On the Recent College Admissions Scandal

As many of my readers, especially in the United States, may know, there continues to be fallout from a college admissions scandal where wealthy parents of potential students paid gobs of money to a consultant who would do whatever it took for the parents’ kids to get into the colleges of their choice (inflating test scores, bribing college officials, etc.). It’s a disgusting situation that has exposed the extent to which some people can (and have) been able to get kids into college, even through illegal means. 

And yet, amidst people’s collective disgust over what the parents of these kids did, I’m afraid that we’re all missing a larger problem: the United States has an educational system, from childbirth to college admissions, that is stacked in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected having the best chance of getting in (at the expense of the poor and those who aren’t well-connected), whether through means that are legal or illegal.

It starts with childbirth because there are many things about the college admissions process that are determined by which family a child is from. If a child has family who went to the school that he/she/they eventually hope to go to one day, then the child is a legacy; this is a distinction that gives a child a significantly improved chance at getting into certain institutions.[1] If the child has a last name that indicates a connection to power or wealth, then the child has a significantly improved chance of getting into certain institutions. But if the child has neither going in his/her/their favor, then there’s some work cut out for them, to say the least.

As a child gets to kindergarten and goes through the K-12 system, another factor of wealth and connection comes into play: the school district a child is in. If a child is placed in a school district with few resources and bad teachers, that child could easily fall behind and never catch up again. If a child is placed in a district with plentiful resources, that child is often in much better shape. Of course, some families have enough wealth that they can avoid the public school system altogether.[2]

Throughout the K-12 experience, there are numerous things that wealthier families can afford that other families can’t: paying for tutors, getting kids involved in sports or hobbies that cost lots of money but make a résumé look good, being around to help their kids with homework, taking trips to all different parts of the world for educational purposes, and more. Those families who don’t have the resources for all or any of these things often find themselves at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers.

However, the issue of money and the chances of quality higher education arguably reaches a fever pitch with the college admissions process. Schools want prospective students to come visit, except visiting costs money. Schools want prospective students to do well on their standardized tests (especially SATs and ACTs), except the test prep needed to ace those exams sometimes runs into the thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars. Schools want prospective students to challenge themselves with Advanced Placement courses, except the Advanced Placement exams connected with these courses cost money as well. Some schools even want kids to take SAT2 tests, which cost even more money. College application fees can quickly add up, too. All told, it probably costs even a family with moderate resources thousands of dollars these days in order to get their kids into the colleges of their choice. For a family with resources, getting a kid into college may be a five-, six-, or even seven-figure endeavor, whether it be through legal (expensive test prep, going to an exclusive private school, having parents who give large donations to the child’s prospective school, etc.) or illegal (bribing, like with the current scandal) means.

Ultimately, while many of us who aren’t wealthy lament how the deck is “stacked against us” in the college admissions process in light of the recent admissions scandal, the fact is that the deck is stacked against the “little person” regardless of the scandal. The entire process of getting a child into an elite school, from childbirth to the admissions process, is stacked in favor of those who are wealthy and connected. And that is not an attack on those who are wealthy and connected—it’s just the fact.


[1] On a side note, during my own college admissions process many moons ago, my family was looking to use to my advantage my legacy status at a place to which I was applying. So I know this from experience.

[2] From 5th grade on, I was able to go to a Catholic school, so I know what I mean here. And, as much of an advantage as these schools gave me, even that advantage is dwarfed by the name recognition, as well as personal, educational, and professional connections and other advantages provided by expensive, elite private schools.

Institutional Racism Series: A Conclusion

While I was working on a post to conclude this series on institutional racism, I did a Google search of “institutional racism polls” (mostly to get a sense of seeing how many Americans believe in the existence of institutional racism). The first two results for this search showed commentator Ben Stein saying that there is no more institutional racism in America.

It’s ironic that the first two results for this search show Ben Stein denying the existence of institutional racism because, actually, I think that my series of posts on the subject shows the opposite. The series demonstrates that institutional racism exists, even in 2018.

