But when those young ladies get all catty towards my girl Suzy Lee Weiss, then it’s game on. YingYing Shang, self-appointed Czarina of Appropriate College Admissions Erudition, brought out the claws in “An Open Letter to Suzy Lee Weiss”. Suzy had the grace to refer to herself as having “sour grapes” and wanting to watch Real Housewives. Finding herself skewered by Suzy’s self-effacing wit, YingYing writes condescending paragraphs like this:
I’m a little worried about you, Suzy. I’m a little worried about your lack of real passion or interest for any real problems in the world. I’m also worried about your sense of entitlement and lack of sympathy for those of different racial groups and in different circumstances. Lastly, I’m worried about all of the high school students who are reading your letter and throwing their hands up along with you, cursing the college admissions process instead of their own narrow-mindedness and apathy.
YingYing, let’s see what you are really doing for GirlUp, and what GirlUp actually accomplishes. The short answer is that you have a fancy title, the charity equivalent of Chairwoman of Coffee Logistics. I’ve looked all over the GirlUp website and can’t figure out what on earth you actually do, where the money goes, and what the group intends to accomplish and how it intends to accomplish it. (Update: GirlUp provides scholarships and school supplies to girls in poor countries, but it is unclear what the group does regarding child marriage or other human rights issues.) Suzy Lee Weiss may be the slowest runner on her cross-country team, but at the end of the race, she has accomplished a definite goal with a definite, provable result. GirlUp is apparently a big, online community, the sole purpose of which is to enable privileged young women to pat each other on the back.
YingYing, you’ve started a Tumblr to get girls to be aware of body issues. (I should note that said blog, like your other activist blog, has not been updated since your college applications were sent off – but surely that’s just an oversight.) YingYing, girls have been aware of body issues since before you were born; that awareness stuff was passe even when I was in high school in the ’90s. The blog might look really nice on your resume, but you haven’t helped a single girl to not develop an eating disorder.
I am an activist and have spent many years around activists. The most effective people do not have lofty goals like eradicating poverty or eliminating gender inequality; they have goals like “Start a girls’ math club at the junior high school” or “Buy birth certificates for twenty girls in one village in Africa.” Those movements may grow over time to encompass more schools or villages, but they always have results. Showing a film and writing a blog about issues that people have been talking about for twenty years is not groundbreaking or even productive. (It’s also laughable when it comes to a grinding halt immediately after your Ivy applications are sent in.) In fact, it’s worse than useless, since an impoverished child-bride, half a world away, will be even more distressed if she learns that efforts to help her are limited to film screenings in ritzy American cities.
Suzy Lee Weiss worked at a pizza place. At the end of any given workday, she could find out how many pizzas she served, how many customers she rang up, and how long it took her to clean up pizza dough. At the end of a race, she could tell you how far she ran and what her splits were. At the end of the day, YingYing, what have you done? “Raised awareness?” My money is on Suzy Lee doing more to change the world than you ever will.
Update: The entire world cannot be reduced to neat metrics, but if you state that you are helping to “make a difference,” you should be able to articulate what difference has been made. If that difference is “awareness”, then you should probably be able to explain how people were unaware before your intervention. If you say that you are helping to eliminate poverty, then explain who is less poor for your efforts (or less potentially-poor, if you’ve done things like help someone gain a marketable skill). The kids who convince five of their friends to clean out their closets and donate their clothes and coats to charity are making their world a better place. Lofty goals should not be confused with results.