Outrageous. That seems to be the most popular term to describe the college admissions cheating scandal that took over the news last week. Condemning wealthy and powerful parents who illegally engineered their children’s road to elite schools is easy. But are we willing to face the hard reality of how we might be culpable, albeit in smaller, unintentional ways?
From my earliest days, I remember how enamored my dad was with Stanford. So, when I started my college search, it wasn’t surprising that he enthusiastically endorsed it as the school of choice for me. After years of attending football games, you’d think I would share his sentiment. But even though I wanted to please my dad, I didn’t want to go to Stanford.
Instinctively, I recognized that my dad’s desire had more to do with how it reflected on him rather than how it helped me find the school best-suited to me. So I quite passive-aggressively sabotaged my application to Stanford. I purposefully submitted my draft application, littered with hash marks and liquid paper corrections. It was hardly the polished piece designed to impress.
I didn’t get into Stanford. Who knows if I would have even with my most sparkling application. But I never told my dad about my deceptive undermining of his plans for me even after I began my college career at UC Davis.
At the time, I was blind to the privilege that characterized my college choices. Stanford or UC Davis? I thought I had earned admission to college with hard work and good test scores. It didn’t occur to me that my affluence, parental support, opportunities growing up, and inherited intelligence positioned me for these choices—even if one of them was not to my liking. My dad may not have manipulated my way into school like the parents caught bribing and cheating, but he certainly provided much of what made a good education possible for me.
How many of us fail to recognize these gifts? The outrage expressed about the latest cheating scandal is well-deserved. Yet, even that outrage seems to be fueled by our own sense of entitlement. Our indignation might be tempered by the humility that comes with a recognition of the gifts of intelligence, educated parents, good school districts, helpful mentors, enrichment opportunities. Unearned and undeserved gifts.
What does justice look like for college admissions fraud? It’s not merely that Felicity Huffman and the other rich and powerful parents are punished for their wrongdoing. Justice also requires a recognition of our own culpability in a system that perpetuates inequality. My hope is that our outrage would fuel a humility and gratitude that propels us to serve those without the benefit of the advantages we’ve received. Because what’s truly outrageous is that God would shower so many undeserved blessings on us!
What gifts of grace might you be failing to acknowledge today?