originally published on Medium, on March 19 2020.
Watching this documentary kept reminding me about when I was applying to colleges and watching my peers nervously refresh their application portals. I live in Michigan in the U.S. and the school rivalry of the University of Michigan and Michigan State is prevalent… literally everywhere. I know people that don’t associate themselves w/ people who went to MSU when they themselves went to Michigan or vice versa. An underlying factor that is present however is how one’s class status and family income are associated in both schools. Both colleges hold strong values of “legacies”, meaning if your parent or sibling went to that school, that can be used in your application and express how important it is to you AND your family it is to keep up the “tradition” of being a Spartan or Wolverine.
My family is not from Michigan but we have lived here a while. When moving here, it was almost foreign to us how much college sports or the college one’s family is devoted to .. mattered. My mother was one of the only people in her graduating high school class that was able to go to college, as her siblings didn’t go. The culture that my parents grew up in was surrounded by the question, “Are you going to college or are you going into a trade?” etc. Now, the question is are, it is “WHERE are you going to college?”
My relationship with the public school and higher-level education system are unique but also is a reality that many many many people also face. I was born with Central Auditory Processing Disorder, affecting my processing skills and memory. I grew up in speech classes during lunch, taking tests outside the classroom, a lot of nights filled with crying and feeling like a failure because I couldn’t get past a D- in Geometry. Feeling ‘othered’ in these environments is not hard, especially when standardized testing and the grades you hold in the core subjects like Math and Science becomes embedded with your self-worth. Some kids in my classes lived and breathed these schools and based every decision they made on how it would affect their application, like if they should take another AP class or sign up for more ACT prep.
I had no idea that along with the photoshopping of these kids in athletic pictures, accommodations on these standardized tests were also being exploited. These tools are a luxury that neurodivergent and other kids need to help them succeed and not everyone is blessed with the resources to get a medical diagnosis. Having these EXPLOITED for fucking influencers and kids who are able to be fine with “mommy and daddy’s” money.
After electing to stay at home and go to the local college, I felt ‘othered’ again in a sense. Everyone I knew from school moved away and I felt as if I missed a step in the college experience by not moving into the dorms (even though I knew I wasn’t ready).
During my sophomore year, I made the decision to apply to transfer to Michigan. I was ecstatic that I got in and to spend the second half of my undergrad career in Ann Arbor! Fall 2019 was the start and honestly, the ‘end’ of what a “normal” college experience looked like. Now being in my last semester, and graduation in June 2021 on the horizon, the phrase “the new normal” and truthfully, the idea of the college experience should be ejected from our vocabulary and consciousness. The “college experience” of rushing Greek life and moving away is not attainable for everyone. Like coming-of-age movies make out how the high school experience is supposed to be, I don’t know anyone who magically turned overnight from a “nerd” to homecoming queen. These ideas come from written fantasies of high school and college years, what people have mythologized their “glory days” out to be. Or better yet, rewriting history of what they wished their experiences were like.
At my time at Michigan and my previous school, 80% of my college experience has been living at home and by June, a year and a half of it will have been online. In the future, I hope that we start to realize that there is no path you should follow to have to emerge into adulthood. The idea that someone has to go to college to be successful and have it consume every decision is not healthy at all. Because even if you sacrifice everything to get in, someone like Rick Singer can be the reason you got deferred.
I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the documentary and the case itself! ? stream operation varsity blues, only available on Netflix