The scandal could break down misconceptions about money, merit, and status — if Americans are willing to listen.
When the Department of Justice revealed on Tuesday that dozens of people were accused of participating in a scam to bribe and lie their kids’ way into colleges, one question kept coming up: why?
These parents — actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz, and vineyard owner and Democratic donor Agustin Huneeus among them — were generally wealthy. Their kids did not need a degree from a selective college in order to support themselves — Loughlin’s daughter Olivia, for her part, didn’t particularly want to go to school. So why risk criminal charges just to get your child into college?
Of course, some rich parents may go to extraordinary lengths to get their kids admission because they believe a university education will be good for their children. But for some of the families accused as part of the admissions scandal, something else may be at play. A degree from a selective college is “a marker of status, kind of like a Maserati or living in the right neighborhood,” Paul Piff, a psychology professor at the University of California Irvine who has studied social class, told Vox. “It’s this kind of rat race of constantly trying to preserve and seek out these status symbols that showcase to others that you’re doing well.”
For some parents, getting a kid into a good school — even if they have to break the rules to do so — may function as a kind of proof that their wealth and social status are well-deserved. But the results can be damaging, both for the children