This institutional racism exists in housing systems, school systems, policing institutions, and colleges. It exists in many other institutions that I did not mention in my blog series. It exists in so many places that someone could quite possibly run a whole blog on the subject of institutional racism.

So if you ever question the existence of institutional racism, or run into someone who questions or doubts the existence of institutional racism, I hope that people can look at the posts in my series and say: “Wait…institutional racism exists, in America, in the 21st century.” After all, it’s difficult to fix racism as a whole without realizing the existence of institutional racism.

Note: While this is my last post in my series on institutional racism, it’s possible (maybe likely) that I will still make some individual posts related to institutional racism.

Previous blog posts from my series on institutional racism:
“Introduction”
“Institutional Racism Series: How it Affected Where I Live”
“Institutional Racism Series: How it Affected Where I Went to School”
“Institutional Racism Series: How it Affected How I, and Others, Were Policed”
“Institutional Racism Series: How it Affects College Experiences”

Institutional Racism Series: How it Affects College Experiences

“There are injustices happening here and we will speak regardless of us being silenced in the classroom, regardless of administration not paying attention to us, we’re going to speak.”[1]

This was said by a student at my college during protests in my senior year of college. Yes, this was said in 2015. Not 1955.

The quote at the beginning of this post is only a microcosm of what has been expressed by people at college campuses across the United States: there is institutional racism, or racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions, at colleges and universities across the United States.

This institutional racism can be subtle to some, so subtle that I (and probably many others) didn’t even recognize the existence of these forms of racism during most of my college experience. But for others, institutional racism is ingrained in their college experiences.

There are so many forms of institutional racism at college campuses that, for the sake of brevity with this post, I’m going to go into brief explanations with three types of institutional racism that many colleges show[2] and that I often noticed:

  1. Descending into stereotypes of a particular racial group. One of the recent infamous examples happened at a New York University dining hall, where a menu “celebrating” Black History Month descended into certain harmful stereotypes about southern cuisine and black people by serving “ribs, collard greens, cornbread, smashed yams, mac and cheese and two beverages, red Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water.”[3] However, NYU is sadly far from the only institution that has been institutionally racist through descending into stereotypes of a particular racial group.
  2. Viewing nonwhite people a just a number, or part of a number. Every time a college talks about their diversity rates, they are viewing nonwhite people as numbers. Every time they talk about the percentage of students at their colleges who are minorities, they are viewing nonwhite people as numbers. Viewing nonwhite people as numbers is a form of institutional racism, as this type of racism is one where nonwhite people are viewed as not having worth beyond being part of a statistic.
  3. Turning a blind eye to various racial injustices at campus. From inaction towards racial slurs (which has happened not just at my alma mater, but at many other campuses) to a stunning refusal to confront common stereotypes that people of different races often face on campus (blacks being viewed as “beneficiaries of affirmative action” being one of the notable ones), many a college campus just seems to ignore racial injustices. These injustices continued to be ignored by many college campuses in spite of the outspokenness of many student leaders. This is institutional racism of a sort as well, as the type of racism demonstrated by institutions is the idea that people of color are not worth listening to.

Some people may think of higher education institutions as places where high-minded academia can overcome some of the racial vitriol that exists elsewhere. I challenge those of us who think this way to think again, and to open our eyes to the institutional racism that affects many college campuses across the United States.


[1] https://thedickinsonian.com/news/2015/11/18/students-stage-black-out-calling-it-the-start-of-a-movement/
[2] There are certainly other types of institutional racism beyond the three that I cover here. People who want to bring attention to other forms of institutional racism at college campuses should feel free to reply in the comments section for this blog post.
[3] https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/22/us/nyu-kool-aid-watermelon-menu-black-history-month-trnd/index.html. Watermelons and Kool-Aid in particular have histories as racial stereotypes. This article from The Atlantic covers the racial dynamics of watermelons: https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/12/how-watermelons-became-a-racist-trope/383529/.