college, Women

THE FEMALE ASPECT TO THIS COLLEGE SCANDAL

The college scandal continues at every corner I have turned this past week since the story broke. With good reason, it is a dire and despicable example of what goes terribly wrong with too much money not used for the right reason. Despite the plane crashes, the school shootings and the massacre in New Zealand, these college scandals are still in front of us. This is serious business, this college outrage. It is indicative of the layers of entitlement and greed that is nothing new in our young country or world for that matter.

I have an old friend who is almost 97 at this point, walks every single day, lives on his own with his wife and still drives. He speaks the way an old Italian man who survived WWII gets away with. A few years back as we were walking, he said to me in regards to some scandal involving a politician whose name escapes me, “Anytime there is a scandal it is because of money or a woman.” I cracked up. Such an old-fashioned way to put it because I see it with a slight twist. The money and the women are more often the result of the behavior caused by the person causing it- usually a man and of course I said this aloud. It fell on deaf ears. He really didn’t see it this way at all. Now before you think this essay is headed towards some bra burning male bashing, let me assure you it is not. I love men, the good ones. And there are plenty of women who are as guilty of scandal and bad behavior. This is not male centric by any means. But his notion that scandals were because of the women not symptomatic is part of the reason I write today.

I remember reading The Scarlet Letter in high school and feeling so outraged that Hester had to walk around with the big A, not her lover who she protected with a vengeance. Sure the reverend’s identity wasn’t so obvious, but the female shaming was and continues to be so typical. The #Metoo movement finally brought some men out into the open for the parade that women have been walking for centuries and I think this may be progress? I put the question mark because I am not sure. We have had many feminist movements in the past century, yet we still struggle for equal pay, representation in our government and our boards. We still worry about our reproductive rights and our daughters’ safety if they choose to go out late at night alone. This is a universal problem- the double standard of our gender.

What I have found interesting in this recent college scandal is the female shaming. And we barely notice. Why is it that every news story features photos and names of the two actresses? Any story I have seen or heard says, “A list of people including two actresses.” Then their names, their photos, the photos of their children and the endless parade of their shame walk to and from court.

Where are the rest of the over thirty people and more involved? Why are their names not in the news? I am not protecting the two women and their children. Their example is an embarrassment to parenting, BUT so are the rest of them. If the news is not going to show the lists, the faces of the remaining, why should it just be the two women and their daughters? Women have been doing the walk of shame forever, what we wear, what we eat, how we choose our partners, our sex lives, how we have sex, the way we give birth, feed our children, choose to work or not work, constantly we are under the microscope in such different ways than our male counterparts. In the alanon meetings I have gone to for years, just like AA, the first step is awareness. Until we are even remotely aware of the imbalances that the media portrays us in, nothing will ever change. We women barely notice that there is an imbalance because we are just so friggin use to it, it is our norm.

I refuse to call out the actresses in this essay today until the media starts naming everyone, showing pictures of everyone involved, not just two women. I am not protecting them. All you need to do is google college scandal and see what shows up in the search. Two names, two faces over and over again. Once again, the media doesn’t get it right.

As a woman who takes care of women for a living, who employs almost twenty young women in a female centered business, I write today to remind us to start noticing. Just that first step in paying attention and having conversation about how much this happens. Ads that show women in the kitchen, at the washing machine, taking stains happily out of their children’s clothes with great big smiles, men cutting the grass with their John Deere mowers, fixing their cars, the media loves gender pigeon holing. I just turned 54 and in my lifetime I can recall the first time I saw an ad that showed a female doctor. The first time. What came first? Why aren’t we noticing? Our children are watching. This scandal is shocking and sad, but like all bad choices, there are strong lessons to be learned. Let’s start with simply learning that just showing the two female actresses over and over and not talking about the rest is part of the conversation we could be having with our children too. Teachable moments come in all forms. We are having more conversations about why the obvious is wrong, but there is an undercurrent of bias again that is also part of the conversation. Just google it and you will get my point.

college, Parenting

MORE COLLEGE PERSPECTIVE

“My mother made me take the SAT six times!” my son’s friend, Jake, announced almost four years ago in the back seat of the car I was driving. The backstory of this announcement was that our dear friend Jake was trying to get into Annapolis. His mom is one of the fiercest mama’s I know and if this was his goal, she was going to help make it happen. 

