By now, anyone who has read/seen/heard about the op-ed piece that high school senior Suzy Weiss wrote in the Wall Street Journal has probably decided that she is entitled and maybe the reason she didn’t get into those Ivy League schools is that she’s kind of a jerk. The op-ed, which is an open letter to all of the schools she didn’t get into, is a rambling, offensive, racist, homophobic, white privileged, entitled rant from a hurt and angry young woman whose sister happens to have previously been an editor for the WSJ.
She says that Ivy League schools “lied to her”, saying that she should “just be [her]self”. Apparently, just being herself includes deriding her peers who have been raised in less advantaged circumstances, who have put in more time and effort than she in philanthropy, volunteerism, practicing fine arts, or who have minority racial or sexual identities. She says that her piece is “satire”, which leads me to believe that another reason she didn’t get into an Ivy League school is that she doesn’t know the meaning of satire, because the only folly or vice that she is exposing is her own self-centered naivete and white/straight/class privilege. Following this story has made me truly wonder why responsible adults in her life and those working at the WSJ did not intervene by telling her to pick her complaining, egotistical self up off of the floor, learn to accept failure and rejection, and by the way, to chill out with the racist and homophobic comments.
But now here is the ugly truth: I was not so different from Suzy Weiss, back in 2006. I was a smart, white girl, top of my class, great SAT scores (same as Suzy’s, coincidentally), and a good dose of artistic, extracurricular, and volunteer involvement. I may have actually had a more impressive resume than Suzy. I got rejected from Brown and Harvard in one day. I cried really hard at my high school musical rehearsal. I ripped up the rejection letters. I cried in the guidance counselor’s office, where sentiments such as “I can’t believe Ashley didn’t get into Brown” were heard from well-meaning white women. I was pretty unimpressed when I found out who did get in. And I’m not proud of it, but I listed some of the same racist, privileged reasons that Suzy did in her tirade. These feelings were corroborated by my equally racist family and friends, and even some of my faculty.
It’s a pretty ugly story, and it reminds me constantly of how crucial it is to educate white students about social justice. I was a good kid, and Suzy Weiss probably is, too, although she looks like a real asshole right now. Suzy Weiss and I were in the same boat. The difference between me and Suzy is that I don’t know anyone who works at a national news outlet, and I wasn’t encouraged to publicly broadcast my misguided anger to the nation. My frustrations were entertained for a while by the adults in my life, but then they helped me hold a mirror up to how lucky I was. I had two full tuition offers; seriously, what right did I have to be angry?
So the problem with the Suzy Weiss situation is not that she felt that way when she got rejected from her dream schools. Thousands and thousands of students feel that way. Thousands of students who cross the thresholds of many of our outstanding public and private but not quite Ivy League institutions every year feel exactly that way. Young, privileged, entitled white kids are raised to feel that way. I felt that way, and now I’m an outspoken social justice educator who wrote a research paper in defense of race-based affirmative action.
The problem is that Suzy Weiss was allowed to take her feelings to a national stage and given license to disguise them as satire. The key here is that there is someone there when these kids fail and get rejected to help them lean into the discomfort of failure and learn from it, to examine how their privileged assumptions are not facts, but are myths of a racist, sexist, classist, heteronormative America. As educators, we can help these students reach their full potential by making them look at their own privilege, supporting them as they learn through failure and rejection, and helping them to learn about the world beyond their previous assumptions. Is it unconventional to ask you, college educators, to take a risk on privileged white kids like Suzy Weiss? Kind of. The Suzy Weisses of the Class of 2017 are going to do just fine in college, but we can help them do better in life. Educating white students about social justice, making them allies, showing them their privilege, teaching them humility and how to struggle–this is part of the big picture of how we use higher education to make our society better, how we bring up the next generation of adults who raise their children to think twice about their own experiences and the world around them.