Why we all owe Nadirah Farah Foley a debt of gratitude

[I noticed a lot of people — by this blog’s standards, anyway — reaching this post via the Google nearly a week after the story broke, which means a lot of people have been googling Nadirah Farah Foley. Presumably, potential employers will one day do the same, and also stumble upon this post. This message is really for them. I can’t imagine learning about this story is going to do too much in the way of convincing you to hire Nadirah, though I suppose it’s more about the story than about anything I wrote (this is how I justify contributing to the pile-on), and I can’t keep you from finding what you’re looking for. But the point is this: I don’t know Nadirah (Nadirah Farah?), but I do know she will grow up. I would imagine she already learned her lesson. The internet holds grudges; it never lets you truly declare bankruptcy (unless you mean moral bankruptcy) — especially if your name is sui generis like Nadirah Farah Foley. So don’t be like the internet. Don‘t hold this against her forever. Give her a chance. Maybe what follows will help you see her story in a slightly more-positive light:]

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Last Wednesday, I wrote about the DP’s possible motive in publishing the story of Nadirah Farah Foley’s firing from the Penn admissions office (something like but not necessarily) three months after it happened. Today, I want to suggest three reasons she deserves more appreciation:

1. Though Ms. Foley has been maligned for violating the trust of prospective Quakers by publishing choice excerpts of their application essays on Facebook, without her indiscretion, we may have never learned of the applicant circumcised at Penn Hillel, nor the one who overcame his (her?) fear of pooping in the woods. Don’t pretend like reading those accounts didn’t bring at least the hint of a smile to your face. Privacy concerns notwithstanding, I’d say the world is a better place with those stories having seen the light of day. Sort of how the world is a better place with Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.

Sort of like that.

2. It’s always nice to have a reminder that you should think twice before posting anything remotely over the line anywhere online. Just about one year ago, I spent a few months working at the Penn Institute for Urban Research, and occasionally blogged about some of the things I encountered in the course of my employment. I just looked those posts over, and I don’t believe anything I wrote about crossed any lines, violated anyone’s privacy, or revealed any secrets — but still, it was probably a bad idea. If Foley’s Facebook posts — which aren’t even googleable* — got her fired, so could my blog posts. Assuming, of course, anything I put online would be grounds for dismissal. The idea, obviously, is to try to avoid posting those things, in case I needed a reminder.

And we all sometimes need reminders. Just the other day, a friend posted a google map on Facebook from which it was quite easy to decipher his home address. Thanks to my mother, I am more than aware this is a terrible idea. One of her favorite activities is sending me articles about the evils that can befall one who posts too much personal information on Facebook (like Nadirah!). So I knew just what to do: I sent my friend this 2010 CNN article about burglars who mine Facebook posts for personal information like home addresses and daily schedules. All he needed was the reminder, and the post was down within a couple of seconds. So thank you, Nadirah — we can never have too many reminders.

3. We could also always use another reminder that open-ended, inane personal statement/essay questions/cover letters are just about the worst things ever. And I’m not talking about the excerpts Foley shared on Facebook; I’m talking about the first site that pops up when you google her name. That distinction belongs to Princeton’s Department of Classics alumni news page, which includes the following personal narrative [skim only]:

“Since 9th grade, I’d always thought I’d be a Latin teacher; I loved education and I loved Latin, so it seemed a natural choice. Not too long after commencement, however, I realized that, although Latin is the love of my intellectual life, I didn’t want to be a teacher. Tossing caution to the wind, I left behind student teaching and took a job as an admissions counselor in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania; in that capacity, I’m responsible for managing a region, identifying and recruiting talented students, evaluating the applications, helping in the selection process, and encouraging admitted students to matriculate. I’m also taking classes part-time at Penn’s Graduate School of Education and working towards a master’s in higher ed.”

“Though I unfortunately no longer spend my days reading Ovid and Horace (or Anacreon and Sappho, if a Hellenistic mood strikes), my classical education is something I hold dear. The poetry and prose I was exposed to inform my philosophy on life, and the organization, creativity, and critical thinking skills I developed through studying Classics have proven invaluable in the real world; for that, for opening my mind to new worlds, pushing my boundaries, and offering me a superlative education in both literature and life, I am forever grateful to the professors and classmates who made the classrooms of East Pyne a home and a haven for four years. I don’t doubt that no matter where life takes me, I’ll always be a Princeton Classics girl at heart; so far, that’s turning out not to be bad at all.”

I hope you didn’t actually read that block of text because — nothing against Ms. Foley — it’s dreadfully boring, especially to someone with no real interest in classics or Latin. And that’s not her fault — it’s the fault of whoever solicited this little update for the purposes of Department of Classics propaganda. No, it’s not an application essay — but it is the kind of horrible sequence of words you could imagine making its way into some generic personal statement/essay questions/cover letter. I think she actually acquitted herself quite reasonably given what I imagine was requested of her. Still, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that, after reading hundreds of “Why Penn?” essays, all Foley had left was to plead “stop the madness.”

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*Is it googleable with or without an e?

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