Getting into Annapolis is no joke. It is a huge accomplishment and with a lot of hard work, perseverance and incredible help (it takes a village for sure), Jake achieved his dream and is about to finish his second year. This is one instance where I don’t roll my eyes at the notion of a SAT repeat, repeat, repeat, you get the point. I mean, come on, ANNAPOLIS, is like Harvard except with many more layers of bad ass.

Meanwhile my son, who was finishing up his junior year of private high school, seemed to be taking the path of least resistance. His first run at his SAT was nothing to scream from the rooftops about, I think it was something in the low 1600’s. Considering his mother took her SATS back in the day perhaps a little on the high side, I mean it was the early eighties and I lived with my father who believed that a sixteen year old should figure herself out by her own errors and judgements. Hence the decision to be baked causing my score to be a number one would expect to see in the movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. More on that some other time.

The only reason our son went to private high school was because I used to volunteer in the lunch room of his public middle school. On more than one occasion, many of his teachers would come up to me and encourage me to allow him to go to one of the private high schools. We took the bait. Though I don’t regret it, I know he would have done excellent at our local high school. Michael is a smart young man. He makes good decisions, always has. He is the type of kid who people say things like, “He’s going to go places.” But he is also the type of kid who does what he needs to get by. He was not the type who would join every group and club because it would look good on his college application. He was also not the type of student that would take the SAT again just to get a better score hoping that the college of his dreams would accept him. I distinctly remember his saying this profound statement at his senior year when he was applying to the five schools expected of him by said private school, “If the only reason I don’t get into the college is because of my SAT scores, then the college is not for me.”

This type of comment from my son was not surprising to me. When he was around three, he was in a private home day care around the corner from our house. Often I would walk him in the stroller or maybe we walked, I can’t remember now, but he would refuse to put on his coat. For some reason, I went with it. “Ok, you don’t want to wear a coat, your choice.” And off we went. I was taking him to a house filled with mammas, and my son showing up with no coat on a brisk day could cause judgement and eye rolls, lots of potential tsk tsks. I was seldom the mom who got sucked into that vortex. I was usually an outlier type mom. My son knew his own body temperature. His dad never wore a coat, he ran hot always so I just guessed that my son had the same body heat. I think these small decisions as a parent over time allowed me to be more accepting of his laissez faire attitude when we got closer to the college application circus we found ourselves in.

A circus indeed. At the same time he was applying to college, I had decided to take some classes at our local private university. At the first and only class I took there, I was surrounded by mostly white kids, they looked mostly the same, most from New Jersey, New York or Connecticut. These kids were uninterested in the class, many of them texting while the instructor was offering valuable information. This university was almost 45k per year and these kids were ambivalent, entitled almost. I couldn’t take it. So off I went to Rhode Island College for some classes where I found a diverse population, many kids who were there for the price, or as first generation college attendees. These kids were hungry for learning and I am guessing many of them held full time jobs while trying to get through their classes. Impressive and I had a new found appreciation of our local state colleges and universities.

Meanwhile my son was getting acceptance letters from four of the five schools he applied to. He could have gone to an out of state school for an extra 25k more per year then our in state colleges, not counting the travel back and forth for holidays and every time there was a hurricane warning. But with his unique wisdom, he was not sucked into the bragging fest. He was and still is pragmatic and frugal. His father and I were offering him a free ride at University of RI because that was what we could afford so that he would be able to leave college debt free, if he chose this path. Should he have decided to go to the out of state program, he would have had to take on some loans, so much harder to start his young life with after graduation.

