College rejection clickbait

It was irresponsible for the WSJ to let a teen create a search history she could end up regretting

So this piece has been making the rounds since Monday. It’s on op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by high school senior Suzy Lee Weiss waxing bitter about being rejected from college. She blamed her rejections (she doesn’t say how many, or whether she was accepted someplace) on the fact that she is a straight, white person with normal abilities and habits. It’s the most-read piece on the WSJ’s site and has been shared more than 10,500 times, according to the site Who Shared my Link.

Weiss writes:

Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself! If you work at a local pizza shop and are the slowest person on the cross-country team, consider taking your business elsewhere…

Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it. “Diversity!” I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker. If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage.

Pity the well-off white girl who has not had to struggle with identity politics or face prejudice because of who she is (wait until she realizes the “real world” still has a glass ceiling). Blaming groups that lack the inherent privilege of caucasian heterosexuals for your own bad luck in a crapshoot is a gross distortion of affirmative action, which is imperfect but remains necessary, in some form, as long as historical inequities persist. And considering the Supreme Court was hearing gay marriage cases last week, persist they do.

Weiss’s own ability to relay her complaints so widely speaks to one of the other major factors influencing college admissions: connections. Weiss is the younger sibling of Bari Weiss, a Tablet editor and former assistant editorial page editor at—wait for it—the Wall Street Journal. The elder Weiss also, as a Columbia undergraduate, helped enflame tensions between Muslim and Jewish contingents after a group of Jewish students accused professors in the university’s Middle East Asian Languages and Cultures department of antisemitism. (She and I were in the same year at Columbia University but have never met.)

Of course, Bari Weiss can hold any opinions she likes; I mention her record of conservatism only to note that her sister may well share her views. If so, Suzy Lee Weiss may never regret her youthful contribution to her Google search results, one that eternally allows future employers and boyfriends to find her arguing against affirmative action and disdaining diversity. But there’s also a chance that her upcoming college education will net her exposure to an array of experiences and perspectives—that learning among students of different backgrounds could enrich her education.

In that scenario, Weiss’s op-ed will end up a recurring source of embarrassment to her. That’s why it was irresponsible of the Wall Street Journal’s conservative-leaning editorial page to run her piece, especially without helping her craft a more complex analysis of the flaws in the college admissions cycle. (Maybe WSJ editors did work with Weiss; a spokeswoman there said that they don’t publicly discuss their editorial process.) Weiss could have made a strong, poignant contribution to the admissions discussion as a high-school senior who just survived the process. Instead, a self described bitter, selfish teenager penned a piece that she may well regret as she matures into someone less egocentric.

If so, perhaps that regret will turn out to be, at long last, the hardship Weiss felt was missing from her life when she wrote her college essay—no need, for future applications, to “go to Africa, scoop up some suffering child, take a few pictures,” and then write about it. Too bad making one’s own adversity isn’t a salable talent.

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Kira Goldenberg was an associate editor at CJR from 2012-2015. Follow her on Twitter at @kiragoldenberg. Tags: , ,