Suzy Weiss, We Don’t Want You in Our Classes

Given the recent uproar about Suzy Weiss , I of course need to write about college admissions processes. People are angry and bitter because Suzy—who had great GPA and SAT scores—was not admitted to 4 prestigious schools. Other people are angry because in her frustration about rejection, Suzy said she didn’t get in because she did not help schools meet their diversity quota.

Now, let’s start with the fact that Suzy thinks she should have gotten in solely off her ‘objective’ summative measures of achievement and her ‘hard work over the past four years’. Suzy and her father must be living under a rock beneath their 700k home. For the last 2 decades truly objective and empirical research has been done that reveals the biased nature of the SAT but more so, its lack of predictive validity. I won’t bore you with citations and references, but this information is easily found if you know how to use any scholarly database. The reason why so many colleges are moving away from heavy reliance on GPA and test scores is because frankly, they mean NOTHING in relation to future academic success in college. A correlation of .3 and a low Beta coefficient ensure that admissions offices are looking at better indicators of college success, like qualitative and behavioral characteristics of applicants. Your academic skills (e.g., time management, organization, help-seeking), self-efficacy, motivation to learn, perception of self, long-term goals, initiative, and honesty HAVE been demonstrated to be predictors of college achievement (again, search any scholarly database for these studies). It makes sense then that colleges are now searching for applicants whose transcripts, letters of rec, and personal statements indicate these qualities, not how well you can memorize information and employ test-taking strategies.

Suzy’s GPA is not an indicator of academic prowess. It may in fact be an indicator that Suzy took easy classes to boost her GPA, or that Suzy’s AP coursework was less than rigorous, or that Suzy went to a private school with grade inflation or grading curves. Or maybe Suzy is bright and did not seek opportunities to challenge herself. When there are ceiling effects in a data set, any person with a brain thinks: this assessment may not be a good one. And what is her GPA out of? A 5.0? a 4.5? What was Suzy’s class rank? Was she #1 or #45? I graduated high school with a 4.2/4.5 GPA and I was barely in the top 10% of my class. These isolated numbers mean nothing without context in which to interpret. And even with that context, again—it has very little to do with the context of college. ‘Rigorous’ classes in high school often bear no resemblance to college courses. Expectations are different, class sizes are different, the amount of support/guidance is different, the social environment is different. Success in one has very little relation to success in the other.

The fact that Suzy felt entitled to acceptance letters is representative of her ignorance. Does she not know that numerically, the odds of her being accepted into a top tier college are significantly lower than they would’ve been 10 years ago?  To maintain the quality of education, Ivy League schools have not increased their class size (and I agree with this decision) despite a surge in applicants. My own alma mater had 22k applicants for a freshmen class of 1000. Harvard admitted a record low 5.8% of their 35k applicants. Brown and Yale received 29k applicants, Cornell got 40k, Penn 31k, Columbia 33k, and Princeton 26k. Suzy, you are ONE person among tens of thousands. What makes you better than the next person who also has a 4.5 GPA and an even higher SAT score? What makes you better than the person with a 3.7 GPA, 1900 SAT, and 3 internships? Perhaps you should’ve been doing something to add some depth to your application instead of turning your nose at people who actually did something in high school besides watch tv and quit every activity you ever joined (and you can blame your parents for ‘giving up on parenting’. Perhaps you should write them a letter). While you were out running the streets and coming in the house hoping to not wake your parents up, other high schoolers were exploring their interests and pursuing opportunities to develop into a well-rounded individual. A person who can excel in a holistic admissions processes instead of an academic process.

So no, Suzy, diversity is not more important than test scores but it is equally as important. ‘Wearing a headdress’ and sleeping with someone of the same sex is not how your competition received acceptance letters. They got their letters despite having darker skin and living in a society where they can’t even marry the person they love. Some of them got in despite not having parents who can afford tutors, test prep classes, and for their child to roam the streets unsupervised. They got in despite competing against the likes of you who have been given (and taken for granted) academic opportunities their schools, districts, or states may not have offered. They got in because frankly, they are better than you.

you suck

See, these students would never have made the rude, elitist, entitled, disrespectful comments you made. These people are humble and open to new experiences. These people are compassionate and understanding of difference. These people are the ones we professors want in our classes.

