They May Have Finessed the College Admissions Process, But I’m Sure They Just Want What’s Best for Their Kids, Right?

Photo: Scott Eisen (Getty Images)

When news broke of the college admissions scam that rocked America, a pretty large segment of us were neither shocked nor surprised. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, privileged-kid college enrollment fixer William “Rick” Singer founded a for-profit counseling and college prep business, The Key, that helped students gain admission to schools they might not have gotten into on their own. On in simpler terms, Singer helped mediocre white kids whose parents have long dough (and presumably long enough dough to get their kids the help the rest of us rely on, like college-prep classes and books and shit) game the system by paying off college administrators, coaches, college-entrance exam test proctors (and whoever else was necessary) to fluff students’ applications to guarantee admission. Some families paid upwards of $500,000 for this shit.

Again, none of this is surprising to most of us without the types of resources these parents have. Gaming the system is embedded in the education system to make sure that those with money and influence maintain it. It’s basically the American way. Legacy admissions and education payola (making a huge contribution that somehow allows folks like Jared Kushner to get into Harvard) are nothing new. The folks with money, status and influence make sure their kids go where they want them to go, both educationally and professionally. If you think these privileged kids are only getting degrees they didn’t earn and not jobs too, I have beachfront property in Atlanta to sell you.

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The difference here is that these parents, including celebrities like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin (and her tycoon husband, though all of the press coverage focuses on her), and CEOs of companies, got caught. That’s the problem with privilege, it affords you the veneer of invincibility. I’m fairly certain that none of the folks involved thought they’d ever have to answer to anybody but the nosy guidance counselors outlined in the FBI documents. 

Meanwhile, let me tell you a short story. Many years ago, when my daughter turned three, her mother and I decided to avail ourselves of the universal pre-K programs that Washington, D.C., provides its residents. My daughter’s mother and I were not together, both living in different homes. At the time of our application though, we both lived in Washington, D.C. My daughter, through the lottery process, gained admission to our top-choice program (any parent in D.C. with any familiarity with the lottery process can tell you how stressful that waiting period is), and by the time school started, her mother had moved to Maryland. I still lived in D.C., right up the street from the school. We never drafted any formal custody documents, choosing instead to work it out amongst ourselves. For most of the days during the week, my daughter lived with her mother in Maryland. I’d pick her up every morning (she lived about 10 minutes away from my house in D.C.), and drive her to school. When her mother moved to Maryland, we switched up her primary address for school purposes to mine.

And do you know there were several conversations between us about that being OK? Her mother was concerned about us getting “caught.” Never mind that we shared custody of my daughter so mi casa is her casa. We were, at least minimally, concerned that some overzealous city official would determine that somehow, some way we were breaking some law and we’d have to pay a fine and remove my daughter from that school.

This same discussion came up as we decided to move her from that school (it went from PK3 to fifth grade) looking for better educational opportunities. As we talked about where she would have to go if we didn’t get her into a good school, all of the options were discussed. It ended up being moot because we found a private school that she’s now been attending since kindergarten so the concern about her having to go to local, underperforming schools have since been alleviated by financial concerns. My point here, though, is that we were legit concerned that somehow we might end up in trouble with the law. And we were willing to take that risk for her education in order to give her what we believed to be the best chance at future success. Parents make those decisions ALL the time in hopes of securing better situations for the kids knowing the consequences but assessing that they’re worth it.

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We were concerned in a way those rich, white parents never were. Their phone and email communications indicate that they never envisioned an FBI sting. But the rest of us know to be more discreet about “wrongdoings.”

Why does it matter? Well, because in Ohio in 2011, Kelley Williams-Bolar, a black mother was handed a 10-day jail sentence (and three years probation) for using her daughters’ father’s address, a place she viewed as one of her childrens’ homes, to place them in a better school. Her crime? Falsifying information. The majority white school district where she enrolled her daughter almost never used the courts to address districting issues. This time though? They did. They hired private investigators to prove she didn’t live where they said she did. She was asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars in restitution and when she didn’t, she got hit with the charges. She got made an example of and I guarantee if she was rich and white it would never be a thing. But I guess that’s the rub anyway, right? Money removes that obstacle to begin with. Money removes the obstacles that the rest of us are trying to overcome with education.

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The obstacle it apparently doesn’t remove, though, is mediocre-ass children. While mediocre white people like Abigail Fisher decided to sue the university system of Texas because of her belief that race-based admissions caused her to not be admitted into the flagship UT-Austin campus over just as qualified, if not more qualified, black students, other privileged-ass mediocre white kids are traipsing around campuses across America literally occupying spaces that should have gone to others but their parents had money and a fixer. It be ya own people, indeed.

The same folks who inaccurately believe that affirmative action ruins white people’s access to their entitlements are probably some of the very kids whose parents knew they weren’t smart enough or accomplished enough to go anywhere but one of those schools that wouldn’t bring praise to the family. Naw, they need their kids to be at schools they can matter-of-factly state is their birthright over conversation with similarly perched friends. They’re all criminals, right? Falsifying documents, enough so that the FBI got involved.

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I’m sure Singer is going to jail. But what about the rich families who availed themselves of this opportunity, who lied and cheated to gain entry to a system that pretty much was built for them to get into with the minimal amount of actual work already? Will any of them get jail time? I doubt it. Or at least that would surprise me. Anything other than a slap on the wrist will be a complete shock to my system. That’s what resources do for you, they insulate you from prosecution. Lie, cheat and steal and pay for it to the tune of millions and not one of us would be surprised if they all just got told not to do it again. Affluenza is a thing, after all.

Meanwhile, I was worried about getting into real trouble for sending my daughter to a school in my district and I share custody. The mother in Ohio who sent her kids to a better school because of where she lived? Jail.

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I can’t be mad when I already know the rules are different. Again, none of this is surprising short of them getting caught. I’m not even mad at them as parents for doing what was in their power to game a system nobody told them they couldn’t game. I get it, nobody wants to just let their mediocre-ass children not have the best life opportunities, especially when you have the means to do something about it; that’s parenting. I just hope that the lesson here isn’t that the only people who can be parents who truly care are rich, white folks.

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About the author

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.