How the Operation Varsity Blues Scandal Showcases White Privilege

  • Bribery to Buy Admissions
  • Sharing Intergenerational Wealth
  • Access to Established Networks
  • Unearned Credibility
  • Legacy Admissions

The Varsity Blues admissions scandal ensnared at least 50 people in six states with charges ranging from bribery to money laundering and racketeering. Eight elite universities have been notified by the U.S. Department of Education that they are under investigation to determine their compliance with federal education laws. The fallout from the college admissions irregularities continue to impact the lives of students and their families as some universities have taken steps to rescind admissions or suspend affected accounts as the institutions undertake their own investigations. This scandal has also become a cultural touchpoint of race and privilege.

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1. Bribery to Buy Admissions

Families spend on private tutors, test preparation classes, personal coaches and other activities to help students stand out in a crowded pool of candidates. The families ensnared in Operation Varsity Blues may have taken more definitive steps to get ahead of everyone by using their vast resources to bribe sports officials to reserve slots in their athletic admission quota for their offspring who do not meet the rigorous standards of athletic admissions. This loophole was easily exploited because sports like rowing, swimming, tennis and golf were traditional hobbies of the privileged class. Students admitted under this ruse did not stand out and could have sailed through college unscathed if not for the Varsity Blues investigation.

2. Sharing Intergenerational Wealth

Families seeking admission to elite universities consider it their duty to make sure that their children have access to the best opportunities. To this end, they use their wealth and connections to create pathways to success, viewing the endeavor as an investment to prepare the next generation to inherit the family fortune. This may be one of the possible explanations for those families that did not flinch at paying $500,000 and up to $1.2 million in bribes. They bribed coaches and test administrators in a scheme that involved submitting photoshopped sports profiles, altered test scores and inflated resumes that passed muster because students were from privileged backgrounds, and their inclusion in elite rosters were never questioned.

3. Access to Established Networks

The “good old boy network” continues to flourish among the well-heeled and well-connected. Families connect with other privileged families through their philanthropic projects, social events and private parties. The elaborate scheme to bribe and bluff their way into highly competitive colleges may have been driven by the urge to establish their family’s place among the most privileged class. It was easy for accused mastermind Rick Singer to sell the scheme to motivated parents because he had the connections to make it happen, and he fed on the families’ need for acceptance and inclusion in these circles.

4. Unearned Credibility

Families with resources have various options to help their children get into their preferred colleges. It is difficult to imagine a situation where motivated students who make an honest effort to gain admission to their preferred college would be oblivious to their parents’ efforts to ease their way into their preferred college. According to Salon.com, students who are fully engaged in the process would become aware that their resumes are being fluffed up, their essays edited by a professional and their test scores altered. That they accept their admission as a matter of course demonstrates their obliviousness to their privileged status.

5. Legacy Admissions

Legacy admissions are the ultimate hallmark of white privilege as far as top colleges are concerned. College admission committees supposedly have different review parameters for students who have alumni family members or whose families may have donated to the school as part of their philanthropy.

The charges may appear to be wide-ranging in the Varsity Blues admissions scandal, but it is clear that white privilege played a key role in driving this scheme. According to the Root.com, what the families did is essentially what families have done since there were elite colleges: use their wealth, resources, connections and privilege to buy their way into these institutions.