Meet Jamal! Jamal is a black kid who grew up on the south side of Chicago. Jamal’s parents are working class and juggle several jobs to be able to make ends meet. Jamal is a smart and hardworking kid who gained acceptance into a selective magnet school, where he was surrounded by more privileged and wealthy classmates. Jamal puts 110% of effort into school in order to get stellar grades. His family did not have the money to pay for an SAT course, so he taught himself the test taking strategies by using free online resources. He ended up doing exceptionally well on these standardized exams. For his extracurricular activities, he did not volunteer in Africa and take pictures with starving children, nor did he have the resources to file a patent for an obscure invention that likely no one will ever use. But with what he did have, he volunteered his time in his local community as well as various school activities. He eventually applied to and was accepted to “insert generic elite institution.” HOORAY!
Although Jamal is extremely proud of himself, he starts to hear rumors from his privileged classmates that they did not get into said “elite school”, and they think that Jamal mainly got in over them because he’s black, and #AffirmativeAction. Even though Jamal does not know this yet, this will be the beginning of a lifelong struggle as an underrepresented minority to justify one’s achievements in front of his white and more privileged colleagues.
Often, those who attack the necessity of affirmative action argue that students who benefit from it are not as competitive as others who apply based on their standardized test scores and/or the quality of their extracurricular activities. With this line of argument, they imply that these students are essentially stealing a spot from more qualified applicants. However, the recent college cheating scandal has been illuminating about who actually is stealing a spot, and puts into perspective how much easier it is for certain groups to gain admissions to these highly selective institutions.
First, this scandal emphasizes the insane lengths certain parents will go to in order to get their child into these colleges. From having someone illegally take standardized tests scores on behalf of their child, to faking the athletic history of one’s child, to blatantly paying off admissions officers. It appears that there were no boundaries that these parents would not cross in order to ensure their child’s admission. Hopefully, no dead bodies will be discovered.
Some of the violations these parents committed did not require immense wealth; nonetheless, they all required privileged parents who were either unwilling to allow their children to fail, or were unwilling to deal with the consequences of the perceived failure of not getting into an elite school. In effect, by these parents shielding their children from the possibility of failure, they are emotionally stunting them and preventing them from learning how dealing directly with failure can help lead to success.
Secondly, it reveals the true admissions discrepancy between the poor and often underrepresented minority candidates vs the privileged and often white candidates. Whereas the poorer candidates work harder to overcome underperforming schools and a significant lack of financial resources in order maximize their chances of admission, their more privileged counterparts will have a plethora of resources at hand and may even have the added bonus of parent alumni legacy status, which for some elite institutions like Harvard, could give a student as much as a 40% advantage on admissions.
The timing of this scandal is also quite significant. A recent lawsuit by Asian Americans against Harvard may force the supreme court to decide the further utility of affirmative action. This recent scandal further emphasizes that poor students of color who may benefit from affirmative action are not the ones gaming the system. The numbers of these underrepresented minorities in college have been slowly climbing over the years, but ridding the college admissions system from affirmative action will undermine years of hard work that has gone into increasing the numbers of these students.
Sadly, the current composition of the supreme court consists of five out of nine justices that are white men, and the only black justice is a one of the most conservative justices known for often voting for policies detrimental to the advancement of people of color. Most of these white male justices went to the same elite schools that these cheating parents worked so hard, or rather, paid so much money for their kids to get into. None of them can can fully understand the difficulty of growing up as a poor person of color, nor have they demonstrated an effort to try and understand such issues. Therefore, I have low expectations that this supreme court will make the right decision.
At the end of the day, this scandal will likely not change much. The wealthy will get a slap on the wrist, and may stop trying to influence these elite schools for a short period of time. Although this specific avenue of attaining college admissions may temporarily be halted, it is clear that the wealthy and privileged have multiple avenues that give them an advantage over everyone else seeking admission to college. This scandal makes it even more apparent that those who are accused of stealing admissions spots are not the underrepresented students who worked unbelievably hard to earn their spot.
So, I say to all my fellow underrepresented minority brothers and sisters in college and beyond that have ever been made to feel inadequate because of your accomplishments: If anyone ever tries again to make you doubt your achievements, look them straight in the face and simply yell at them, “ENTITLED!” Then walk away and don’t give them the time of day.