I had no idea when I went to Yale

3 Apr

Here are the headlines:

Each refers to the same letter, written by Princeton alumna Susan Patton and published in the university’s daily paper on 3/29/13. (By the way, as of 4/1/13 the Daily Princetonian website appears to have crashed. They got quite a lot of hits off this particular issue.) As you may have guessed by now, the letter offers some advice to Princeton’s female undergrads. Specifically:

For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you. Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.

OK, take a moment. Let it all out.

I’ll be here when you’re ready.

So.

I’m not going to bother with a line by line analysis of what’s horrifying about this excerpted wisdom. Beyond the blatant sexism and heterosexism of Patton’s assertion, I want to focus on the unabashed classism of her advice, as captured in her warning: “You will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

Really.

It seems all well and good that Patton is telling Princeton’s female students that they are worth something. But what exactly defines someone’s worth, and worthiness of another?

It sounds like access to elite institutions, including by nepotism, legacy or unearned wealth constitutes “worth.” Because that’s what the “concentration” of individuals–men and women–at an institution like Princeton have in common: access, whether by merit, favor, accident or (quite frankly) cheating. (Note: I didn’t go to Princeton. But I went to Yale and Harvard so I’m going to extrapolate from my experience at those similarly ivied institutions.)

The notion that people at Princeton are “worthy” suggests that a flawed, biased and even actively discriminatory system (how else would you describe a process that favors applicants just because they’re related to someone who went to the school?) is a reliable filter for character and potential. When, in fact, all that you can really say about the people who make it to Princeton is that they were able to work the system.

This is the ultimate demonstration of classism: not just sticking your nose up at people you think are better than, but using an unlevel playing field to justify everyone sticking their noses up at those people. Patton’s logic quietly and firmly suggests that people who have not attended Princeton must be deficient, and implicitly endorses the institution’s elitism as fair and just by suggesting that, after all, the worthy will rise. And so classism trundles on, smug in its self-justification.

And to drill down on the implications of Patton’s classism, her criterion for dating and marrying is a tragic disservice to Princeton undergrads and all others who will stick their noses up at others who lack pedigree (which is, again, merely access, by whatever means necessary) and dismiss a world of generous, brilliant, benevolent, creative people who are spiritually, socially, emotionally and yes, even financially rich. Worthy people. Who, for one reason or another, didn’t go to Princeton.

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