Unequal Justice: Entitlement and Privilege

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

You are not entitled to anything that you did not save and pay for.

Un-Equal Justice, Felicity Huffman, cheating, fraudWe have a broken justice system. If you doubt that, look no further than actor Felicity Huffman.

In March of this year, FBI agents arrested Huffman as a conspirator in the Varsity Blues Scandal. Along with 49 others, she found herself charged with conspiring to commit honest-services fraud and pled guilty; admitting she paid $15,000 for someone to correct her daughter’s college SAT answers. Prosecutors recommended four months in prison even though the maximum sentence for conspiracy is twenty years.

Last Friday Huffman received a sentence of 14 days in Jail, 250 hours of community service and a $30,000 fine.

There are two ways to look at this. One is to say she fell on her sword, contrite and ready to accept the verdict. The other is to say she stood on the familiar ground of white privilege and entitlement and got a slap on the wrist from a system that dispenses unequal justice.  

Getting Caught Makes You Sorry

Speaking as a parent, this scenario is all too familiar. It is the hope of every child caught by a parent that sentencing will be lenient by admitting the transgression.

Determining the difference between full knowledge of the crime and the consequences and those whose remorse stems from being caught is every parent’s disciplinary learning curve.

Huffman is not a child. She knew what she was doing and it was for all the wrong reasons.  She was comfortable with those reasons up until the FBI knocked on her door and took her away in handcuffs, which is another way of saying she was fine with her actions until she got caught.

Huffman said she was sorry after she was accused. She also said she was sorry when sentenced. Before that happened, she knowingly paid $15,000 for someone to alter her daughters SAT scores. Growing up we had a word for that.  We called it cheating.

Money Does Not Make You Smarter

Her daughter scored 1020 on her first SAT, well below average for college admission. The average SAT score for most college admission is 1538, with a 520 in math, 510 in writing, and 508 in critical reading. Many top universities require a score of 2100 or greater.

When her daughter took the test a second time with the proctor paid by Huffman to correct her answers, her score improved by 400 points to 1420—still below the standard for admission. Even with cheating, this young woman was not prime time college material.

Private school and college prep, tutoring, repeating a year, community college or a gap year were legal options. Those choices were the high roads and, in this case, the roads not taken.

Blind and Biased

Twenty-seven people submitted character reference letters to the judge on behalf of Huffman, including her husband William H. Macy, who wanted the judge to “see who Felicity is in a way that no one else can.” Actually, we already did—famous people being arrested make the news.

blind justiceAccording to him, “motherhood has, from the very beginning, frightened Felicity and she has not carried being a mom easily. She’s struggled to find the balance between what the experts say and her common sense.”

Welcome to parenting Miss Huffman, you are not alone. Being a mom is the hardest job in the world, and most of us rise to the occasion, learning the hard way while setting good examples for our children.

I would like to say you are no different from the rest of us but you are. You have a net worth of $20 million, and your letter-writing husband’s wealth stands at $45 million. We are so very different. My children got into college on their own merit.

Our youngest son is about to graduate from the Physician’s Assistant program at Tuft’s Medical School. It is one of the top programs in the United States, with over 6,000 applicants and only 50 seats at the table. He earned his seat.

Huffman’s actions, as well as the 49 others accused, disrespect every student that worked for their education and succeed on their own merit and every parent cheering them on.

Privilege and Prejudice

Where was Macy’s eloquence when his daughter needed academic help? Their combined income means the best private school money can buy. Even if he did not know what his wife did, (he wasn’t charged) he knew his daughter had poor SAT scores and was not Ivy League material.

A space of privilege and prejudice, un-equal justiceIn her own defense, Huffman claimed her daughters both have learning disabilities, and one of them attended a “very underfunded” public high school with just one college counselor. Like thousands of other kids in thousands of school systems.

These statements represent the worst of entitled white privilege, believing the law does not apply to you and if you break it, the justice system treats you differently because you are special.

Maybe if Felicity spent some of those millions legitimately helping her daughter, she wouldn’t be getting an orange jump suit.

Entitlement and Un-Equal Justice

Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” I am outraged and disappointed in the unequal justice her celebrity status and sense of entitlement bought her.

But everything that happens to us is a teachable moment. I want the fourteen days Felicity spends in jail to make up for lessons she failed to learn in her first 56 years. When she completes her sentence and begins community service, I hope she does so with humility, and the grace to give back to the educational system, applicants and students she robbed. Prison is the perfect place to learn that gratitude begins where entitlement ends.

In addition to her legitimate accomplishments, she is now a convicted felon. Therein lies the justice in a system that continues to dole out unequal justice.