Emma, class of 2012. I Ieft my pearls at home but I’m wearing a Tiffany bracelet, so I hope that counts for something.
Upper-middle class, white, hetero, feminist, athlete, VP of my house, bilingual and I speak French too. I scored very well on the SAT, but Smith picked me based on merit, not a number. I go to Smith because of my parents’ generosity and financial aid from Smith. I’m on work study and proud of it!
I didn’t even apply to Ivy Leagues because I don’t buy into the idea that they’re the only way to get a good education in this country. I applied to D3 liberal arts schools so that I could compete in cross country in college, which I did for 3 years. I was also captain my junior year.
I didn’t want to come to Smith, but when I visited, I was convinced. I wanted to be able to say, for once in my life, that I had group of strong, independent female friends. I’ve never been able to say that before, but now I can. They’re from every possible walk of life, and I love that about them.
This week more than ever, I know I made the right choice. I’m proud to be a Smithie.
Dear Miss. Anne Spurzem,
In the words of Mahatma Ghanthi, “You will find that there is room for all of us.”
I am the kind of Smithie you disapprove of seeing as I came from a world where the typical home is made of cow dung and mud, the children walk at least ﬁve miles or so in bare feet to carry water from rivers back to their homes; there is typically no electricity or running water or plumbing in the home. Young girls typically undergo female genital mutilation, between the ages of eight and fifteen, depending on how their bodies mature, and are then married off to men old enough to be their grand fathers.
While you might think that attending Smith is hardly an accomplishment, when I received my acceptance letter to Smith I sobbed because I had wanted to go here so badly and worked very hard to accomplish this goal. For me Smith was not a safety school; it was the “IT” school. My biological mother who farmed vegetables, on Nairobi sewers then hawked them on the streets to support my education is proud that I attend Smith although she doesn’t know exactly what that means. She is proud that her leaving her village, despite objections from male elders, is paying off. A poor single mother, trying to make it on her own, in the city without a formal education, her fierce determination and drive continues to inspire me to aspire and work to achieve greater heights. My dear friend and mentor Ledama Olekina, who walked across America, to raise money for my secondary education is proud I attend Smith. My American parents, who opened up their home for me, giving up years of their retirement and savings to ensure I attended Smith are proud that I will graduate here. The members of Cape Cod Community who have supported me both financially and morally are proud that I attend Smith.
I speak for many Smith students who refuse to allow you to belittle our education. During my time here, I continue to meet many diverse Smithies with unique personal histories who count attending Smith among their proudest accomplishments. Each day I am increasingly grateful that through its generous financial aid, Smith College gave a village girl, like me, who was supposed to have married at the age of perhaps fifteen (my body matured late), the chance to acquire a world class education.
International Student from Kenya, future attorney and Smith College fund donor.
Me and my beautiful/crazy family that got me through college
Katie Mac(Kenzie). Oregon love. Engineering Science 2011. Cushing House. For the right occasion I wear pearls with a cute dress, but you’ll most often find me in business casual without make up but instead a touch of bike grease.
I was extremely fortunate to have a comfortable upbringing and a very supportive family. I worked hard, really hard, throughout school, but I still only achieved mediocre test scores. Instead of being perceived by a scantron, I proved my intelligence and eagerness to learn by my work ethic. I earned high grades in my courses and also by being involved outside the classroom (through competitive sports, music, volunteering, part time jobs, etc.).
I applied to Smith after much reluctance because, not only was I surprised single sex colleges still existed, but I didn’t think going to school with all women would prepare for for real work environments (i.e. co-ed). I was interested in the engineering program because it was different from any other I had found for undergraduate degrees and fit the bill to what I was looking for (chance to study multiple disciplines, project based courses, opportunities for undergraduate research, etc.). But the icing on the cake was the schools eagerness to attract students all over, which for me was exciting considering I grew up in a homogeneous community of the white middle class.
However, after a few years at Smith, where you came was no longer the sole identity of the student that I was interested learning about. After years of inspiring classroom discussions and project to provide insights on different life experiences, what really mattered was where you strived to go with your life. Smith is a school for students with ambition, determined to graduated with high expectations for not just themselves but for all of their classmates. The students body you envision for Smith is a micro-climate, a bubble of ignorance. You’re encouraging students to come from similar backgrounds only to end up right where they started. Smith should be including students from all over the world and all over the board of interests, financial background, ethnicity, and more so we can learn from one another what is outside our beautiful botanical garden of a campus. Smithies didn’t apply to school just to find a job with a decent or great paycheck. We chose a school that would challenge us to learn about the world, encourage us to find a fulfilling career that would envision positive change and make us successful contributors in the betterment of society.
