Wealth is No Excuse for Cheating

Kathleen Mackey, Managing Editor

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U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling broke the news last Tuesday of what is being called the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Justice Department. As the story has unfolded, we’ve learned that 50 people were charged for participating in a multimillion dollar bribery scheme that aided college students to be fraudulently accepted into prestigious universities such as Yale, Georgetown and The University of Southern California. The group was comprised of exam administrators, collegiate coaches and 33 parents whom Lelling attests were “a catalog of wealth and privilege.”

I was initially surprised by such a scandal, recognizing names like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, two successful Hollywood actresses. But, the unfortunate reality is that this isn’t the first time wealth, status and privilege have allowed corruption to be swept under the rug, undercutting those of merit and self-sufficient work ethics. This case has only furthered the notion that the college admission system is rigged to favor the elite. While only a handful of universities were involved in this situation, and are facing the consequences of these charges accordingly, the overarching message this sends for prospective college applicants is alarming to say the least.

The more I’ve read into this case, the more I can’t help but wonder what went through the minds of those involved, most specifically the parents and their children. Everyone involved committed a deplorable act, but the parents especially set an example that not only reflects those of wealthy status but, most unsettlingly, an example that their children look up to. While none of the students have been charged, as their parents were the principal actors, reports claim that some of the children were aware of the actions being made.

I remember watching a video over the summer of successful YouTube vlogger Olivia Giannulli, daughter of Loughlin, in which she told her viewers that she would be attending college in the fall. She explained that she was excited to be attending school and gaining the college experience that most young adults her age pursue. Laughing at the camera, she told her viewers, “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend, but I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of, like, game days, partying…I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”

Her words left a sour taste in my mouth when the initial video surfaced, but knowing now that she had such a nonchalant attitude going into it, and took the spot of a more qualified and deserving candidate at such a coveted school as USC, I feel even more frustrated by the blatant ignorance of the situation. Whether or not she was fully aware of the actions being made to ensure her enrollment at USC, it’s plainly obvious that she didn’t understand the sensitivity of her words and that many applicants aren’t presented with the opportunities she has easy access to. Many high school students work their entire lives to apply to elite schools like USC, and rather than taking the time to express gratitude for such valuable opportunity, she instead laughed it off and made sure to clarify that she was mostly in it for the social benefits.

She has also explained in other interviews that her parents pushed her to attend college, despite the fact that her YouTube career was providing her with a plethora of business opportunities and success. The idea that her parents took such a fraudulent route to ensure her place at a school that supposedly holds itself to high academic standards is not only a promotion of severely unethical behavior, but also the idea that one can simply buy one’s way into a prosperous future.

The pressure imposed by her parents is not an uncommon issue, and a major contribution to this issue is that parents can’t bear to see their children fail, which could have motivated the corrupt procedures taken by these parents. The concept of “helicopter parenting” was a point brought up by columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, as I read into this case.

He explained “In today’s era of ‘helicopter parenting’ and hyper-competition even to get into the right preschool, it is inevitable that some parents will take their obsession over their kids’ success too far.”

It’s natural for a parent to be invested in their children’s success. However, that does not, in any way, justify such criminal actions to be taken out of fear of seeing their children fail. In fact, these students need to understand failure in order to truly learn hard work ethics, self-awareness and grow as adults, especially when being raised in a bubble of connections and privilege. Yet, it seems that these parents had such little faith in their children that they didn’t even give them the chance  to succeed or fail on their own.

There are still many details to be released as this case continues to be investigated, but I hope that the unveiling of this scheme will encourage those of higher status and wealth to re-evaluate their advantages and how they are failing to teach their children to garner their own success through hard work and fair opportunities. In regard to college administrators, this scandal puts a magnifying glass on all of the issues connected to the college admissions system as a whole. It’s imperative that they take into account the way that this scandal reflects the college admissions process, and how they can work to progress in a way that works towards equal opportunities for all applicants.