Last weekend it was announced that Felicity Huffman will serve one month in jail and pay a $20,000 fine for participating in the college admissions scandal. Huffman, best known for her role in the TV show, Desperate Housewives and Lori Loughlin from Full House, were named among 49 others as conspirators in a bribery scandal where they persuaded college admissions officials from top-tier institutions to admit their children into their programs. The federal investigation made national headlines in March, and was aptly nicknamed Operation Varsity Blues.
Huffman had paid $15,000 to change the answers on her daughter’s SAT exam and disguised the bribe as a charity donation. During her trial, Huffman pleaded with the judge in a letter that explained the reasons behind her actions. She wrote:
“In my desperation to be a good mother, I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot. I see the irony in that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair. I have broken the law, deceived the educational community, betrayed my daughter, and failed my family.”
Stories like Loughlin and Huffman also remind us of the routine prejudice that poisons our justice system. In this case, we are shown the standard Black women are held to compared to white women.
One example is the case of Tanya McDowell. McDowell was given 12 years in prison for sending her 6-year-old son to Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, Connecticut . She claimed to live in Bridgeport when she was in fact homeless. She was accused of “stealing an education” and convicted of larceny.
McDowell wasn’t trying to get her son into Harvard or change his test scores. She was at best, as a homeless mother, seeking to give her child a shot at a basic education.
A second Black mother named Kelley Williams-Bolar served nine days in jail in 2011 for using her father’s address so that her daughters could enroll in a better school district than the one in their Akron, Ohio, neighborhood.
With Huffman and Loughlin’s status and money, the “shot” that Huffman refers to in her letter is something she and other rich white women have always had access to. When women like McDowell and Williams-Bolar write down addresses that don’t belong to them, they’re treated like criminals for cheating a game they were never given all the pieces to play. They are accused of “stealing” an education their children weren’t given half of to begin with.
Huffman and Loughlin weren’t desperate or facing dire straits that pushed them to behave dishonestly. Their college-bound children would have undoubtedly received the higher education their privilege guaranteed. However, for mothers who don’t live with the same racial and economic advantages, their children’s education is often restricted by factors that shouldn’t matter, like where they live or how much their family makes.
Typically in some states, students are assigned to schools based on their home address. Such zoning has created problems in neighborhoods, especially in districts that have poor education systems. Zones chop up demographics based on their neighborhood and not only create “unintended” segregated schools, but restrict children from pursuing a better education elsewhere.
Two wrongs do not make a right, but in the case of McDowell and cases like Huffman’s, one woman was fighting to get her foot in the door while the other was born in the room. You could argue that Huffman’s actions were the result of a mother’s love.
But on the other hand, it could also be viewed as an act of greed when compared to the bridges and mountains Black women climb to ensure that their kids receive a quality education.