The following piece is a recent
co-authored interview/article that took place between me and Mr.
The college admissions scandal, in
which 50 people including celebrities have been indicted for scheming
to get the children of wealthy parents into top schools. It involves
parents who, prosecutors allege, bribed and cheated their kids’
way into prestigious universities.
A mother’s remorse:
received multiple mailings from Stanford, Harvard, Yale and other
prestigious schools based on her high SAT scores as a 10th grader.
Her dream was to apply to Stanford. She decided to focus on academics
and her musical instrument, and practiced hours each day in order to
achieve a skill level high enough to be accepted via auditions into
the most competitive youth orchestra in the entire southeast United
States. She focused on volunteer work with a group providing music
enrichment to under-privileged children and started attending a state
school as a dual-enrollment student when she was a senior in high
school. Her academics were stellar, and her final SAT scores were
exceptional (good enough to earn her the same scholarship that
valedictorians get in our state). She was contacted for interviews at
Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton, as well as several other
prestigious schools but she was devastated to receive rejections from
those schools that had given her some hope. As a parent, I am angry!
We spent so much time and energy on her applications and extra
activities. We are just a middle-class family, but it was an amazing
idea to dream that our daughter could get accepted to one of these
schools. Seeing the news yesterday made me sick to my stomach. All
the hard work that my daughter did was never going to be enough to
overcome the privilege that those kids are born with. I tried as hard
as I could as a parent to try to level the playing field for her but
it turns out it is much more unequal than I ever could have
imagined. — A white mom, March 13, 2019
Writers Dr. Elwood Watson and Mr.
Terry Howard weighed in on the scandal with their answers to some
If you could meet
face-to-face with the mother described above what would you say to
Truth is that I did meet with the mom above and admit to difficulty
in finding the best words to console her. Although she probably
needed a listening ear more than anything else, I was so moved by
this story that I decided to contact Dr. Elwood Watson, whose work in
the area of race has been extraordinary. He agreed to co-author this
article with me.
What, if anything, surprised
you about this breaking news?
Nothing! I am not surprised by this news at all! The cold, hard,
undisputed truth is that wealthy, well connected people, especially
wealthy white people, have gamed and manipulated the system since the
dawn of the republic. So hell no! I am not at all surprised!
What are some of the obvious
and not-so-obvious implications of this scandal?
For me what immediately comes to mind is that many more deserving and
better qualified applicants, like the daughter described above, who
were not privileged were denied admission. I think it also tarnishes
the brands of those schools as having lowered their standards to
allow in unqualified students; ironically that’s what’s
been said about qualified students of color when they began getting
into these schools.
What does this scandal say
about long held beliefs about affirmation action as we’ve
understood it since its inception, including in college admissions?
It says that wealthy white people are the group that benefits the
most from affirmative action and preferential treatment. Plain and
simple, that’s what it says.
In fact, Elwood authored two excellent articles related to this in
the publication Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Here are links to
What does this say about
This scandal demonstrates that all of this talk about hard work,
merit and other manufactured arguments heralded and promoted
primarily by the conservative right wing is total bullshit! This
scandal further contributes to the growing distrust that’s
sweeping this nation and the perceived widening of the gap between
the rich and poor, the haves and have-nots.
psychological damage to privileged kids who discover (or suspect)
that their well-heeled parents pulled some strings, and perhaps
cheated, to get them an unfair advantage?
To me the truth about privilege, whether it’s earned or
unearned, is something that recipients of it are aware of, deny it
and will not relinquish or share it. Peggy McIntosh, Senior
Associate, Wellesley Centers for Women, has published some compelling
articles of privilege.
As of this writing, the
long-time voices of opponents of affirmative action have been largely
silent. Why do you think that’s the case?
you surprised?! Don’t
hold your breath until they do. You
hypocritical, manipulative, deceptive and abhorrent behavior of a
number of upper income and wealthy people has been exposed for the
entire world to see. Their continued silence or delayed comments will
come across as disingenuous because they realize that the lies they
have been touting about affirmative action being an
unfair policy that benefits supposedly “unqualified”
people of color has now been dismantled and torn to shreds.
In closing, what other issues
do you see emerging from this scandal?
Unfortunately, firms that employ some of these tainted graduates will
not necessarily be getting the best and brightest employees which has
definite business implications. And unfortunately, many of their
managers and peers may look at them with suspicion if they don’t
pan out as being qualified and competent. As for talented students
like the daughter of the mom quoted above, she still has a bright
future even though her dream of getting to a prestigious college was
snatched away. But cream has a way of rising to the top!