I hope you are now aware of the grief and frustration you’ve caused on the Smith community for your narrow minded letter. Since you have shared your economic wealth and told us how your class is who we should be thanking for such things as art, statues, and new buildings (even though that is entirely not true), I look forward to your next donation to Smith for one or all of these items. Thanks in advance, and hopefully in the future your gifts will be for pride in your alma mater and not in payment for damage control for public humiliation.
I’m slightly bias, but another science building would be much appreciated.
Emily, Class of 2007, white, upper middle class, don’t like labels, WILDER HOUSE PRIDE, Connecticut born & bred, History and Art History major, imminent Master of Library & Information Science, member of Glee Club and the Smithereens, Wilder House Council.
Smith was unequivocally my first choice. My parents paid for my college tuition out of pocket and I didn’t receive a dime of financial aid. I say this not to show wealth or status in a public forum, but because I want to be clear about my understanding of the kind of community to which Ms. Spurzem refers. I also say it to underscore the fact that my parents saved for years to allow me to attend an institution of my choosing that valued the education of its (diverse) students above all else.
From the moment I stepped foot on campus, I knew that Smith was the right place for me. I was never once proven wrong. The people I met at Smith, from all over the country and the world, and the experiences we shared, are the reason that I am the person I am today. Smith, too, gave me the courage and confidence to live abroad for my junior year and experience and understand what it means to be an invested citizen of a global world. I think about Smith every day, and know that the people I was fortunate enough to meet there will be my family for the rest of my life. The beautiful, empowered response to Ms. Spurzem’s hateful rhetoric has only proven that she can’t take that away from us.
Sarah “Sped” Pedicini. 2011 Alum. Mass-hole. Urban Public School. Lower Middle Class. Grandchild of immigrant Irish and Italian grandmothers. Engineering Science. Athlete (SOE). Wilsonite. Liberal. Feminist. Leader. Artist. E.I.T. Financial aid recipient. Graduate school accepted. Full time volunteer. Idealist. Friend to Smithies of different races, countries of origin, sexualities, genders, social classes, religions, and political views.
I am perfectly fine having graduated with a bachelor of science degree and not a bachelor from Amherst. My four years taught me to be proud of the woman I chose to be even when I do not conform to social norms. I hate wearing make-up, dressing up, and fancy things. I love jeans, Smith t-shirts, a little dirt under the fingernails, and flip flops. So please ma’am, I DO NOT want your pearls and cashmere, you may keep them.
Erin. Early 30s. DC based. Queer, feminist, working class dog mama
with an arts and archives background. Former class co-president, WOZQ
DJ, Sophia Smith Collection intern, and employee for the town of
Northampton. Ada Comstock Scholar, class of 2009, History and the
Study of Women and Gender double major. Current employee of the
National Archives and American University, volunteer at the National
Museum of American History, and PhD student in modern US history. My
work challenges conceptions of knowledge about power, identity, and
women in America. I’ll share my dissertation with you when it’s
finished. It sounds like you need it.
An open letter from a proud brother of a Smithie:
Dear Ms. Spurzem,
You certainly deserve no response on account of the opinion you published in the Sophian. Yet because even the specter of bigotry has an insidious and infective tendency, and because it inflicts dignitary harm on all of us who bear witness to it, a few observations on the nature of your opinion and its logic are important.
At bottom, it is not exactly clear what position you advocate. As readers, we are left only with a general sense of consternation that Smith may no longer be privileged enough to name its buildings after pale patrons with money to spare. Yet pearls and cashmere, weighed against the hefty efforts Smith has made against manifest social inequities and injustices, have been found wanting. I assure you that the scales were properly calibrated.
You have presented no argument, much less taken up the impossible task of conjuring up a compelling case, for the hypothesis that “how the school is viewed by students in Westchester and Fairfield Counties” should matter. Unless Smith—as a community—were consciously to elect to place selling the names of scholarships and buildings above its much more significant and sustained efforts of institutional soul-searching, it is unclear how the wealth and education levels of parents in two affluent counties is at all relevant.
