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