Learning of the nationwide college-entry cheating scandal infuriates me! Not only does white privilege still exist but so does white entitlement. As a first-generation college graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, I had to compete for my admission with fewer resources, a public school education, and parents who couldn’t afford to pay for college prep courses, application fees, tuition, and especially couldn’t afford to fork out tens of thousands of dollars to falsify test scores and athletic recruitment. The audacity of these white middle- to upper-class parents to do this on top of the access their children already receive from being white and coming from wealth and privilege is incredibly frustrating.
As an African American graduate of McClymonds High School in the Oakland Unified School District, there was nothing easy about college for me; the unexpected culture shock of being one of few Black students, working a full-time job while being a full-time student, and dealing with direct racism. I remember being told in class by a white male student that Black people genetically were different from other races which is why we’re good at sports and win at the Olympics. The instructor said nothing in response to the student’s bias, prejudice or pure ignorance. Instead, I was left to navigate this class on my own along with my time on campus.
Fortunately, I found my community through the IDEAL (Initiative for Diversity in Education and Leadership) scholars’ program founded by Dr. Freada Kapor Klein, living on the Afro Floor in my dorm, attending Black Wednesday’s outside of the Golden Bear Café, and the comfort of knowing my family was close by in Oakland.
Getting into Cal for me seemed easy, but everything that came next was not.
I constantly blamed myself for my struggles throughout college. I’ve come to realize that my experiences as a Black woman are not thought of or taken into consideration in society, this became clear to me during my time at Cal. I constantly felt like an outsider and often escaped just miles away from campus to the comfort of Oakland to feel accepted. I’d received a full scholarship as a Cal Opportunity Scholar along with being a part of IDEAL which helped to bridge the gap of what else I needed outside of tuition. I was even on track to graduate a year early after meeting consecutively with my counselor, Nate Carol, and finishing up my general requirements right away. When it came time to take my electives, I chose an African American studies class. What I thought would fulfill a requirement ultimately made me feel complete.
I became an African American Studies major and felt like I’d found a second home in this department. I even skipped the general Cal graduation and attended the Black graduation instead with my family in 2009 who were all in tears as the ceremony kicked off honoring the first Black president, Barack Obama. I went on to receive my master’s degree, worked in television, and made my way back home to Oakland and to the Kapor Center. My attempt at the American Dream left me with two degrees, student loans, years of work experience and the realization that all of my strides, all of my hard work still left me leaps and bounds behind those born into privilege. Bring in college-entry cheating scandals and I’m immediately reminded of how I made myself feel like I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t get into my other top choice schools, Stanford University and New York University on an early admission track, which, it turns out, is skewed in favor of the wealthy.
Now looking back, I know I had good grades, I had above average test scores, but I was still a Black girl from Oakland with no resources and no family members who were alumni to put on my college applications. All I had was the belief that if I worked hard enough, I could compete with the good ole boys club.
The exposure of the college-entry cheating scandals is a reminder of the blatant entitlement of white privileged individuals and the lengths they will go to defend it and ensure it’s passed down to future generations. I was well aware that my public school education did not compare to the years of private school many of my white peers at Cal brought to the table and felt it was their right to be there. While many students of color had to work hard to bring our own seat to the table, it’s extremely frustrating to see white privileged students pay to play the game when students of color, like myself, played by a whole different set of rules.
We weren’t all born with bootstraps to pull ourselves up by but I was born with amazing parents who sacrificed so that I could have a better future and who taught me to never give up, never hold my head down, and that I was just as good, if not better than any privileged white student.
Ten years after my graduation from Cal, I’m the mother to a Black son and work hard to open the same doors for him that I had to kick down.
My optimism is still there, fighting through tears and frustrations to survive. Outside of the anger that I feel, I’m proud that I am a Cal alum and that I not only received acceptance, but two full scholarship offers, and graduated on my own, the right way, with less of everything but more of myself; my sense of who I am, my culture and the reminder of my resilience.
Because of my scrappy Oakland roots I am a fighter. I feel confident in knowing that my accomplishments were well earned and despite the disadvantages and setbacks I have faced along with other students of color, I know that I will never give up in the search of my American Dream. As I prepare for an upcoming reunion with my IDEAL Scholar family, I hope to see a future where programs like this one are no longer needed and a future where my Black son truly has a level playing field.