How did Operation Varsity Blues make you feel?

Hello there medical community,

I’ve been waiting to comment on the college admissions scandal, aka Operation Varsity Blues, as it struck a chord with me immediately upon hearing the charges and accusations. This is a sensitive subject, and the opinions shared here are simply my own thoughts on the scandal and higher education. You may choose to agree or disagree with my point of view, but I feel it is important to share as a physician of color and advocate for students.

Everyone thinks the system is built solely on merit, but as suspected, this story is one that shows that is not always so. I for one resented the assertion that someone with wealth could simply bribe their way into institutions that I and several colleagues spent years preparing for and working our tails off in order to get in and graduate from. UC Berkeley, my alma mater, was named in the scandal, as well as UCLA, my medical alma mater. These schools were literally hell to get into and make it through, especially as an underrepresented minority student from inner city Los Angeles. I was told in no uncertain terms many times while on campus, that I did not belong there. I was questioned on many occasions why I needed to take Organic Chemistry, or if I was on a sports team. I was pretty out of shape for any sport, so these comments were difficult to take at 17 years old. While the scandal is about money and someone buying their way in, my feelings immediately went towards the students who couldn’t buy their way in AND who were told they didn’t belong, myself included.

During a silent protest that I participated in while on the campus of UC Berkeley that was to bring to light that the voice of African American students on campus was not being heard, various insults were hurled at us calling us Nigger, saying the only reason you got in is affirmative action and the most hurtful – a professor told us that this campus was not designed for people like you.

These words stuck with me. Although they stung, I was determined to prove the campus was for people just like me. I graduated with a Molecular Biology Degree, music minor and was well prepared for my future career in medicine. I conquered that place and as a practicing anesthesiologist and pain specialist, I seriously consider the question – “Who is the University of California designed for?”

The answer is that these campuses are designed for the diverse student body that reflects the population the state of California. I and my black colleagues had every right to be there because we worked hard and earned it – not because our mom or dad paid someone to let us in.

I’ve heard the argument of “race doesn’t matter” in admissions assumes that a meritocracy would be inherently fair. This isn’t fair if those with resources to get the grades needed are only from certain ethnicities while others are purposefully left out. It’s definitely not equitable if some with money are allowed to simply buy their way in. This scandal has caused many to lose faith in the system – the one that says – if you work hard, you can gain admission.

On the cusp of decision day for UC Berkeley and many other schools, I reflect on the lack of diversity, especially concerning students of color and it’s disturbing to me. There are so few African American students admitted that will attend both UC Berkeley and UCLA (medical school included) compared to the population in the state. A couple of years ago, I attended a welcome event for students accepted into UC Berkeley in Southern California. I saw 1 African American student at this large reception with at least 200 students. I was disappointed, but realized that in this day and age, many students are opting for other environments other that UC, such as historically black colleges or private universities.

It was often assumed I didn’t belong in undergrad and in medical school just because of the color of my skin, but someone else who is another race inherently is assumed to belong. I think of so many students of color who are treated as if they are taking away spots from the “good” students, with the assumption that every African American student has a 1.0 GPA and just walked in the door with no credentials. These ideas are often freely shared on SDN (Student Doctor Network) and other premed sites. This was an unhealthy place for me as a premedical student and eventually I learned to make other communities and connections. These assertions are patently false. This experience prompted the creation of Premed Consultants and this blog.

Sadly, racism, classism and discrimination are rampant in higher education and there is an idea that certain students are deserving and others are not. In regards to medicine, medical schools in particular need to put their actions where their statements are and truly make strides to ensure they are treasuring diversity, treating students well and as if they belong, no matter their culture. If this occurs, maybe UC Schools wouldn’t have as much trouble in their recruiting efforts amongst some ethnic groups.

I hope this admissions scandal brings these conversations to light and helps everyone understand the importance of diversity and transparency in higher education. No one should be able to buy, lie or cheat their way into a school at any level of education.

What are your feelings about the admissions scandal? Should the students have their degrees taken away? Should parents be solely responsible? Should universities be held liable?

Blessings to all,

Candice Williams, MD

Premed Consultants