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Suzy Lee Weiss and White People Problems

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This week in the news a high school senior named Suzy Lee Weiss wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal satirizing the college admissions process of Ivy League colleges. She was upset that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton rejected her application and decided to speak out for those being left out of their top college choices. Unfortunately for students across the country, she might be the worst voice to represent seniors trying to get into college.

I don’t want to go after Suzy Lee Weiss too much, I think she has every right to voice her frustration with the farce of applying to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. You go smart-upper-middle-class girlfriend. She can’t help being privileged, and to her this is a real problem she can cry about in her own room, in a house her parents own in a really nice neighborhood. She can text her tears to her friends on her iPhone, and Facebook them on her own Macbook Air. What bothers me is that of all the voices out there striving to get a college education, it is this girl’s story that goes viral.

This is just another example of the misplaced lens of the corporate media. This isn’t surprising coming from the Wall Street Journal, which doesn’t even pretend to have a clue about the problems of regular people. But the fact that everyone is talking about this highlights a disconnect with the reality of most middle-class and poor students in this country. Ms. Weiss’ problems aren’t really problems to most people, they are White People Problems.

For the record, I am white. When my colleague introduced me to the concept of White People Problems, she was talking about the struggles she and her husband were having with their financial advisor and how best to maximize their savings. “It has been a nightmare,” she said, before couching it by saying, “Well, as much a nightmare can be while living comfortably and planning on how to be even more comfortable.” She went on to give me other examples of instances when upper-middle-class white people really struggle: What to do when your yoga instructor moves to Costa Rica; does Trader Joe’s provide enough gluten free products; it’s Friday evening already and you haven’t made dinner reservations in San Francisco and all the good places will definitely be booked for 8:00 tapas; deciding where to put your money that is currently just sitting there not making a good interest rate; which organic dog food is safest. The problem Suzy Lee Weiss, and the Wall Street Journal, and everyone covering this has is they think this is an actual problem.

Poor Suzy Lee Weiss, a girl who has been admitted into Indiana, Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin, who, like 97% of applicants to Harvard this year, didn’t get in.

By her own admission Weiss isn’t a competitive applicant. Aside from a 4.5 GPA and an SAT score over 2100, she doesn’t have much. While those two factoids might make some people think, “Well, a 4.5 should get you into any school,” those of us who work with seniors every year know that a 4.5 means nothing. Remember, Harvard has full time, very smart people whose job it is to determine who out there is the best of the best, and in their estimation, it wasn’t her. Suzy Lee Weiss didn’t deserve to get into an Ivy League college, and the fact that she and others think she does is ridiculous.

Every year I could have a dozen seniors write letters about their struggle to get into top universities, not that anyone will publish them. Last year a student of mine with a 4.2 was accepted into St. Mary’s highly impacted nursing program only to have to turn it down because she couldn’t afford to go. She was looking at taking out over $75,000 in loans for her UNDERGRADUATE degree. The biggest problem facing students today is the COST of college, a little fact Ms. Weiss doesn’t even mention—which shows she isn’t even worried about that part of the game.

I am always reminded of a presentation I received, along with dozens of other educators, from the admissions office at Stanford University. They presented us with three applications and asked us which student we would take. They were all excellent applicants, but our top pick was a girl from Chicago who was a published poet, a national figure in slam poetry, who had a 4.5 GPA with a killer personal statement. She had meaningful volunteer positions and held down multiple jobs to support her and her mom. At the end of the presentation the admissions people admitted they had taken our third choice. When we asked why, they said it was because his father had gone to Stanford. That was it. Read that little anecdote again—THAT IS A TRUE STORY. This is a planned presentation Stanford gives to EDUCATORS. Their very simple and intentional lesson is that the game is rigged. No one lies about that, there isn’t any beating around the bush. To get into Harvard you have to be the son of a member of congress, the head of the CIA, or the CEO of Wells Fargo—or Mark Zuckerberg. A 4.5 won’t get anybody into Harvard and there isn’t anyone out there saying it will.

It annoys me that I am even writing about Suzy Lee Weiss because there are so many more kids out there with real problems, and when it comes to college access her’s might be the most unimportant perspective possible.

Really poor kids get financial aid, but that still isn’t enough to cover the cost of college. We know the middle class is being squeezed out of college because they don’t get enough financial aid and their parents can’t afford to make up the difference. Tuition rises on an exorbitant slope every year. How about the kid who was brought to this country when they were 1, has a higher GPA and SAT scores than Ms. Weiss, who has ACTUAL volunteer hours and holds down ACTUAL jobs (not fake jobs or pity projects), but can’t even apply to most colleges? We have bought into Weiss’ pity story about parents who have stopped parenting her because she is the 4th child; what about kids who don’t have parents? What about my students who are homeless? What about my boy Arthur who can’t pass Algebra? What about my students who have been SHOT this year?

