'm not usually a fan, but those 'not Penn State' T-shirts might be useful now."
The Not Penn State confusion is not a new phenomenon, Penn students are always getting in a tizzy over being confused for the "less prestigious" state school, because, like Finkelstein said, it totally ruins Penn's smarty pants reputation. This time Penn probably doesn't appreciate the association with sex-offenders, but this Penn State sensitivity existed before Joe Paterno's dirty deeds came to light. The Penn v. Penn State confusion happens all the time. That same blog that pointed out the error has a whole section of Penn State blunders. Forever 21 made a similar mistake calling its Penn shirt the Pennsylvania State University Contrast Tee, for example. The school's official bookstore even sells this embarrassing "Not Penn State" T-shirt that Ross tweeted about. It's kind of a school joke and sore spot.
Like we said, the sensitivity is not just about sexual assault, it's about an Ivy League inferiority complex coupled with the Penn State athletic superiority complex. Penn doesn't have the same name recognition as its Ivy League brethren, even though -- and Penn students will be extremely quick to tell you this -- it ranks higher than the better-known Cornell and Brown. The Penn State confusion only makes things worse. Not only has nobody heard of Penn, people think it's some state school. Penn kids hate that.
(Full disclosure: This writer went to Penn but has never owned a Not Penn State T-shirt.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.