F. Castro/SFVS

Brothers Jose and Giovanni Ochoa, students at the University of Southern California.

For brothers Jose and Giovanni Ochoa, students at the University of Southern California, the college admission bribery scandal is not surprising, but rather a confirmation of the “unfair, unjust” process students of color face when pitted against their more affluent peers while applying to prestigious colleges and universities.

“They’ve already attended good schools while growing up and those schools have all the resources. We’re already at a disadvantage, because the schools available to us [prior to applying for college] are not equal,” noted Jose, 28, who — along with Giovanni — has beaten the odds and is about to graduate from USC with a Masters in Educational Counseling in May. A younger sister, Stephanie, attends UCLA.  They note their family is the exception and they faced tremendous challenges alone the way.

Last week the FBI charged more than 50 people, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, with allegedly paying huge sums of money to William “Rick” Singer to fake grades and test scores in order to have their kids admitted into elite schools.

Singer and others were also charged with claiming the students participated in sports for which they didn’t play and were admitted into athletic programs as a way to enter schools.

Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were both released on $1 million bond for allegedly paying $500,000 to Singer to make it appear their daughters were rowers so they could be designated as recruits for the USC crew team despite that fact that neither child participated in the sport.

USC announced it has placed holds on the accounts of students who may be involved with the scheme that has resulted in two USC athletic department employees being fired.“This prevents the students from registering for classes or acquiring transcripts while their cases are under review,” the university tweeted: “These students have been notified that their status is under review. Following the review, we will take the proper action related to their status, up to revoking admission or expulsion.”

“Frustrated and Angry”

Expulsion would be the least the university should do, Jose and Giovanni said reacting to the latest news. The two brothers were both student athletes when they attended Los Angeles Mission College, playing on the soccer team, and they also worked part time while attending community college full time.  

“You work hard hoping for a scholarship and sacrifice a lot to get admitted to a school, and it’s not fair that these people get admitted [for their sports abilities] when they don’t even play sports,” said Giovanni, 27.

He is “frustrated and angry” to hear the details of the scandal. “There are hard working students that get denied admissions while [privileged] students get an easy pass,” Giovanni notes.

The brothers transferred to USC after after attending Mission College in Sylmar, and say getting admitted to the university wasn’t easy. Their parents —immigrants from Mexico — didn’t have benefit of much education and they couldn’t help or guide them through the process. They were lucky, however, to find mentors who took on that role.

“As first generation college students, you have to learn how to navigate college. It was very difficult at first,” Jose said.

To add even more insult to injury, it’s difficult for students like Jose and Giovanni who come from disadvantaged communities to hear reports that some privileged students went so far as to claim they had disabilites and even falsified their ethnicties and biographical information to get them into the country’s top universities by taking advantage of Affirmative Action and other programs.

Affirmative Action was created to level the playing field to give all students access to institutions of higher learning. But since it’s inception, conservative pundits have attempted to kill the program claiming that it unfairly took away spots at colleges from qualified white students, and gave those spots to less-qualified students based on race alone.

“Doesn’t Make Sense”

Jose and Giovanni don’t buy that argument. The perception that it’s a cake walk for students from ethnic groups is a wrong perception they said.

“That doesn’t make any sense to me.  The statistics show that there’s a small number of us.  We  are trying hard, sacrificing to get in. That doesn’t make any sense,” Giovanni said.“The truth is that there’s a history of keeping these institutions for the white majority and for wealthy families,” Jose added.

They say there is no shortage of white students being admitted to top universities and they see firsthand how tough is it for other students like them.  They now work at Mission College helping other students who hope to transfer to universities. 

“There are some students who don’t even apply because they’re afraid they’re going to get rejected because they’ve been told all their lives that those are not schools for them,” Jose said. “It’s difficult when you’re dealing with institutions with so much power.”  

The admissions process often seems unfair they point out. “You see students of color  with a high GPA (Grade Point Average) and the whole package, and then they get denied at USC,” Giovanni adds.