Smith Women Redefine 'Pearls and Cashmere'
February 29, 2012

Smith College students and alumnae have come up with a creative response to an alumna's letter to The Sophian, the student newspaper, questioning efforts over the last decade to recruit more low-income and minority students. The letter (currently removed from the newspaper's website) suggested that the college has lowered its standards and abandoned a tradition in which wealthy students with "cashmere coats and pearls" were educated at the college and then went on to become wealthy donors. In response, Smith students have started posting their stories on a new blog called Pearls and Cashmere. Many of the women talk about how they do not fit the stereotypes of the past, and are proud of what Smith has become. Their stories stress that strong academics and diversity are by no means incompatible. And while the women pose in nontraditional ways for the photos that accompany their stories, many put on their pearls.

The letter that set off the fracas said that Smith attracts lesbians, low-income students and those who can't get into the Ivies. But the women who tell their stories on the blog -- white and minority, lesbian and straight -- talk about what they gained from enrolling at Smith, and at a more diverse Smith.

Birgitta Hendron from Washington state and Wiame El Bouhali from Morocco posted together: "Both of us applied to Smith early decision, both of us speak four languages (though not the same four), both of us are products of public school systems on two different continents. Without Smith, Wiame never would have had the chance to study the liberal arts (or build a tornado simulator). Without Smith, Birgitta never would have taken Russian -- the language that has become her passion. In addition to a world-class education and brilliant professors and peers, Smith has given us courage, perspective and confidence. It’s also given us each other -- not lesbians, not Ivy League rejects, but best friends."

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