I met a professor from Brown one day who told me that she had a student who was a first generation college attendee who managed to get into Brown the old fashioned way, by actually applying and getting accepted on her merit. She also had to take on student loans that would make your head spin. At the time of graduation she was burdened with over 150K in tuition debt. It is shameful that our colleges are even allowing this. The pressure to get a job right out of school so that they can begin paying their debt down is catastrophic to our children’s futures and their creativity potential. For what? So they can for four years say they went to a fancy school? I am not saying that kids shouldn’t go to these other schools at all. If they can afford them, if their parents can afford them without taking on home equity loans and burdens of debt that make them have to work well past retirement.

Our son gets to leave college with no debt because he had two parents who work hard, saved money and offered him this final gift in his young life. Neither of his parents finished college. We learned trades. Skills. And this has done well by us. I have always said that college shouldn’t be the only directive for our children. We should be allowing them the freedom to discover what ignites their passion and SUPPORT it without feeling like they are failures.

When I dropped out of college and chose the path of esthetics, aka beauty school, I thought my grandparents who were like my parents, were going to kill me. They were not happy. But I persevered; after all it was my life, my money. My problem was the outside forces who try to make our kids feel bad if they decide to go a different path or choose a community college or state university because it is what they can afford. I say bravo every time I speak to one of my son’s friends who have chosen to go to Community College of RI for two years to save money. Of all of the choices, these are the smartest ones. NO DEBT, this is what we should be teaching our children. This is a way better gift then bribing their way into a prestigious university with a brand name.

I think it is time we look at what we are teaching our children by forcing them to choose college as the only path. I know that life is harder without a degree, but I also know that pigeon holing our children from the time they are in kindergarten to think that college is the end all, we are doing a major disservice to the creativity that lies within each of our children. We should be working harder to develop their passions, juices, their entrepreneurial spirits, their community activism. College isn’t for everyone and clearly with this latest scandal it shouldn’t be.

Michael and his friend Jacob way before college became the thing it became.

college, Parenting

THE EGO OF COLLEGE

The latest college application scandal has been all over the news for the past few days. Interviews with college sports directors- the good ones, and interviews with people who help kids with their college applications- the honest ones. Interview after interview, each one more embarrassing to these prestigious schools that parents have paid boatloads so that their children could get accepted into them.

I remember the two years prior to my son going to college like it was a bad dream as I reflect on the absurdity of it all. The pressure between his peers, the parents I spoke to daily and the teachers and counselors. It was like he was getting ready for the Olympics.

“What colleges have you applied to?” People would ask. The laundry list would be repeated, mind you each application had a non-refundable fee, and there would be discussions about the choices as if somehow this was a gauge of worthiness, of intelligence, of prowess for both our son and for us as parents.

Then there were the visits. The expectations of them, the decisions to go to them, the costs involved with them, the time it took to schedule them and the visits themselves. My son applied to five schools. Two local schools in our own state, Roger Williams University and University of Rhode Island and three distance schools, University of Arizona, Florida State and The University of Alabama. He got into four of them, two were a good distance from our home.

He had the same idea as many of his peers to go to a school “far away from this little state we live in, Rhode Island.” The pressure also poured in from the private high school he attended who wanted their own accomplished students to be able to say they went to “acceptable” schools. Schools that would make their roster of students who attended them add value to the price tag of four years of a private high school I suppose so that when parents were shopping for high schools, those lists of colleges that the seniors had recently been accepted into would be that sparkle you see in the rings at a jewelry store. I remember thinking to myself, Am I the only one out here who thinks this is the most ridiculous bullshit I have ever seen?

We ended up visiting Florida State and Alabama, beautiful campuses with all of the bells and whistles you never knew were possible at a college. There were times I looked around thinking, Am I at a college or a country club? Isn’t college supposed to be crappy food and dorm rooms the size of a postage stamp?

