Stanford's now-fired sailing coach John Vandemoer was among the 50 people charged in a nationwide college admissions bribery scheme last week. His name is among the 14 Bay Area residents on that list who were accused and indicted.
Lindsey Rosston, a junior at Stanford, said she found out about the university's role in the scandal when she received an email from the school's independent student publication, The Fountain Hopper, while in the middle of her economics class.
"Immediately everyone was looking up what happened. There was a girl actually on the sailing team so it was very dramatic," she said, "and eventually I looked it up and found the names of the people who were involved. I had gone to middle school and elementary school with one of them. So that was interesting."
The College Admissions Scandal
“I think it’s pretty disturbing in a few ways that this is happening at such amazing schools, and that it was covered up for so long," she said.
For 2018 graduate Omar Soh, the news came as no surprise. He explained that it "doesn’t seem particularly unique in the scheme of how people use money to have access to these schools."
"On a larger scale, I think it’s fundamentally no different from the way people with the resources can afford various prep services and other things that essentially give people a leg up in admissions anyway," he said.
Soh grew up in Senegal and found the journey to receiving his computer science degree at Stanford a challenge. He learned about the university in his senior year in high school.
"There weren’t many resources available in terms of test prep or the admissions process, so it was altogether a fairly stressful thing as I’m sure it is for a lot of people that apply. But there was no outline of steps to take. I was figuring it out on my own or with a small group of people who were also figuring it out and didn’t know what was happening," he said.
Like Soh, another student recalled challenges of getting into Stanford. The PhD graduate, who wished to remain anonymous, is a first generation Syrian-American, and said it was hard navigating through the college system having gone to a "barebones" high school without many resources and guidance.
“The bigger issue for me growing up was actually going to CAL [UC Berkeley], because it was like no one had really gone to a university in my family. So by the time I got into CAL, it was a matter of how do I survive? How do I navigate that where I didn’t have people who had done it before,” he said.
The bribery scheme and the lawsuit following it are just hitting the surface of something bigger, he said.
"Coming from a public school, specifically the UCs, and just seeing the difference between the level of affluence at Stanford versus the public schools, none of this is shocking to me. But I think it’s probably endemic of something bigger which is just massive amounts of inequality," he said.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg."
A sophomore student, who also wanted to stay anonymous, made similar speculations.
"You know, I kind of do question whether or not my peers got in for the right reasons. It’s made me a little bit more aware of the people that are at Stanford, but I don’t think it shaped my view of Stanford’s administration," she said.
"I come from a middle-class background and I don’t receive as many resources as a person who’s coming from a low-income background. However, these high-income students are buying their way in. So I guess what I’m seeking is a more productive conversation about inequalities. But long term, I’m quite cynical. I don’t see anything changing."
Rosston said her younger brother is anxiously awaiting to hear back from college admissions and thinks the pressure to get into top universities and need for a critical discussion about admissions has only mounted.
“This is so sad right now," she said.
"Many of these students now feel like they aren’t up to par with where their parents think they should be going, and they actually have to falsify something to get into the right college. There’s like this huge pressure.”
Despite the varying experiences Stanford students have had in getting into competitive universities like Stanford, one persisting hope for the ongoing class action lawsuit filed by Stanford and other college students is the chance for conversation.
"I hope this leads to a broader discussion about why such universities act as massive hedge funds and cash cows," the PhD graduate said.
"This [case] is one tiny little thing that just came out, but pretty much the whole system is like that...It’s aristocracy perpetuating itself," he said.