These people are the ones with college acceptance letters.


“No, I Don’t Want to Come to Your House”: Separating the Personal and Professional Selves in Academia

not your businessOne of the issues I debate about with myself and with colleagues and friends in the Academy is the issue of public versus private. No, I don’t mean the status of the institution, but public life versus private life. In other words, how much of myself do I give?

I am torn because there are three types of relationships happening at a college: 1) teacher-student; 2) colleague-colleague; 3) friend-friend. Each of these dynamics is unique and requires its own rules that oftentimes conflict with established structures for other dynamics. It’s easy to blur the lines so I find myself repeating this refrain in my head: these people are not your friends.

And in many ways, this is a sad statement. Why is it that I can’t expect friendship from colleagues? Why is it that I must always be on guard for back stabbing, deceit, and general crabs-in-a-barrelness? I have been at my present institution only 2 years and already I’ve experience all of these. I’ve had colleagues in other departments tell me they’d support a new initiative in my department, and then send emails to other departments encouraging them to not support this initiative. I’ve had people ask me to co-teach new courses with them, but when I ask them to share their syllabi from past courses, they somehow never receive my email. I’ve watched others not do a damn thing at work all day, and then have the nerve to saunter into my office to ask me to help them with something. I’ve had people invite me to their homes only to get me in a private space where they could comfortably ask/say inappropriate things about my personal life and my scholarship. I’ve been backed into many corners and had no choice but to get out of it by swinging.

But I am learning. I am learning how to detect these situations before they come to ahead. I am beginning to note the warning signs and heed the warnings of others. I am starting to hold back even though they want so much.

They want to know if you’re married or dating anyone seriously. If the answer is no, they want to know why you aren’t dating that nice young man in the Admissions office who seems to be your age and hey—he is black too! Then they want to know if you plan to have kids and because your silence is not response enough, they proceed to give you advice on when to have your kids in relation to your tenure clock. When holidays arise they want to know where you are going, with whom you are eating, and why you consistently refuse their invitations. They want to know where you hang out and what you do on weekends because frankly, your life is so ‘interesting!’ (yes, they say this to me)

The problem with not feeding into this is that you are violating expectations of ‘collegiality’. Some schools like to call this ‘fit’. Whatever fancy word they use, basically, they may end up just not liking you. And that is dangerous for your career. Because of the heavy influence colleagues carry in the tenure/promotion process, you need as many people as possible to be on your side. In You Can’t do it Alone I discussed the importance of having mentors and allies in the Academy but I did not mention that when you have the opposite (i.e., no support and enemies), you are pretty much doomed to be on the job market after your third year review (which smart scholars anticipate doing even when they do feel they are doing well in their present position). Professional relationships pave the way to success in academia; personal ones keep that path clear.

So then what should I do? Should I divulge that I date but haven’t found anyone serious yet? Should I tell them I may not have children and risk offending their sometimes-liberal/sometimes-conservative ideologies of gender roles? Should I tell them I don’t want to spend my free time fake smiling while choking down plates of bland food or witnessing their children’s disrespect and misbehavior? Should I invite them to happy hour with me and my ‘real friends’ (some of whom are also colleagues) and risk defiling the only sanctuary I have? I don’t want to confuse the relationships with confusing interactions. I am very clear on where I stand with everyone in my life, and I fear changing the environment in which we interact will consequently alter the nature of those interactions. But I am equally fearful that in not sharing these aspects of myself, I risk being perceived as the angry black woman who keeps to herself.

I know my struggle in this domain is not unique. Sadly, it is shared by many scholars who are in any way different from the ‘norm’.  I see my LGBTQ, women, immigrant, and disabled colleagues muddle through similar conversations. I see their shock at being asked intimate personal questions and the internal battle deciding how to respond. I see the resignation and shame when they ‘give in’, and the hesitancy when they don’t. And I hear the quiet but impassioned conversations with allies that always end with you can’t have all of me.

But they sure will try to take it.