By Carlo Versano
The sweeping college cheating case that's ensnared celebrities and CEOs has become a touchstone for how America grapples with issues of class, wealth, and privilege. But at ground zero of the scandal, on the leafy campus of the University of Southern California, the story is about one thing: fairness, and the lack thereof in the increasingly competitive and expensive world of higher education.
Cheddar's Alyssa Julya Smith went to USC, her alma mater, to gauge the reaction of students, and found that nearly everyone she spoke with was upset that the children of wealthy parents could gain a leg up in admissions while they had to bust their butts to get through the door. The only difference was their degree of shock over the details of the case.
For Ryan Gorman, a law student, the brazenness of the alleged scheme was mind-blowing, and offensive to students like him. "We worked very hard to get here," he said, He expressed less surprised that "people in power find ways to maneuver the system." That was echoed by Michelle Perez, a senior and first-generation American who called the scheme "a slap in the face" to students who spent countless hours preparing for standardized tests and revising application essays.
Jonah Koppelman, a sophomore, said he "wasn't as surprised as I thought I would be" given the "corruption" in the system. He said he hopes the scandal makes schools like USC rethink their entire admissions process to focus on merit over money ー whether that money comes in the form of bribes or perfectly legal donations to the school.
Nearly all the students Cheddar spoke to expressed outrage about how USC has thus far handled the growing crisis. On Tuesday, USC Interim President Wanda Austin released a school-wide message in which she underlined the words "USC is a victim." Gorman said she was "playing the victim card." While the university has not been charged in the federal case, the students who spoke with Cheddar said school administrators should take more responsibility for the corruption inside the institution.
USC's senior associate athletics director and legendary water polo coach were among those charged in what the DOJ is calling the largest admissions scam in the history of American higher education. They have since been fired by the university. Two former USC women's soccer coaches were also indicted.