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It’s Not Only the Colleges that Weren’t Honest with Suzy Weiss

Michael Rubin is probably right that the schools that rejected Suzy Lee Weiss made the wrong call, though it says something about the admissions process on the whole that the esteemed colleges are only finding out about her poise, sharp wit and independent mind after having rejected her applications. I was also struck by one sentence early on in the op-ed in which she writes: “For years, they—we—were lied to” by the college administrators who told applicants to just be themselves.

Years ago, when I was a local newspaper reporter, we did a story series on getting into college. We covered every aspect of the process, and that included talking to admissions officers and college guidance counselors. University deans may not be honest about what it takes to get admitted to their school, but guidance counselors were certainly honest–at least with us. I don’t know what high school juniors and seniors are being told today, but the guidance counselors and admissions officers were crystal clear: if the school needs a goalie for its lacrosse team, that goalie is getting in instead of hundreds, maybe thousands, of applicants with better grades and test scores. We were told the schools keep track of everything, right down to the opening at tuba player on the marching band. You didn’t just need extracurriculars, in other words–you needed to match your extracurriculars with the schools’ needs. That introduces a great deal of luck into a process already low on meritocratic prioritization, and breeds even more frustration on the part of some high-schoolers.

It isn’t just the high-profile sports, in other words, that receive colleges’ targeted recruitment, though they get most of the scholarships. (I was captain of my high school chess team and received chess-related mailings from schools. I was also captain of our basketball team, but somehow eluded the scouts on that one.) Again, speaking to reporters on the record, guidance counselors and other officials were very clear about all this–and it was infuriating to some parents who quite understandably didn’t relish the suggestion that their burden wasn’t enough, and they had to add to it a reverse-recruitment microtargeting campaign to find a suitable college for their child.

If Weiss wasn’t told any of this, she has reason to feel aggrieved. What were her school’s college guidance counselors telling the kids? That their winning smile and the right attitude were sure to get them into Stanford?

The best part of Weiss’s appearance on the “Today Show,” by far, was when host Savannah Guthrie reads back the diversity part of Weiss’s op-ed to her and waits for a reaction that isn’t coming. Weiss wrote:

had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it….

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.

Guthrie then looks at Weiss and says: “I mean, for one thing, some people read this and they say you are being very cavalier about the importance of diversity.” Weiss dismisses the attempted shaming by saying the piece was satire. But here Weiss isn’t giving herself enough credit. The problem with the section of Weiss’s op-ed about diversity was that it wasn’t an exaggeration: had Weiss followed her joking suggestions, she very well might have been accepted by any number of universities whose admissions officers probably cringed at the op-ed because Weiss was describing actual applicants they happily accepted over Weiss.

Guthrie may have seen Weiss’s words as cartoonish, but here’s the point: they accurately describe the attitudes of the deans at America’s top universities. Weiss didn’t lampoon them so much as expose them to a wider audience.

As Michael notes, there is a lack of intellectual diversity at these universities–but not only intellectual diversity. When we did that story series, it became quite clear that schools’ desire to accept more minorities did not result in nearly enough increased opportunity. The schools merely accepted suburban, middle-class high-achieving minority teenagers from decent schools and stable homes instead of white teenagers that fit the exact same profile. Minorities from crime-ridden inner-city neighborhoods and broken homes and failing schools had the door shut on them just as quickly as the door shut on Weiss.

Liberals talk a lot about inequality. It’s a shame they do so much to perpetuate it.


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