Update on the Anne Spurzem Letter re: Smith College


I kept adding to the original post about this, but I realized that there’s enough to warrant a stand alone follow up post. So with no further adieu, here are the updates and reactions to the Anne Spurzem letter to the editor (in rough chronological order):

Original links:

2/24: President Christ has written her own, strongly-worded letter in response

The letter writer is ignorant about a number of issues. Admission to Smith is far more competitive now than it was in the 1980s, when the letter writer attended Smith. We now have the highest number of applicants and the lowest admit rate in our history. The most competitively admitted students at Smith are international students on financial aid; only 10 percent of applicants are admitted. The strongest and most consistent correlation with SAT scores is family income. Most students do submit scores and we, of course, submit them to all of the data-collecting organizations in which we participate, including U.S. News & World Report.

2/26: Melissa ’99, blogging at Confused at a Higher Level, responds to the letter:

On a personal level, I owe much to the Smith College community, and I owe Smith for much more than the knowledge I acquired in my classes. I could have gained that education at many different colleges. Rather, what I gained as a result of my time at Smith was an open-mindedness, a confidence (combined with a relentless call to do things that push the limits of that confidence), and a sense of responsibility to past and future generations of women and a sense of possibility for the present generation. Smith provided me a time and a place to discover who my best self could be, within a community that was simultaneously supportive and challenging. I learned from difficult discussions with classmates and faculty and from casual conversation at Friday afternoon tea, from informal interactions with professors who taught me what expectations and responsibilities come with being part of an academic or scientific community, and from listening to and talking with alums at Rally Day and Ivy Day.

A conservative voice in the mix from Never Yet Melted:

Any elite college or university that follows Smith’s example will find that it has dramatically cheapened its brand and devalued its own currency of prestige. It will inevitably move downmarket, having less of exactly what matters most to offer potential applicants. Less qualified students with lower SAT scores translates directly to less prestige associated with the school’s degrees and fewer applications from the most competitive first rank students.

2/27: One university administrator responds to the letter:

Anne Spurzem takes a familiar position: if you focus on diversity, quality takes a hit.

A slightly milder version of her claim has emerged in the ensuing debate, and it lets us draw out two important nuances, leading to the conclusion that diversity and quality are in fact not in any necessary opposition.

Surely we can agree, the milder version goes, that a focus on diversity in the admissions process — as opposed to pure academic merit — opens the door to a reduction of excellence in the student body. We might get lucky, of course, and never step through that doorway, instead only finding diversity-enhancing students of equal quality to the others, but we take a risk nonetheless.

There are two important perspectives from which to challenge this assertion. [read more]


And something particularly interesting — an article from the Connecticut-based Greenwich Time in which the reporter actually interviewed Anne Spurzem. Here’s what she had to say:

“I was speaking to [The Sophian’s editor-in-chief] 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.”

This article was also discussed in a second piece on Jezebel.





More to come as I stumble across it!


3 Responses to “Update on the Anne Spurzem Letter re: Smith College”

  1. 1 Sarah '06

    The conversation going on on Tumblr about how exactly the Cashmere and Pearls response is going down (and sometimes still creating problems) is really interesting too. Here’s a link:

  2. 2 Naomi

    Thank you so very much for posting this. I’m glad that this is out there, and I will happily share with others, as I think many more people should read this. Many of these important points are central to the discussion which the controversy necessitates, not just a silencing of the opposition.

    I especially love this:

    “Diversity is a wonderful thing; but it is nothing without an acknowledgment of our differences, and the multiple layers of power that we are forced to negotiate on this campus. We are not a cohesive, comfortable community, we are not always accepting and warm- we are a beautiful, problematic community that has so much work to do. This conversation must not end here. We haven’t yet talked about race and class, “education,” “intelligence” and “success,” what it means to “work hard” and what it means that those who don’t make it into this college are somehow assumed to be less deserving. These are not opinions of a lone alum; as a community, we have yet to confront the presence of these issues in our everyday lives.”

  3. Thank you for mentioning my post on how this situation inspired me to contribute to DePauw. I’m still actively reading the Pearls and Cashmere blog and am very inspired, empowered, and impressed by the women of Smith. I hope I have the honor of knowing a Smithie one day!

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