Privilege is a term that is often uttered in hushed tones, with an air of concealment and shame or, at least, mock-shame. It is something that people rarely want to discuss or come to terms with. Accepting one’s privilege is often understood as undermining one’s own accomplishments. Our society’s insistence that it operates as a meritocracy has lead to this notion being engrained into our personal right to self-determination. That our standing and position in society is as a result of our own hard work, not of some greater forces at play.
The scandal of Operation Varsity Blues has resulted in an awareness to confront the privilege that many of us benefit from. Privilege comes in many forms. White privilege. Class privilege. Gender privilege. These are all areas of our identity that society has deemed as either superior or lesser.
Operation Varsity Blues is the largest case of college admissions bribery to be investigated by the FBI. The indicted parents include CEOs and entrepreneurs, chairmans and executives, along with the actresses, Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. The targeted universities include Georgetown and Yale, with the University of Southern California (USC) being a notable, repeated offender. The crimes include tampering with SAT scores and fabricating sports credentials. From arranging for a proctor to take the SATs on a kid’s behalf to photoshopping the applying student’s face onto a sportsperson, the scam is outrageous but totally believable.
It is well-known that there is a different admissions system for the wealthy. It may not be so prevalent in the UK, but in the US, there is an understanding that there is a more ‘acceptable’ and ‘legal’ way to ensure your child’s place at university. Last week, Dr Dre bragged on his Instagram that his daughter had been accepted to USC “all on her own.” His quip of “No jail time!!!” was a gibe at those indicted in the scandal. That was until Dre remembered his $70 million donation to the school, in the form of establishing the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and Business of Innovation, and the post was swiftly taken down.
Those who have been born with privilege already have a leg up. There is the ability to pay for the best schools, the best tutors. And once at university, there is the ability to turn to parents when money is tight or, to have them look over a tenancy agreement or, to have them pay tuition fees.
This scandal is ultimate privilege gone wild. It showed college admissions to be a playground for the rich, a place for parents to flaunt their wealth and manipulate and corrupt the system to meet their needs. While it may not be to this degree, we all have some form of privilege. We have all been given certain advantages in life. We should not be made to feel guilty about this, as this will only result in more secrecy surrounding the privilege that exists in our lives. However, we must stay mindful of our own, particular advantages.
So much of life is not an even playing field, and the concept of privilege must be confronted and discussed. This will not magically remedy our rigged, nepotistic society, it is unclear what can, but it will open the conversation to the truth of our society.