Huffman’s “Shame” and Loughlin’s Denial: Does It Mean Anything to Kids With No Access?
I had no idea what I was doing when I applied to college. But I went to a high school where students benefitted from the kind of privilege that is under federal investigation right now. I was dating one and by his influence became interested in NESCAC schools. My boyfriend got into one early as a legacy, which all seemed fair enough. I was wait-listed at Tufts and a rumor quickly spread that this was because of affirmative action.
The girl who started the rumor was one of my best friends in grade school. We were on the school paper together in 6th grade. The same year my family and I were kicked out of the home we rented at an affordable rate in the affluent town, with the agreement that my father would work on the property owner’s farm on the weekends. Their daughter had married and they wanted her to have the house.
As we desperately searched for a place to live within the elite school district we wound up homeless, staying with a family friend in a town forty-five minutes away from school—four people in one bedroom. Nothing about my education beyond that point had anything to do with passion, learning or fulfillment. It was about survival and generational progress. Even as a child I thought, “Get the degree. Get to the middle class.” I didn’t write creatively again until I was 27. And I didn’t get in to Tufts. I received a BA from Northeastern University, and graduated after four years with back-breaking student loan debt.
Exposing privilege at the admissions level is just the beginning. It reaches so far beyond education. Every office where I’ve worked, countless employees have earned their spots through nepotism. A call or email is all it takes—a perfectly legal “favor.” I’ve had to quit jobs because of low wages or reject elite internships, which I earned because the salary was unlivable and I wasn’t subsidized by my parents.
I’ve often found myself at the bottom of the curve not due to merit, skill or work ethic, but because those qualifications could easily be cancelled out by candidates with more influence and power. A systemic inequity the FBI’s investigation of college admissions fraud has recently laid bare.
As the maelstrom of press surrounding the central defendants, Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin, dies down and they prepare for court, each actress faces different charges and each has taken opposing routes.
Felicity pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud after paying $15,000 to facilitate cheating for her daughter on the SATs. She took full responsibility, asserting that her daughter had no knowledge of her actions. In an official statement she made a point of apologizing to hard working students and parents.
I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community. I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.
As Huffman awaits sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 13, 2019, it seems professional punishment has already been issued. Production for the critically acclaimed Netflix series, When They See Us, directed by Ava DuVernay, has omitted Huffman from their submissions for nominations to the Emmy’s. The awards show will make their official announcement in September but it’s clear, Felicity’s personal true-crime story has disqualified her from being recognized for a marquee role in her career.
Conversely, Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly paid $500,000 to have their daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose, admitted to USC by convincing the admissions department that they were rowing crew. Loughlin was formally charged with mail fraud and money laundering conspiracy. Each conviction carries the possibility of 20 years in prison, but Lori maintains her innocence and claims the incident was all a big misunderstanding.
A source told People magazine, “She feels like she’s got a valid defense, and that when all the evidence comes out, that she won’t be found guilty. She still is looking into the avenues to defend herself against what she thinks is a meritless charge.”
Lori’s “misunderstanding” defense very well may keep her out of jail. I wonder if my student loan providers would be convinced if I refused to make my payments because I was unable to fully comprehend predatory loan documents at 18 years old? A simple misunderstanding, right?
Looking at the landscape of higher education, one can only wonder if holding a few wealthy people accountable for their actions will make a lasting impact that creates equal access for all students. Perhaps our efforts are better served by educating our communities, sharing our missteps and explaining that there is no one definitive path toward self-determination. A $100,000 college degree will not buy self-worth. Our struggles with impostor syndrome are valid, but we cannot succumb to a warped reality created by a rigged system. Pa’lante!