I remember sitting in the orientation at Alabama after our wild tour of their football stadium, and boxed lunch at said football stadium followed by a rousing practice cheer “Rolltide!!!” As I looked at my all too happy son and my former husband  screaming Rolltide, I sat wondering if we were ever going to see a classroom.

The starry eyed look in my beautiful son’s eyes as we were promptly dropped in the Alabama store where my former and I began buying all things Alabama like there was no other school in our dreams. Sucked into the Rolltide.com machine. I know for you Alabama football fans out there, this is blasphemy, but I started to question what the 42k price tag was actually paying for. A beautiful campus and I am guessing some form of education, I wouldn’t know, we never saw a classroom. Yes we went to the business school auditorium where the dean of business talked about what else, Football. He did occasionally mention the curriculum, but he lost me when he started a sentence with Irregardless, a pet peeve of mine going all the way back to my teacher grandmother. I saw my son’s heart sink because he knows me well and that one grammatical slip was likely the nail in the coffin.

Then we sat down at the how are you going to pay for this school seminar where we learned that I had misread the tuition costs. I thought the costs were 21k and it turned out that was PER SEMESTER. Needless to say, I felt like an idiot, my ex-husband freaked out like a five year old, reminding me of why we weren’t married anymore (there had to be some bonus to this wacky trip), my son was almost in tears because there was just no way we were going to spend what would have easily turned into 60k per year on college and I felt like a failure as a mother. As we made our way to Florida State somber, but hopeful, I really began thinking about all of this nonsense.

The pressure for what? Except for bragging rights, and connections, wasn’t the point of college to get a degree and get out and get to work? One thing I knew was there was no way I was going into debt for college. I convinced Michael and my former to visit URI. They begrudgingly agreed with their tails between their legs. I became the cheerleader and we found our local school to be a great fit for many reasons. Location, ease of getting there and home for holidays, a good program, and the cost.

If Michael went there, Dave and I could give him the gift of a college tuition with no debt for any of us. I began my sales pitch to my son and we decided that he would give it a year, then transfer if he wanted to Alabama where he would have to pay the difference of the cost of URI. My son is a frugal sort and I am guessing that this alone made him decide to give my idea a try. Well after the first year, he loved it, and stayed.

As he approaches his senior year, I look back at all of the worry and angst as well as the money spent prior on college coaching and sat prepping now through the eyes of this scandal and roll my eyes. Our children are watching us. What are we teaching them when we take our big egos to the college visits and write even bigger checks to ensure their little babies can have the bragging rights they were raised for.

What I also find amusing and disturbing in this scandal is the blatant mentions of the actresses and their names and photos in all of the headlines and not as much attention on the rest of the people who were caught adding another layer of female focus to this embarrassment. The calling out of women in the press adds another conversation to be had, but this is for another piece. Why not list everyone? Why is it only the women in the headlines? Just curious.

If you are a parent getting ready to send your child to college, first think price rather than experience, think education, safety, location, is it easy to get your child back and forth if they want to come home for all of the breaks, how much will that cost too? Four years goes by at a blink. When they get to be an almost senior, all of this worry that seemed so important at the time is forgotten at the same speed. No one cares. Except how you show you care.

College admission has been a great opportunity to set an example for financial responsibility, and we have given our son a gift that allows him to get out of college with no debt. What this gives him is financial freedom to travel after he gets out, to not feel pressure in having to line up his career immediately, to learn what he enjoys so he can choose what he wants to do with his life rather than it choose him. In this scandal I realize that the money is no object here. These people have the money to pay for their children to go to college. Maybe a better use in hindsight would have been to set up a college fund with the extra money that had to allow kids who otherwise couldn’t afford to go an opportunity. One of these checks probably would have paid for five or more kids to have the privilege. Hindsight.

This scandal is about EGO. I remember clearly the pressure coming from all angles and for some reason, we managed to get through it. I hope that this can be a teaching moment for all parents and their kids to settle down here and look at what is important. A good education, as little debt as possible and more important, an honest one.