That brings me to the final irony of this sad, sad episode. How is it that we have even heard about Suzy Lee Weiss and her White People Problems? Oh yeah, her sister is a former assistant editor for the Wall Street Journal. This poor girl’s suffering is unending—every time she gets a rejection letter all she has to do is call up her sister to get her “problems” published in one of the largest publications in the world.

Again, I’m not mad at Suzy Lee Weiss—in her world this must be difficult. But when will the media cover the problems of real students with real problems who live in the real world? They won’t, because none of those kids have relatives at the New York Times.

Oh, and because of her little tirade, Yale has decided to accept little Suzy. I guess now she will be overcome with the stress of deciding which color cardigan goes best with the autumn leaves in Connecticut–somebody call the associated press.

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12 Responses to “Suzy Lee Weiss and White People Problems”

  1. Frank Pitz says:

    Wow, poor Suzy. How traumatic it must have been, the waiting, anxiety, wondering exactly if it would all p[an out, which it did. Now Suzy – as you mentioned – can go shopping for the appropriate sweater to match all that is Yale.

  2. Katrina Neill says:

    I have “accidentally” been on the Yale campus as my husband and I were touring the state of CT one summer. My in-laws used to live in Stamford, no one seemed to be hurting in that area. As we drove back from our fantastic tour, we decided to stop in Hartford and check out the campus. Back in 1998, it seemed to be the most beautiful campus I had ever set my eyes on. I went to New Mexico State University; nothing fancy, probably not even part of a list of top colleges in the country, but I have a degree and am now pursuing my Master’s Degree. I teach kids with this degree, just like another one of my colleagues who has a degree from Berkeley. We both do the same job at the same level and are passionate about our careers. Amazing how the perceptions of Ivy League schools can change the way we think about education. I didn’t hear about this story in the news and I think I’d like to share this with some of my friends and even my low-income minority students.

    Thanks for sharing Matt!

  3. Daphne says:

    Where did you read that she was let into Yale? I don’t think that is true.

  4. Alf says:

    I take issue with some parts of this response. For starters, the “white people problems” that are identified are really “upper middle class problems.” Do we want to equate being white with being wealthy? Many of the poorest people in the nation are white and there is nothing wrong with minorities achieving monetary success. Furthermore, the lives of these privileged kids are “real” and so their problems shouldn’t be invalidated. Also, these problems extend well into the middle class, that same group that is “being squeezed out of college.” I would say that Weiss’s problems resonate more with the middle class than anyone else, as it is they who are being gouged by identity politics in academia.

  5. Tiff says:

    Well written and heartfelt.

  6. […] system. The reason I am defending her experience, and not her letter, is because her experience, contrary to many articles I have read on the Internet, is just as important. Her experience, as is apparent by the many […]

  7. Well said. Not all “white people” are well off or even upper middle class. Many of them have to struggle. Even those who come from a well off family often had parents and grandparents who worked their butts off to make sure their kids had a better life than them.

    Being white does not mean one is “privileged.” Being able to write article making fun of people with “white people problems,” however, does indicate a certain degree of privilege, and one that is not limited by race.

  8. Dave says:

    No student is allowed to take out $75,000 in loans for an undergraduate degree. The government loan programs max out at roughly $7-8,000 per year. No student going to St. Mary’s would accumulate a loan of $75,000.

  9. Kimberley Gilles says:

    A wonderful, grounded perspective . I am pleased you wish
    Little Suzy well. But I a even more pleased that you advocate for all the anonymous young dreamers who populate your classroom. They are so very worthy!

  10. […] Weiss is a good student: She reportedly has a 4.5 GPA and a 2120 SAT score. Those numbers make up 2 of the most important facts colleges use to evaluate prospective students, […]

  11. […] now, most people reading this blog have had the opportunity to be rubbed the wrong way by high school senior Suzy Lee Weiss’ “satirical” (read: annoying) op-ed in the […]

  12. Kate Madsen says:

    Great article. Having taught the kids who want to be nurses and help others but can’t afford to for about 15 years, I relate. I do agree that the White theme, while catchy, is a bit racist. It is a class issue. Full disclosure: I read the book Stuff White People Like and laughed until my belly hurt. And saying “until my belly hurt” is so white.

    Anywho, please be careful not to imply all Asians are smart and hard-working or that all White people are well off and can go to any school they want. It really hurts those white kids in poverty by making them look like triple “losers” since conventional belief is that they brought it on themselves and black people are victims– an oversimplification of the class war, for sure.

    Still, I agree wholeheartedly with all the rest.

    I feel for Suzy when folks mock her. ( while I am enjoying it) But seriously, how can she know any better? I think I am going to blog about this too. We need to turn this into a meme. Get noticed so Suzy and her whole family will get a clue.

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