Alum Tells Smith College to Quit Admitting Poors

In recent years, Smith College has been making efforts to improve its diversity. But one alum isn't happy about this. She would like less diversity, please — and she's written a letter warning Smith about the dire consequences of admitting fewer rich white ladies.

Anne Spurzem, class of '84, wrote to the Smith College Sophian on Wednesday. Let's just read the whole letter, shall we?

To the Editor,

I am the president of the Smith Club of Westchester County. I enjoy reading the Sophian online because it helps me stay abreast of developments at the school.

I read your article about [President] Carol [Christ]'s resignation and it had some interesting statistics. It mentioned the percentage increase in the population of women of color and foreign students. The gist of the article was that one of Carol's objectives coming into the position was to increase diversity and the article gave statistics that showed that she did.

As someone who has followed admissions for many years, I can tell you how the school is viewed by students in Westchester and Fairfield Counties. First, these counties are some of the wealthiest in the country. The children have parents who are highly educated and accomplished and have high household incomes. The children are programmed from day one to get into Ivy League schools.

To this demographic, Smith is a safety school. Also, very few of these students want to go to a single sex school. With the exception of Wellesley, it is not hard to get into the Seven Sisters any more. The reason why Wellesley is more selective is because it is smaller than Smith and in a better geographic location – Boston beats Northampton.

The people who are attending Smith these days are A) lesbians or B) international students who get financial aid or C) low-income women of color who are the first generation in their family to go to college and will go to any school that gives them enough money. Carol emphasizes that this is one of her goals, and so that's why the school needs more money for scholarships or D) white heterosexual girls who can't get into Ivy League schools.

Smith no longer looks at SATs because if it did, it would have to report them to U.S. News & World Report. Low-income black and Hispanic students generally have lower SATs than whites or Asians of any income bracket. This is an acknowledged fact because they don't have access to expensive prep classes or private tutors.

To accomplish [President Christ's] mission of diversity, the school is underweighting SAT scores. This phenomenon has been widely discussed in the New York Times Education section. If you reduce your standards for grades and scores, you drop in the rankings, although you have accomplished a noble social objective. Smith has one of the highest diversity rates in the country.

I can tell you that the days of white, wealthy, upper-class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls who marry Amherst men are over. This is unfortunate because it is this demographic that puts their name on buildings, donates great art and subsidizes scholarships.

-Anne Spurzem '84

This is one of those cases where the letter-writer might not actually be aware she's being awful. I can't even completely tell what her point is — asides like "you have accomplished a noble social objective" make me think she sort of gets that maybe admitting people who are not white could be a good idea. But then she closes things out with comment about "great art" that implies Smith is consigning itself to a cultural wasteland by letting in Poors. Also, her breakdown of Smith undergrads these days is frankly insulting: many low-income students would probably be surprised to learn that they don't give a shit where they go to school.

One alum, Drew Zandonella-Stannard, shared her reaction on her Tumblr:

I try to keep an even temper. However, I'm not past putting anyone on notice. This week, that person is Anne Spurzem, the President of the Smith Club of Westchester County, who wrote a letter to The Sophian that can only be described as hateful, confused, bigoted and just plain mean. [...]

In these pages, I showcase the pieces of Smith College's past that make us proud to hail from such a unique community. Sometimes it's about Hilda Yen, the famed aviatrix who dedicated her career to teaching flight in China. Sometimes it's about how one photo can encapsulate the bond felt by so many alums. Sometimes it's about finding the perfect pair of saddle shoes circa 1949.

I was hoping some of you wonderful readers could pass along a message to Ms. Spurzem, telling her why you've been proud to call Smith home at one time or another.

I write all of this as a white, heterosexual alum who occasionally wears pearls, who accepted much-needed financial aid, who plans on giving to her school annually, and who hails from one big Lesbian family.

And a current student wrote:

Anne Spurzem, class of 1984, majored in economics, attended the MacDuffie School for Girls. She attended Duke University after Smith, where she got her MBA in marketing, before moving to Greenwich, Connecticut, the 2006 American city with the highest median income, where I am sure there are no low-income young lesbians of color or international students requiring financial aid who don't want to submit their pathetic SAT scores to sad old Smith College. Not that SAT scores are a poor measure of a student's academic merit, or that they have been shown to favor white students. That probably doesn't matter so much in Connecticut, the wealthiest state in the union, with a population that's 77% white!

Oh, and by the way, Anne, we may be poor, queer, dark-skinned foreigners but at least we don't lurk the website of a college we graduated from nearly 30 years ago insulting the current students. Oh, we're also not homophobic racist twats! Cheers!

Clearly The Sophian has been getting a lot of hate-mail for Spurzem — they've added a note to the top of their Letters to the Editor section, reading, in part,

Though this forum is an area to engage with each other and the Letters to the Editor, we ask that you please refrain from any personal attacks on the letter writers themselves; any comments containing such harassment will be removed. By all means feel free to disagree with the letters' content, but please only do so in a civil manner that respects the diversity of opinion among members of the Smith College community.

Frankly, I get the impulse to call someone a twat when she basically just called you a charity case who has no standards. And it's hard to argue with the substance of Spurzem's letter when its substance is, as Zandonella-Stannard writes, so "confused." I've written Spurzem to ask her to clarify what she actually wants from Smith — does she think the college should admit fewer low-income and minority students, or does she have some other recommendation? Maybe there's an interesting debate to be had here about how universities can keep their endowments healthy enough to offer scholarships while still serving low-income populations — but Spurzem's letter hasn't exactly gotten that debate off to a good start.

Letters to the Editor [The Sophian]