Economic Diversity and a Sad Tale of Misused Privilege

As a diversity consultant and trainer, I normally start workshops by discussing the various layers of diversity. Most often we focus on the inherent “primary” characteristics of gender, age, race, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. But there are additional layers of diversity that include secondary, organizational and cultural dimensions. Often these characteristics are not easily seen.

One of the secondary diversity characteristics is “socio-economic status.” Certainly people who grow up as and/or live in poverty, middle class, or affluence view the world, work and relationships through very different lenses. Do you often notice how older people who struggled during the great depression of the 1930’s are often very frugal, even if they do have significant disposable income?

One could argue that people growing up in affluence inherit certain privileges which make it easier for them to navigate in the world. For example, owning a car gives someone more flexibility and access than someone who must use public transportation or depend upon others. The concept of affluent privilege is quite similar to the concepts of “male privilege” and “white privilege” where those in the group with the most power or resources have an unearned advantage in many aspects of life.

This week a very sad and disturbing story hit the news. The New York Times story by Jennifer Medina and Katie Brenner was titled “Coaches, Parents and Celebrities Tied to College Bribery Scam.” (Link to the Chicago Tribune version of the story.)

Summary: 33 wealthy parents, including Hollywood celebrities and prominent business leaders funneled millions of dollars (about $25M between 2011 and 2018) through a so-called “college preparatory business” to provide unearned and unfair advantages for their children’s college admissions. There really are many legit college preparatory businesses that help students study and build knowledge to improve test results, but in this case, the business falsified test scores and payed huge bribes to university officials and clubs to get scholastically underqualified kids admitted into top universities.

Shouldn’t these teens growing up in poverty have an equal chance of attending a top university? (Photos: Healthfocus and The Mirror)

This is a classic example of how affluence can be misused to provide unfair advantage to some over the less privileged. This is flat out wrong and disturbing at so many levels:
• Admission slots for truly deserving kids are basically hijacked by these parents that “bought” and “stole” them for their children.
• This kind of issue widens the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” and makes it harder for people to improve their lives through legitimate hard work.
• It actually harms the children benefiting from this corruption since they will learn that using wealth to get unfair advantage and not earning what you get is an acceptable way of life.
• It harms our country … we are failing to build an environment that encourages every citizen to get the best training and education so they can contribute most productively in our society.

Hopefully these parents and the owner of this corrupt business that ran this scam will get what they deserve – jail time. And for community services, I recommend they each contribute $10M into a fund to provide college educations to children growing up in poverty.