Pearls & Cashmere at Smith College


A recent letter to the editor of the Sophian, written by Anne Spurzem ’84, caused an explosion of outrage online:

Here are the more salient paragraphs, with emphasis added:

I read your article about [President] Carol [Christ]’s resignation … It mentioned the percentage increase in the population of women of color and foreign students. … 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. …

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.

As you can imagine, the outrage over this letter is enormous:


8 Responses to “Pearls & Cashmere at Smith College”

  1. 1 lizzy

    It’s pretty clear that the author hails from either Westchester or Fairfield county, as she is under the illusion that the rest of the country actually cares about the rich, spoiled kids who live there or whether or not they are going to attend an Ivy League college.

    I find it rather cute (but also a little sad) how the author and other people from this area of the country consider themselves as on the forefront of America’s mind, the desired college students, every college’s dream demographic, when it couldn’t be further from the truth. Sweetie – the world is changing. Most people don’t care where your Westchester students are applying to school. The days of the cashmere wearing, UMC, Amherst-marrying ideal are over, and even though that may make you feel obsolete, hopefully you’ll learn to accept it some day.

    • Hi Lizzy – You missed the point she was making entirely…she was using her community as an example as one where female students are intensely educated and prepared to go to school AND where they eventually want to go to school to further hone their skills….it’s the Ivies and it always has been since most of the Seven Sisters went coed circa the late 1960’s. She’s only stating a truth and you are killing the messenger out of defensiveness….

      That said – there’s a place for Smith in the competition to land excellent students as well. As we would all agree, the Smith environment has lots to offer…it’s especially a place were a student can march to their own drummer and explore who they want to be without the intense pressure found on an Ivy League campus. The roster of accomplished Smith alums is the pudding-proof!! SMITH JUST HAS TO MARKET ITSELF BETTER…THERE’S TONS OF ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT there!!

      Students in New York City hardly know about Smith – no comprehensive pitches are made….so if they don’t know, surely students farther out don’t either….

      That said – as a white, well-educated, accomplished, (high income) alum….I am thrilled that my daughter will be enrolling at Smith this Fall.

      • 3 CinnamonCrisps

        KitKat, Did you miss the part where the author of the letter said it was unfortunate that the days of cashmere sweater and pearl-wearing Smith women were the key demographic? I think you are actually the one ignoring the fact that this letter is a elitist and offensive as a letter can be. When you say Smith has to market itself better, to whom? It’s clearly been marketing itself fine to add diversity to the College. So the only demographic you can be referring to when you claim it needs to market itself better would be these pearls and cashmere wearing elitist women who believe that because they were born a certain status, they are inherently better. You even claiming that Smith needs to market itself better is proof of your own sense of elitism since the only change in the marketing of Smith College has added a student body full of diverse brilliance.

  2. Thank you for providing this superb platform for Smith women to connect. Especially now during this viral response to Ms. Spurzem. (I have done a shorter URL for you, as I think you have some of the best links. – Michelle Laven ’95, President, Smith College Club of Great Britain

  3. 5 Cynthia Lang

    February 28, 2012

    A Smith woman, thankfully, is encouraged to develop her own aspirations, her vision for her children and her community, and if an alum wishes pearls and cashmere for herself and her daughters, who am I to object?

    Though I do object to the assumption, throughout a recent letter to the Sophian, that this is what all Smith alums want. Or did. Or will. As someone who arrived at Smith in 1955 from an independent girls’ school in Manhattan, I can attest that pearls, cashmere, and a nice boy from Amherst were certainly one popular goal. Not the only one even then, however, and decidedly not the only one now.

    And as the fond grandmother of a bi-racial grand daughter, I suppose I could be offended at the idea that and “women of color” and “international students” (I suspect the letter writer does not mean students from Edinburgh or Berlin) are not really who we want at Smith; except to be offended by such an outdated idea in 2012 seems just a silly waste of time.

    What I found most outdated—and potentially damaging to our college and out country– is the suggestion that a person’s true value can be measured on only two yardsticks: high income and high SAT scores.

    Please! Many of us lived through the conformity and rigidity of the‘50’s once, already. Do not take us back there again.

    Cynthia (Grebe) Lang, ‘59
    Tucson, AZ

  4. 7 Margaret Harbison

    Cynnie-Your measured response to Ms. Spurzem’s letter is commendable. I am appalled that the Sophian would publish comments so offensive to many of us as well as to Smith’s present and past faculty. I would give the matter no further publicity which might propagate spurious representations of the college. Maggie

  1. 1 Update on the Anne Spurzem Letter re: Smith College « Association of Smith College Alum Blogs

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