Indeed, your decision to adduce the wealth and education levels in these communities is nothing less than an assault on values that I am sure so many of us hold dear. In this country we have the right to be judged by who we are and what we do, not by who our parents were or what they did. A fortiori, wealth should be immaterial. Sadly, as your letter reminds us, that the exercise of this right depends on the enlightenment of the tribunal.
Suppose for a moment, though, that we ignore these moral flaws and look instead to the internal logic of your opinion. Smith, you implore, should be more like the Ivy League schools. Such an exhortation is curious.
First, your citation to two counties is paradoxically provincial. Perhaps you could point us to the Ivy League institution whose concern for Westchester and Fairfield—even read metonymically—so outweighed its goals of achieving diversity and an international reputation.
Second, you have failed to offer any reason why Smith should curry favor with those very people who are “programmed from day one to get into Ivy League schools.” I will ignore, for a moment, the problematic notion that Ivy League schools are simply universally and measurably “better.” Even so, your logic is tortured: Why would Smith pander to people who have—“from day one”—seen “Smith [a]s a safety school”?
Third, in your list of lamentations, you contend that “very few of these [allegedly Ivy League-bound] students want to go to a single sex school.” Nobody is holding a proverbial gun to applicants’ heads and telling them to apply to Smith. For an apposite analogy, I refer you to the fate of applicants who apply to Princeton Law School.
Finally, with regard to Smith’s decision not to look at SATs: again, perhaps Smith is not trying to compete with Ivy League schools—and why should it? You concede that this decision may be part of a larger scheme to further a “noble social objective.” And the case for reduced reliance on test scores has been aptly argued elsewhere. But more fundamentally, you should realize that the problem isn’t figuring out how to beat the Ivies at their own game. The problem is the game itself.
Of course, you want it both ways. On the one hand, Smith should strive to stack up against the Ivies. On the other, (white) Smith women should be alarmed that the days of “marry[ing] Amherst men are over.” Yet I was not aware that Amherst was an Ivy League school. Nor was I aware that Amherst men wouldn’t consider marrying “international students” or “women of color.”
In fact, such premise is arrestingly startling. Perhaps a reference to counties is pertinent: Ms. Spurzem, we’re not in Maricopa. White heterosexuals are not the only people who should be attending college. Surely, Smith does not want any buildings or scholarships subsidized by people who would look down on individuals because they self-identified as lesbians, foreigners, or minorities.
But if this conversation has revealed anything, it has shown how many of us will not sit idly by listening to invective inflected with ignorance. Those strong Smith women who have responded so graciously to your soliloquy—for in truth, we hope it is just that, a solitary act—are powerful evidence of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s much more compelling proposition, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
So by now, you probably wish you had never deigned to share your thoughts. But I think thanks are in order: from false opinions, we gain, in the words of John Stuart Mill, “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
Parker Rider-Longmaid, proud brother of a Smithie
All this energy and Smith love are amazing, but you know, if we all dig deep and give a dollar or two to the Smith fund it will go a long way toward disproving Ms. Spurzem’s actual point, which is that no one but rich white straight girls could ever possibly give back to the college. Just a thought. - Emily Smart (‘07)
Margaret (left), class of 2011. Highly educated family, valedictorian, world citizen from rural northern Maine, loves people, sunburns with great talent. German & French double major, cum laude, Fulbright fellow. Rejected by Ivys. Diehard Ziskindite and devoted Gold Key Guide from day one. Scrubbed pots, rolled sushi and helped Smithies study abroad for work-study and will be paying for her Smith education for the next decade. Loves her Amherst friends. Lives in Germany. Got her pearls at a yard sale. Most cherished Smith memory was getting to know:
Laura (right), class of 1934. B.A. in mathematics and M.A. in education, taught in D.C. public schools for 30 years and at the U. of D.C. for 10. Loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, Smithie. She was one of the first women of color to ever graduate from Smith and had to chisel through the hardness of a closed-minded society every day to be treated equally— a society in which many frowned upon diversity and feared that it would lower the standards of prestigious institutions. Her determination, her joy, helped open the way to understanding, to truth, to the celebration of people.
