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College admissions scandal highlights inequity in criminal justice system

The United States judicial system is anything but merciful. Yet, Judge Indira Talwani of the US District Court of Massachusetts sentenced former “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman to a mere 14 days in prison for bribing an SAT proctor to inflate her daughter’s score. Huffman, who reportedly paid the proctor $15,000, is one of 34 parents indicted in a scandal that has rocked both the nation’s socio-cultural elite and top universities across the country.

There were a variety of schemes, many of which involved students receiving an admissions consideration as a recruited athlete for sports they either did not play or were mediocre at.  

It would be easy to make Talwani the villain of this story. Yet, by all accounts, Talwani is a relatively fair justice who has put out rulings that I would consider humane and just. For example, this past June, she issued an injunction preventing U.S. immigration officials from performing arrests in the courthouse.

The problem lies not with Talwani, but with the legal, social and cultural system in which she resides. The fact that many media outlets have expressed surprise at the fact that Huffman faced any jail time at all speaks for itself. 

This is a system that disproportionately incarcerates people of color, often for non-violent drug offenses. It’s a system where Debra Harrell, a black woman in South Carolina, spent 17 days in jail for allowing her daughter to spend the day at a public playground while Harrell was at work.

Huffman and her husband’s considerable wealth has afforded their daughter, Sophia Macy, every advantage in the world. While I would commend the couple for sending Macy to public school, it was an elite performing arts school where her classmates were almost exclusively economically comfortable.

If Macy ever struggled academically, her family could have easily hired a private tutor. In terms of the crime itself, I have no doubt Huffman could have afforded to send her daughter to any number of elite institutions.

After all of that, if Huffman determined Macy was not likely to be accepted into whatever hyper-competitive university she desired (or, perhaps more likely, her parents desired for her), then she does not belong there.

With regards to Macy and the other children of privilege caught up in the admission scandal, I find myself feeling a variety of emotions – an odd cocktail of pity, residual jealousy and a tiny dose of schadenfreude. It is difficult to truly feel sympathetic for someone who will never struggle financially a day in their lives, but it is also important to realize that suffering is relative. In the end, these are kids facing the consequences of their parents’ selfishness, elitism and arrogance. For as many perpetrators as this scandal has uncovered, there are perhaps even more victims.

checke1@stolaf.edu

Aidan Checkett ’22 is from Carlisle, Pa. His major is undecided.