Why We Need To Talk About Ivy League Privilege

I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s the New Republic article that’s plagued your Facebook news feed every day for the past week.

I didn’t want to respond or share my opinion on this at first — largely because I knew I’d be one of the few to agree with Deresiewicz’s overall point(s), but also because he did say a few things I found pretty problematic.

But as the few days have passed, and people have responded to this article, my blood has boiled beyond belief not because of this article itself, but because of the responses that have accompanied it.

Yes, Deresiewicz made several invalid claims. As a low-income student at Columbia, I was pretty annoyed at the fact that he reduced me and my fellow low-income peers to merely “exceptions,” completely ignoring our existence at this university by saying everyone’s parents are doctors. But where is that in the dialogue of response? Nowhere.

Instead, the focus has shifted to a REBUTTAL of Deresiewicz’s “sweeping generalizations” and challenges to the Ivy League as an institution and the student behaviors that institution perpetuates. It’s amazing the number of students offended by his “sweeping generalizations.” Are they generalizations? Probably. But are they HARMFUL? Is him claiming that Ivy League students are too caught up in their own success and lack “doing good” really SO harmful that you feel the need to write a goddamn op-ed about it? How about instead of focusing on that, you focus on the fact that below all the bullshit, he’s right. He is RIGHT. The Ivy League needs to change, and it needs to change now.

Who started meritocracy is irrelevant. What’s relevant is what are we going to do about these issues now that we have them? Sure, as a privileged student attending an Ivy League, it’s easy and convenient to say that Columbia didn’t initiate these issues and that it’s a societal issue that SOCIETY has to figure out. But has Columbia not helped and continue to help sustain these values by creating a system that survives off of elitism and superiority?

You cannot deny the privilege, power, and influence the Ivy League has to help diminish classist and meritocratic ideals. To do so is a fundamental lack of understanding of institutional power. Society has to change its value of meritocracy, yes, but you know what will make that change so much easier? If institutions of power change first.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. I’m surprised at how despite the fact that I consider(ed) my Columbia peers to be smart and socially engaged people — a generalization I and everyone else need to get away from, by the way, so many have COMPLETELY missed these points. Missed his point that the Ivy League and its peer elite institutions perpetuate meritocracy and classism via a system of college admissions and higher education. Missed the point that his main point of attack is at the INSTITUTION and the issues that the INSTITUTION creates via its students. Not the actual students.

But of course, who cares about his important and valid points when he’s “badmouthing” privileged, Ivy League students, right?

In a way, it’s almost humorous how so many responses have been defending the Ivy League — it very much speaks to the relative easiness that Ivy League students have to shift the conversation to themselves. Again, never mind that his take away points finally do something that so many Ivy League students are so damn afraid of doing: challenging the institution that put them in a position of privilege.

That ability to shift the focus onto yourselves and your ‘victimization’ from Deresiewicz’s comments so many of you have done is exactly what he’s talking about. “Socially engaged students?” Sure! So long as it doesn’t challenge our Ivy League privilege.

Take a step back and you’ll see how this whole situation actually reflects the concept of privilege spot on. TC mark

featured image – Shutterstock

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