A few days ago, a fellow alumna of my alma mater sent a rather puzzling letter to the school’s newspaper in which she proclaimed that the increase in diversity at Smith in recent years is sending the college down the tubes and attracting subpar* applicants, and in which she stated, among other things, 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.”
That excerpt was possibly the least offensive statement in the entire letter. I could comment at length on the classism, racism, and homophobia of the letter as a whole, or the fact that it reflects a mindset that stagnated in the 1950s, but that’s already been done. (You can read the letter in its entirety–plus commentary–on Jezebel.)
The Smith community reacted to this bomb, predictably, with righteous rage. Tell Smith women that it’s a problem we’re not wearing pearls and sweater sets and dating Amherst men? Tell any Smithie that her background makes her a charity case? You’d better run for cover.
Within a few hours of the letter hitting the Sophian, some enterprising Smithies started the “Pearls and Cashmere” project, in which Smithies past and present were invited to respond with their stories of where they came from, how they got to Smith, and what they’ve accomplished since graduating, with photos to illustrate the glorious diversity of the student body. Several ladies posted their best photos of themselves in pearls and cashmere–some including a classy middle-finger salute for the woman who dared to suggest that they didn’t merit their education if they weren’t pursuing their MRS.
My own response and photo (no pearls or cashmere or rude gestures required) is at the end of this post.
Antagonizing Smithies is a bit like antagonizing a pack of hyperintelligent and slightly rabid she-wolves: you will get the most well-articulated smackdown in history. But we’re above bombarding you personally with hate mail–we’ll put our responses online, where they don’t clutter your inbox, and they don’t risk going unseen. We’ll use your intolerance to affirm pride in our own individual identities, and in our collective identity as Smithies. And we’ll let the world know how wrong you are in judging us based on your own narrow view of what women’s education is supposed to be.
Smith breeds Sisterhood. Siblinghood. We’re-all-in-this-togetherhood. The outpouring has been truly incredible. Reading the entries on Pearls and Cashmere has made me even more amazed at the variety of people who go to Smith, and the amazing things we do when we go into the world. Seeing the way Smithies rally to affirm the glory of their multi-ethnic, multi-racial, economically diverse, LGBTQ and ally selves, I have never been prouder to have called Smith my home.
Laura Carroll, class of 2006. French major, Medieval Studies minor, with an unofficial minor in Philosophy as well. I graduated 5th in my high school class, scored a perfect 800 on the verbal section of my SAT, and received a Smith Book Award, a STRIDE scholarship, and a Blumberg fellowship, all merit-based. I could have gone to college pretty much anywhere I damn well pleased, and I chose Smith solely because I knew that I would get an excellent education. Once there, I discovered that when you put two thousand brilliant women from diverse backgrounds in the same place and encourage them to learn and explore together, you create a phenomenal community that breeds intellectual creativity. At Smith, I was able to take classes in a mind-boggling array of disciplines, study abroad in Paris, sing with the Glee Club, and fence sabre. I made friends that are still with me to this day.
I’m currently working on my MA in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis, and I’m on practicum in Egypt (this photo was taken at Habu Temple in Luxor). I’ve lived in Morocco and Russia. I’m working on a book-length travel narrative and multiple short stories. I practice aerial arts and dance in my free time. I have a fabulous partner, whom I met at Smith. I challenge conventions about the things that are “acceptable” to do with my life—as have generations of Smithies before me.
Attending Smith was one of the best decisions I ever made.
*Subpar, in this instance, meaning anyone who isn’t an upper-class, white, heterosexual, cisgendered female.