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My cousin had a loathsome experience at her university.

In contexts (e.g. social) where answers aren't mandatory (e.g. unlike applying for the law society), how ought she answer questions asking her what universities she attended? 'I do not wish to answer' or 'This is a personal question' feel too brusque.

closed as off-topic by aparente001, Enthusiastic Engineer, Florian D'Souza, tonysdg, scaaahu Apr 3 '17 at 2:26

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "The answer to this question strongly depends on individual factors such as a certain person’s preferences, a given institution’s regulations, the exact contents of your work or your personal values. Thus only someone familiar can answer this question and it cannot be generalised to apply to others. (See this discussion for more info.)" – aparente001, tonysdg, scaaahu
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I would consider attending some university a neutral association, pretty much like being a native to some country. Can you elaborate why your cousin wants to avoid even this association? Saying at which institution you spent a considerable part of your life does not mean that you champion this institution. – Wrzlprmft Apr 2 '17 at 16:10
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    This isn't a question about academia, this is a question of the type "How should I behave in normal life?". – user9646 Apr 2 '17 at 16:30
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    @Wrzlprmft I would consider attending some university a neutral association — Really? Consider the sentence "I graduated from X" where X = (a) Harvard, (b) Berkeley, (c) Smith College, (d) Brigham Young, (e) Southern North Dakota at Hoople, (f) Bob Jones University, (g) University of Phoenix, (h) Trump University. – JeffE Apr 2 '17 at 16:39
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    If she does not reveal where she studied, I think many people will assume she went to a low-ranked or otherwise controversial university. – mkennedy Apr 2 '17 at 18:26
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    @JeffE: This may be more of an American thing (I had to look up half of your examples). Still, most examples are about things that you already accept to be associated with when joining this institution (which does not seem to apply here), e.g., when a university is exclusive to some sect, you choose this and its implications when joining. But even then this does not mean that you approve of everything going on at this institution. – Wrzlprmft Apr 2 '17 at 18:35
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Oh dear. I fear your cousin is going to have a difficult life. Like other people who hold very strange beliefs that are not shared by 99.999% of the population, she will occasionally find herself participating in a conversation where the subject her beliefs pertain to comes up, and then she will be faced with the following choices about how to behave:

  1. Pretending to go along with the premise assumed by the rest of society (e.g., that universities are good and socially beneficial institutions, that Elvis was not in fact abducted by aliens, etc). In the context of your question that means telling people where she went to school.

  2. Staying true to her beliefs and responding honestly to any questions on the topic being discussed, which means she will have to explain her beliefs and accept that this will lead to the vast majority of people likely thinking she is an extremely unreasonable or even delusional person.

  3. Somehow avoiding the discussion entirely by making up an excuse to stay out of the conversation and avoid answering related questions ("for personal reasons I no longer take part in discussions about Elvis").

The problem is that choice number 1 minimizes negative social consequences for her, but at the cost of making her feel like she is living a lie and betraying her beliefs, which she may view as an unbearable sacrifice to make. Choice number 2 will incur (as she may have already learned, or will likely learn very soon if she adopts this policy) very severe negative social consequences. And choice number 3 is also likely to make her appear to be a bit of a weirdo and incur negative social consequences (though probably less negative than with choice number 2), while at the same time giving her some of the same negative feelings that she is a coward for not defending her beliefs (similarly to choice number 1, although I expect the negative feelings will be less strong since she will avoid the subject rather than be actively complicit in denying her beliefs).

The bottom line is that the choice is entirely hers and she needs to think about what matters most to her in view of the above analysis. Unfortunately I don't see any solution that avoids negative feelings and her having a difficult time in certain social and professional interactions, as I said. My personal recommendation to her would be to re-examine her belief about universities -- obviously if she changes her mind about her misguided belief that universities are corrupt, immoral and oppressive institutions then the whole dilemma will disappear, which will be the happiest outcome. But I recognize that this may not be a very helpful suggestion since it is not so easy for someone to change a sincere and deeply held belief just because it is in their interest to do so.

  • Thanks. I edited the question to refine my cousin's opinions of universities: she does not judge them hateful but rather corrupt. Does this change your last paragraph? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Apr 2 '17 at 16:52
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    @Canada I've changed "hateful" to "corrupt, immoral and oppressive", but the rest of my answer still stands. Thanks for editing your question to give a more nuanced description of your cousin. I think it may still be a good idea to clarify things a bit further. Specifically, it's not clear what it means to be a "pessimist of universities"; what the phrase "universities can benefit" means (benefit whom?); and what it means to say that "they suffer too many problems". Right now the picture that emerges of your cousin still sounds a little confusing, but for now I stand by my answer FWIW. – Dan Romik Apr 2 '17 at 17:21
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There are a few things to consider if your cousin persists in refusing to state where she completed her degree:

  • some people will just as likely assume which university she went to - to the point of even assuming a low-ranked university or one of ill-repute etc.
  • Her views of the university are not necessarily universal - many other people may not share the negative views of the university. Many have no particular view at all. Especially if they did not witness the shortcomings.
  • Many would consider it impolite to not share the university name - and if they are not in control in her future career, does it really matter if they know?

If she perseveres, she will eventually complete her degree with skills and knowledge of the law, she could use this to help alleviate the problems she perceives/witnesses at the university or better still, take the completed JD from the 'competitive law school' and do something positive with it.

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