On March 30, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial by Suzy Lee Weiss in Pennsylvania, a senior at Taylor Allderdice High School, in which she expressed a belief that she was unfairly denied by all of her dream schools for her lack of “diversity.” When I first read her editorial, I simply passed it off as a public journal entry of a bitter, venting girl. After reading it again recently, however, I’ve realized that this article was, at best, naïve and, at worst, downright offensive.
“For starters, had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school,” Weiss wrote. “Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it,” she declared, as if one’s culture or sexuality is a choice, as if to say that one does either of these things simply for attention or admissions benefits.
Continuing in this vein, Weiss wrote, “I should’ve done what I knew was best—go to Africa, scoop up some suffering child, take a few pictures, and write my essays about how spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life.” Not only does this sentiment undermine the importance of charitable work, it also minimizes the plight of African children. Weiss seems to have simply missed the point of college admissions. Great institutions are not looking for students who held jobs or helped the underprivileged just for application padding: they want to admit students who did such things because they wanted to do so, and because they benefited from it on an intellectual and personal level. No, Ms. Weiss, you were not denied because you had never been let in on a little secret about the admissions process. Perhaps you just are not the type of person these schools were seeking.
This editorial seemed especially significant to me in light of the recent controversy surrounding need-blind admissions here at Wesleyan University. The belief that colleges admit ethnically and socioeconomically varied students simply because they offer “diversity” and fill a certain quota completely undercuts the very real significance of building a diverse student body. Having the opportunity to surround oneself with people from whom one can learn about other cultures and experiences is one of the most vital aspects of living on a university’s campus. College is a time during which students attempt to develop themselves into well-rounded people. How can one acquire a wide-ranging point of view without learning the points of views of others?
Another key factor that Weiss seemed to miss was that institutions simply don’t have space for everyone. Admissions officers have a very difficult task of discerning the most suited applicants, and sometimes this means looking at a student’s achievements in context of challenges that they’ve faced. By admitting students with diverse backgrounds, institutions of higher learning provide such students with an opportunity to rise to success. This does not mean that universities will exclude all of those who were more privileged in their pre-college lives, but it does mean that they seek only those who have done something truly remarkable with the privilege they were given. Perhaps, if Weiss had spent more time thinking about others and less time blaming her downfalls on life circumstances, she would have been admitted to more of her dream schools.
I will admit that there are certain parts of Weiss’ article that are pretty witty. Apparently, that’s worked out for her because she claimed in an interview on MSN Today that she’s received many job offers in the aftermath of her piece. Believe me, I do appreciate a good satire, and Weiss is a fairly decent satirist. However, just because one person makes a few jokes, it does not mean that we should make light of a situation that is important and unresolved. It is difficult for colleges to build a student population that is both diverse and fairly chosen from among the pool of applicants. We must continue the conversation about diversity in college, including the perspective of privileged students as well as those from so-called “diverse” backgrounds.