Woman says Smith College comments misconstrued
Published 1:41 pm, Thursday, March 1, 2012
A Greenwich woman's letter to the Smith College student newspaper, which warns that increased diversity at the private women's school might lead to a decrease in donations from well-to-do alumnae, has led to a flurry of angry responses on social media sites.
In her letter, published last week in the Smith College Sophian, Anne Spurzem wrote that the women's college is viewed by students from wealthy Fairfield and Westchester counties as a "safety school" that is not as highly selective as similar colleges.
"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 ... or D) white heterosexual girls who can't get into Ivy League schools," wrote Spurzem, who graduated from Smith in 1984 and is currently president of the Smith Club of Westchester County.
Spurzem further wrote that Smith College President Carol Christ emphasizes that bringing more women of color to the school "is one of her goals, and so that's why the school needs more money for scholarships."
In the letter, which was removed from the Sophian's website, but was copied and pasted to the women's interest blog Jezebel, Spurzem goes on to say that to increase the diversity of the student body, the school is undervaluing SAT scores.
"If you reduce your standards for grades and scores, you drop in the rankings, although you have accomplished a noble social objective," Spurzem wrote. "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."
Contacted on Monday, Spurzem said that the comments in her letter were misconstrued. She explained that she had sent a personal note to Joanna Johnson, editor in chief of the Sophian, in response to a recent article on a possible student housing shortage due to a record number of applications, saying that students shouldn't worry about it. Spurzem said that part of her letter, which was never meant for publication, was left out.
"I was speaking to her in an informal way to share with her my unsubstantiated views of the students who matriculate at Smith College," Spurzem said. "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."
Spurzem said that she, in fact, supports the increase in diversity at Smith.
"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," Spurzem said. "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."
Spurzem declined to comment on her statement that the change in demographics was "unfortunate."
Spurzem's letter has prompted angry Smith students and graduates to speak out on Facebook and other websites, criticizing Spurzem and her stereotyping of the student body. On pearlsand
cashmere.tumblr.com, a blog created in response to the letter, current students and alumnae are encouraged to post photos of themselves wearing cardigans and pearl necklaces, and write about their backgrounds and accomplishments.
Marianne Campolongo, a resident of nearby Chappaqua, N.Y., who graduated from Smith in 1980, posted to a Facebook page that was created in response to the letter.
Campolongo, who said that Spurzem was entitled to her opinion, felt it was important to respond.
"Just as the letter appeared to stereotype people, it also stereotyped people like me -- well-educated white women from Westchester, and we don't all think like that," said Campolongo, 53.
"I also felt as an alum, the women there look up to us. The students, who I'm sure were upset by what was printed from that letter, I want them to know there are many of us who are really happy that they're there. Just like Smith is not the way it sounded in that letter " there are those of us from Westchester who are glad it is the way it is.
Christ, who is stepping down as Smith College's president next year, wrote in an email Friday to students, faculty and staff that she was "shocked and dismayed" by Spurzem's letter.
"It is my cardinal belief that diversity strengthens education for all, and that the very core of Smith's mission -- its founding principle -- is providing educational opportunity for those who have less access to it," Christ wrote.
Jane Shang, one of the presidents of the Smith College Club of Greenwich-Stamford, which is co-sponsoring an annual Shakespeare competition being held at Greenwich Library Wednesday, declined to comment on the letter.
Aja Bryant, a 2004 Smith graduate who is currently teaching English in Brazil, said the college creates female leaders who will support the school in the future.
"I'm in no way afraid Smith is going to suffer in terms of endowment," said Bryant, 29, during a phone interview Monday. "I think the scholarship students are going to be the ones to give back."
Bryant, who was raised by a single mother in Bucks County, Pa., and received a scholarship to Smith, said she was proud of the students and alumnae who are speaking out in response to Spurzem's letter.
"I think it just shows what Smith really is," Bryant said. "And I think it has reconfirmed that for yet another generation."
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