“the U”

So… a few nights ago I was chatting with some new friends in the basement of the “Essex House,” a house run by Campus Outreach Minneapolis, which is the college ministry of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and in which I am staying this week.

How I got there is a long story and is not the point of today’s blog. :)

We were chatting about how I’ve learned, since arriving here in Minnesota, that everybody in the Twin Cities refers to the University of Minnesota as simply “the U.” Yes, there are other colleges in town – many of which have “University” in their name. But around here, “the U” means the University of Minnesota. ‘Nuff said. Apparently.

(For some reason, I personally have long called University of Minnesota “U Minn.” I guess I made that up, because nobody seems to know what I’m talking about when I say it. So I’ve stopped saying it.)

Within that conversation, we joked about the arrogance of calling any school simply, “The U.” But the thing is… it works. Here in the Twin Cities, everybody knows what you’re talking about. One state away, they would have no clue – or they could assume you were talking about the University of North Dakota, the University of South Dakota, the University of Iowa, or the University of Wisconsin (depending).

My new pals also brought up the fact that some people call the school “U of M” – though that can get mixed up with the University of Michigan, they said.

But in fact, there 6 additional states that could fit that bill. Or even the University of Manitoba, if that exists. Yes, it does. (I saw a billboard for vacationing in Manitoba today, so it’s on my mind.)

After all this talk of our personal shorthand for college names got me thinking, and I realized that it kind of illustrates something that has been on my mind all year: our “regiocentricity.” By that, I mean the way we all very naturally focus in on our personal spheres (geographic or otherwise), instead of remembering the “great big world out there.” Or something like that.

This phenomenon is why in Texas, “UT” doesn’t need to be explained – it obviously refers to the University of Texas, right? But the funny thing is, “UT” in the Southeast doesn’t need to be explained, either – because it’s the University of Tennesee, of course.

I even have to be careful when I reference my own alma mater, often forgetting that “A&M” can mean different schools in different states.

I’ve written about this “extraregional ignorance” before – you can read my “Unique Can Be Regional post” if you want to. What I described there was simply an illusion we all share: the illusion that our personal experiences are more generalizable than they truly are.

(And honestly, that’s usually not a big problem. Most of the time, thinking regionally makes sense.)

So, you can read that post if you want more thoughts – no need to rehash here. But I’ve been thinking about that stuff, and I’ll probably post some related ideas soon.

Plus, I thought the whole “college names” thing was a pretty good metaphor. And those who know me know I’m not one to let a good metaphor – or a ridiculous one – go to waste.

Written somewhere in Wisconsin


  1. Shout out to the University of Memphis, too!

    Regional thinking is just another way of saying “culture”, isn’t it? And part of our culture is our vernacular. So it makes sense to me, anyway. What fascinates me is how our shrinking world (or growing perspective) makes this more obvious to us. We have people from all over the country and all over the world living in the same cities and towns, which highlights our regionalism.

    And God loves all of us!

  2. Pingback: super spotlight « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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