Smith Alum's Nasty Letter Was Not Meant for Your Uncultured Eyes

Illustration for article titled Smith Alum's Nasty Letter Was Not Meant for Your Uncultured Eyes

Remember that letter Anne Spurzem wrote to her alma mater, Smith College, lamenting that "white, wealthy, upper-class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls" were giving way to poor lesbians of color? Well, now she says we were never supposed to read it.


Spurzem never responded to our request for comment, but she did talk to Greenwich Time, saying that her letter was supposed to be a "personal note" to The Sophian editor-in-chief Joanna Johnson. She says the letter was inspired by an article about potential housing shortages at Smith, and that context was left out of the published version. She explains,

I was speaking to [Johnson] in an informal way to share with her my unsubstantiated views of the students who matriculate at Smith College. This was not meant to defame the school, the students and the school's admissions policy. It was simply to identify what I saw to be the demographic profile of the students who matriculated.

See, she was just sharing her own baseless assumptions — no harm in that! Spurzem also assures Greenwich Time that she doesn't hate Poors:

I referred to the days of women in cashmere and pearls merely to say that they were women of great wealth who have had the capacity, due to the great opportunities afforded them in life, to contribute substantially to the school. I am convinced that the past and present students of Smith College will change the world and contribute to the school's continuing efforts to promote education for women.

This explicitly contradicts the part of Spurzem's letter that said the decline in cashmere-and-pearl-clad students was "unfortunate because it is this demographic that puts their name on buildings, donates great art and subsidizes scholarships." Spurzem was unwilling to clear up this inconsistency.

Presumably Johnson knows whether Spurzem was clear about her intention that her "personal note" stay between the two of them — she hasn't yet responded to my request for comment. If she knowingly published an email that was supposed to be off the record, that's a problem. But when you write a letter to the editor of a newspaper, you do have to be quite explicit in stating that you don't want it published — otherwise, your recipient might reasonably conclude it is a Letter to the Editor. And even if Spurzem was clear about this, the explanation doesn't make her look particularly good now — is she saying her objectionable comments about poor people were never meant to be read by actual poor people?


As Greenwich Time points out, one good thing has come out of Spurzem's obnoxious missive. That would be Pearls and Cashmere, a tumblr where Smith alums wear the aforementioned items (or variations thereon) and talk about how proud they are of their school. Hope Denese Freeman writes,

It was shocking and insulting to read the letter that started this impressive backlash of my fellow Smithies and I felt the need to respond. The ignorance and assumptions of the "pedigree" of Smith College is disgusting. Smith College is exactly where it needs to be. …and I don't wear pearls, I rock gold chains.


And Ruth Spurlock challenges the notion that her generation of alumnae won't give back:

Smith was my first and only choice, and it has already led me to great things. I'm a Fulbright recipient and a proud Smithie and I'm going to put my name on whatever they let me.


Woman says Smith College comments misconstrued [Greenwich Time]
Pearls and Cashmere [Home]


Spaceman Bill Leah

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Smith Class of 2002 and noted non-WASP, just won an Oscar. God forbid that be the image and achievement Spurzem would want Smith to promote.