Several days have gone by since the college admission bribery scandal hit the news. In many ways, I long expected the wealthy to utilize their means and privilege to aid their progeny in accessing elite institutions. But I was shocked that they would go so far as to commit fraud.
There is so much to unpack with this story and I still grapple with many of my personal feelings about the matter.
I recall my own college experience. As the child of working-class Mexican immigrants, I had very few illusions of what opportunities awaited after high school. Through sheer luck, hard work, and a dedicated collection of friends, teachers, advisers and family members, I found my trajectory to the University of Washington.
I felt as though I did not belong. At freshman orientation I couldn’t vibe with my peers who would talk about wealthy parents, pricey vacations, lacrosse and other pastimes that were clearly not extracurricular activities found in most public schools. I nodded politely, engaged in small talk, and escaped to chat with other incoming students of color.
I felt completely out of my element. That first weekend I moved from Yakima to Seattle was a tremendous culture shock.
Truth be told, I felt survivor’s guilt for having the opportunity to leave Central Washington. I knew very well that there were many more talented people who did not have the same access for a variety of reasons, whether family obligations, not having money to attend, or being undocumented. As one of the few who made it to UW, I felt pressure not to fail them or myself.
Four years later I finished my degree. The uneasiness with “imposter syndrome” didn’t lift until after I had finished writing my senior thesis.
On reflection, I recall the hyper-competitive nature of being at a research institution. The push was to be accepted in a major that “makes money.”
This continues today in the wake of the Great Recession. Any and all programs that are deemed not to be as profitable as others are on the short list for budget cuts. This is a perverse reimagining of what an education should be about.
It is this profit motive and hyper-competitive nature of neoliberal economics that makes college admissions as cutthroat as it is. The irony is that the offspring of the same people that destroyed the economy are granted a set of privileges that excludes them from the same structural environment that poor and working people have to trudge through. This is not only about admission to elite colleges, but also about the perpetuation of systemic exploitation.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle. He has previously contributed to HistoryLink.org and the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.
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