When this photo was taken in 2009, both women were glad to see how Smith had changed through the years and were optimistic about its future. Both considered themselves to be among the luckiest people on earth, in that they were both grown, challenged, and embraced by a fiercely intelligent, compassionate and daring Smith College community. They were both sculpted by the indescribable bond that came with their Smith education— that bond, that spirit, that umph which transcends generations, gender, race and all other adjectives we use to describe our particular flavor of past, personality and humanity. They both understood the necessity of diversity: this wide, wild and wonderful collection of adjectives that make us all more colorful, complicated, confident, creative, attractive, bold, brainy, ruggedly refined and united against the blindness of intolerance and the hurt it carries.
We are black and white, we are shiny and soft, and we are not afraid to stop there. We are worth so much more, and we have so much more to give.
Julia Mandeville, Class 2010.
I am the white, heterosexual daughter of well-educated, well-off parents. I was lucky enough to have the kind of childhood that prepared me to get into a prestigious school like Smith (although I wouldn’t say I was “programmed” to do anything).
I never thought of Smith as a “safety school.” I do think of it as a safe school- the safest, most welcoming community I have ever been blessed to be a part of.
Oh, and Anne, I’m living in sin with a UMass boy (gasp!)
Evelyn, ‘13, Government/Anthropology double major, studying abroad and interning in Geneva, Switzerland. Feminist and abortion rights/reproductive justice advocate. Option A: Flaming lesbian. Ashkenazi Orthodox Jew. Proud Texan and a Southerner. Democrat. Upper middle-class background, lower middle-class upbringing, daughter of a long-deceased professor and a working-class small-business owner/single parent. Self-reliant and independent for the past 3 years. Receiving a lot of financial aid, working two jobs a minimum of 20 hrs/wk to make ends meet. Trans* ally. Morrowite. Co-President of VOX: Voices For Choice. I can generally be found in Woodstar Cafe at any given hour of the day.
I came to Smith for financial reasons, and stayed after experiencing a year of growth which has since steered my life. At Smith, my friends encompass and display a range of genders, sexualities, races, religions, political affiliations, majors, hair styles, fashion choices, and beyond. I both love and hate Smithies, and would never undo my decision to stay. My best friends and my family can all be found here. Smith is a flawed institution, but a brilliant and vibrant one. At Smith, we can have the debates we need to have, and work to repair the cracks. We argue about everything from our views on the gender binary to whether or not dining hall food is acceptable (it’s not). I don’t always agree, but I don’t have to - the beauty of Smith lies in its formation of people who think for themselves, fight back, and work to reshape a world which has never been fair to those who are in any way disadvantaged by society. I came to Smith as a last-resort, and stayed for the people, the coffee, and my growing sense of self. I can only hope that those who would write letters such as the one which spurred this response would take some time to revisit the last one. And/or the coffee, it’s pretty good in Northampton. I recommend Woodstar, personally.
Rosa Goldman (left), 2012, Environmental Science & Policy major, Studio Art minor. Northampton resident and Smith College Campus School graduate. I never intended to go to college so close to home, so Smith was not among my top choices when I applied. It’s scary to think that if I had gotten into more of those “top choices,” I might not be here. If I had to do it again, I would choose Smith. This community is so supportive and engaging — the response to Ms. Spurzem’s letter proves that. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. (And Boston definitely does not beat Northampton!)
Danielle Pite (right), 2012, double major in Dance and Chemistry. I’m from Boulder, Colorado and chose to come to Smith College for many reasons — it is one of the only schools where one can double major in dance and a science without sacrificing either. I was also very drawn by the five-college consortium and all of the amazing opportunities it brings. The excitement and dedication of the professors and the student body’s desire to learn were much more important factors in my decision to come than the ranking of the school. I have loved my experience here –- I have had amazing guidance from professors, made incredible friends, and grown more than I ever thought was possible. I am also proud to say that I am a person and an individual –- and Smith has allowed and encouraged me to be. More important than my socio-economic status, skin color, sexual orientation, or GPA — I love to dance and hope to join a dance company when I graduate, I enjoy hobbies such as: coffee, excursions with friends, and making paper cranes, and I love to learn and plan to one day go to graduate school in ecology. I cannot imagine a greater, more empowering college experience than the one I’ve had at Smith College and would not change it for the world.
We are neighbors in Lawrence House. We like getting up early and going to Woodstar, eating yogurt, going for long walks in the woods, and dressing up Snausage (center), who likes wearing pearls and cashmere more than we do.