How Today’s Misplaced Values Were Revealed By The College Admissions Scandal

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Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

As someone who attended the University of Southern California and, once again, watched them be entangled in yet another scandal, I couldn’t idly sit by and let this one go. I know that USC is not the only college involved in Operation Varsity Blues, but with the most prominent celebrity’s name tied to my alma mater, USC seems to be at the center of attention.

The FBI brought to light a scandal that we shouldn’t be shocked by, but none the less, are now engulfed in the narrative of Hollywood celebrities bribing their kid’s way into competitive universities across America.

An Instagram influencer who never rowed a day in her high school career was a top recruit for the USC crew team — all thanks to a photoshopped image and a cool $500,000. Parents of a teenage girl paid 1.2 million dollars for their daughter to get into college; a “small” price to pay for a top recruit spot on the Yale soccer team.

Damn. Can we just take a second to really let those numbers sink in? I grew up with parents that only let me order from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. This is a look into the gold-plated window of the 1%. The wealthy elite that still worries for their children; only, their worry comes in the form of a half a million dollar bribe. No matter the amount of concern my parent’s had for my education, that kind of notion is something we couldn’t even afford to think.

As a result of this scandal being made public, it’s eminently clear that priority is given to those who can make a massive donation, have the right connections, or are willing to commit clear fraud. Notions like these further engrain that status is what matters most. The elite hangout with the elite; further securing them in the cozy nest of the top 1%.

It’s shameless and blatantly selfish of these parents to have cheated the system in such a grand gesture to gain a leg-up in the admissions process. But let’s be real — that’s kind of how our education system works. Parents move their children into better school districts. They pay for tutors, SAT coaches, and bus their kids around to 4 years of soccer matches. Though on a much smaller scale, this is all just a way for parents to try to gain even a tiny leg-up in the un-fair admissions process that lies within our universities. These elite parents took a step further — nay, the price the average person pays for their entire house step further — to gain an advantage in a clearly unfair playing field.

Maybe they convinced themselves that their actions, in a twisted way, were justifiable.

But an issue being overlooked here isn’t the hard facts that these parents cheated the education system; it’s the values they hold that are now emblazoned across every media outlet. The idea that rules don’t apply to the mega-rich; that a mere diploma from a top-ranking university outweighs actual obtainment of knowledge. As a member of the social elite, merit isn’t necessary at a university that perpetuates privilege. And, in Lori Loughlin’s case, that being a social media influencer is worth more of her daughter’s time than applying herself to studying. I mean, $500,000? Couldn’t that money have been put towards world-class tutors?

I think it’s worth considering if these ideals exist at a micro-level — for those of us that didn’t drive to high school in our Range Rover. Whether getting ahead in life is worth the rewards, no matter the means. Do knowledge and hard work say less than a piece of paper issued from USC?

We also can’t look past the schadenfreude manner in which the public is reacting to all of this. What does it say about our culture that if you google “Operation Varsity Blues,” you’ll quickly find headlines regarding who will be cast in the impending Netflix-movie about this scandal?

When it comes down to it, these are real people with real lives at stake here. It makes sense to feel a lack of empathy for a person that’s able to spend half a million dollars on their child’s college admission, but what does it say to find pleasure in their pain?

Let’s stop for a second to realize that maybe the joke is actually on us. That in today’s society, when a news-worthy story like Becky from Full House getting indited by the FBI is quickly creating headlines about its inevitable documentary series, our values might be skewed.

The education system is unfair. The values of the ultra-elite are further keeping the rest of America from trying to be successful themselves. We also know that these people most likely won’t pay for their crimes — unlike this mother who was jailed for lying to get her children into a less crime-ridden school district.

But, call me naive, I’m not sure how checking your twitter for #VarsityBlues will change the corruption happening inside our universities. Awareness is great, and all, but change occurs within our values. What do parents value most — grades or the university printed at the top of their child’ diploma? What do we, as consumers of the media, value most in this story? The fact that students with extraordinary merit are being passed up for an absurdly pricey bribe or who will play Felicity Hoffman in the casting of this melodrama?

The systems in this country fail us — that’s no surprise there. But when scandals like this are opened to our eyes, how we react is just as important. Those that weren’t born in a place on innate privilege — that at sixteen must balance holding down a job, sustaining a top-notch GPA, attempting to be part of school clubs, and achieve the highest SAT scores they can — deserve so much more attention than the reactions to Varsity Blues is giving.

I’ll be upfront and say that there is a vast dichotomy that exists at USC — those who clearly came from privileged backgrounds and those who were there through a scholarship program or given preference due to their minority status. It was hard not to notice that many either spent their weekends partying at the Sigma Chi house on Greek Row or worked tirelessly at their full-time job to make ends meet.

In the wake of this scandal, my heart goes out to those, after years of trying to make something more of their lives, was denied admission in favor of those that systematically already have privileges set in place for them. We all knew this kind of corruption existed, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

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