Smith College Alum Ignites Firestorm With Offensive Accusations

Earlier this month, Smith College alumna Anne Spurzem '84 wrote a letter to the editor of the school paper, The Sophian, audaciously proclaiming her issues with the way the institution has changed. Her letter is short but packs a lot of punch. Firstly, she announces herself as the voice of the Westchester and Fairfield Counties, “some of the wealthiest counties in the country" where they meticulously groom their children to attend only Ivy League school. But, here’s the kicker: "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 ... 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.”

This letter is receiving a lot of attention and well-deserved criticism from news sites like the Huffington Post and CNN and public-interest blogs like Jezebel. Alumnae Associations are writing official letters of response. The Association of Latina Alumnae of Smith (ALAS) said in their response that students “choose Smith because of the innumerable quality opportunities available that allow Smith women to be exceptional, unique and empowered individuals ready to change the world ... The so called students who fell into the categories so conveniently labeled by Ms. Spurzem and consequently “lowered” the standards of the College, are doing remarkable things and have incredibly successful careers.”

President Carol Christ herself responded to the letter by producing one of her own where she defends the diversity of the college as deriving from our founding mother herself: “That was Sophia Smith’s dream — that by founding a college for women, she could redress their wrongs, adjust their wages, and increase their influence in society.”

The Sophian’s page hosting Ms. Spurzem’s letter has gotten so many hits within this last week that it has been removed due to technical difficulties – their Letter to the Editor online form is not even working anymore because of the overflow of response letters. The only newspaper Ms. Spurzem has responded to, that I can find is, surprisingly (not), from her own county, Greenwich. The Greenwich Time interviewed Ms. Spurzem about her intent and she responded that she was speaking in “an informal way to share her unsubstantiated views of the students who matriculate at Smith College ... it was not meant to defame ... it was simply to identify what I saw to be the demographic profile of the students.” Clearly, Ms. Spurzem hasn’t realized that her ignorance and unsubstantiated views are precisely the main points of contention.

Besides the ridiculousness that is this woman, what makes this case special are the amazing responses from the Smith College community. Current students have already held a public forum on campus where students could express their emotions. Alums and current students are spreading the letter and their responses through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and other social media sites. In an ironic approach, Pearls and Cashmere is the name of the movement on Facebook and Tumblr. Students are submitting their pictures, fashioning pearls and/or cashmere (or in our typical rebellious fashion, neither) along with a blurb about their identity, their successes and their response to Ms. Spurzem’s letter.  

Some of the great responses include:

“Class of the Surprise-It’s-The-21st-Century”

“[Smith] gave me an excellent education, the confidence to believe that I can do anything I aspire to, and – thanks to the diversity you deplore – a much richer and more nuanced view of the world than I ever would have gotten at some school full of wealthy white people. I could not be prouder to be a Smithie.”

“I was not interested in working and paying for college expenses so that I could get married; if that was Ms. Spurzem’s goal, match.com is much cheaper. I came to Smith to learn. I am proud that all of us have better things to do than marry Amherst men.”

Nicole Miles ‘12 : “Smith was ALWAYS my #1. So don’t confuse the generosity of Smith College’s financial aid as charity ... I do not own pearls or a cashmere sweater, but most queens prefer gold in their crown anyway.”

Parker Rider-Longmaid, proud brother of a Smithie: “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 ... 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.”

“I grew up in the Fairfield County Ms. Spurzem mentions where “children are programed from day one to get into Ivy League schools.” Smith was always my first choice ... Smith allowed me overcome my insecurities, many of which stemmed from growing up around individuals as narrow-minded as Ms. Spurzem.”

I am proud to be a part of this community that in the face of adversity we find creative and positive ways to respond to ignorance. While one can make the argument that the increased use of social networks alienates people from one another, this is one case that proves that argument false. I have never felt closer to my Smith community!

Photo Credit: Facebook

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Justine Gonzalez

Justine Gonzalez is currently pursuing her masters degree in Urban Policy from the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy. She has her BA in Sociology and Spanish from Smith College. While at Smith, she was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow which allowed her to do independent research on the relationship between race, nation building policies and education. Justine is currently living in New York City where she was born and raised. Her interests range from immigration policy, social justice, race, class and gender inequality.

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