A spoonie’s take on the college admission scandal
Updated: May 17, 2022
Artwork by Maegha Singh
Like many other social media users, I experienced an explosion of articles about the college admission scandal over the past few weeks. William Rick Singer, the counselor who served as the ringleader of the $25 million scandal, aided over 750 families in cheating and bribing their way into several top colleges, including the children of celebrities like actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. To increase their children's chances of being matriculated to top universities like the University of Southern California or Ivy League schools, the parents of these high schoolers had others hired to take college entrance exams, bribing admissions workers, or abusing disability services. While many are rightfully outraged that college admissions that countless people could only dream of receiving were handed to unqualified applicants whose parents just so happened to have money, another facet of the admissions scandal goes quietly unspoken: the implications for academic accommodations.
I began college in Aug. 2016. However, it took until Jan. 2018 for me to finally reach out to Carnegie Mellon's student disability office to discuss accommodations. Although I had friends, family, and even medical professionals suggest that I consider seeking accommodations, it took over a year for me to accept that my chronic illnesses — no matter how invisible — was inhibiting me from being able to accurately demonstrate my abilities. My exam scores during this time period did not reflect how much information I retained from the course; it demonstrated the extent to which multiple clinical disorders could impede academic performance. Even then, I was in denial. I couldn't get myself to admit that I had a disability. Even with all these external forces pushing me into finally seeking help, imposter syndrome successfully discouraged me from doing so. I cannot imagine how someone without disabilities could fake a disability and still sleep at night.
Although I won the lottery this time around by having professionals who help me cope with living with disabilities and landing in an institution packed with people who want to work with me to help me get the most out of my undergraduate education, I realize that this is a privilege that many do not have, and one that I may lose the second I step foot off of this campus. Although the U.S. has anti-discrimination policies such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are too many instances in which disclosing a disability can impede a qualified applicant's job prospects. Statistics for those with disabilities are grim, putting them at higher risk of poverty, unemployment, and alcoholism.
Even the act of writing and publishing this article leaves me with a massive pit in my stomach. It's easy for me today to say that an employer who is closed-minded against people with disabilities is not one I would wish to work for if given the option, but the truth is, that option may not exist. This is the reality of being a student and having disabilities; no amount of hard work or accolades can safeguard from discrimination.
As frustrated and angered I am that I have to write that the abuse of accommodations make resources that are absolutely critical to thousands of students appear to be a luxury that gives them an unfair advantage, part of me is envious of those who are able to abuse disability services. For them, disabilities are a cop-out, an excuse to get an unfair advantage. While thousands cannot seek these services for whatever reason, these people can exaggerate or even make up symptoms to get a note from a doctor that allows them to get some extra time for an exam. But for them, their disability disappears the second the exam proctor calls "time!" and they can go about their day.
For individuals with disabilities, these conditions are chronic, lasting years or even a lifetime. Whether we are inside or outside of the classroom or exam center, we have to carry our illnesses. As much as many of us would love to be able to enjoy our college years by going out or socializing outside of the classroom, many of us struggle to even get out of bed without feeling physically ill. Services meant to help us, such as academic accommodations and service animals, are adopted by those who want just a few extra minutes for their exams or a little purse puppy to tote around. It may be easy to dismiss the acts of those individuals as just that — individual acts that have no effect on others — but they make having disabilities appear trendy or fad-like. Unfortunately, having a diagnosable disability may be considered today's fad or trend, but once that fades and people move on to the next thing, people living with disabilities are still here trying to scrape by.