Eye to Eye: Our Response to the Varsity Blues Scandal

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Volume 8, Issue 1
March 2019

By David Flink

This article was originally published on the Eye to Eye website.

Fresh on the heels of our annual Strike Out Stigmonth competition, what many are calling the worst admissions scandal in higher education throws into sharp relief the stigma that’s very real for our community. Several of the parents who allegedly “gamed the system” did so by obtaining accommodations for their children by faking learning disabilities. Eye to Eye’s mission is grounded in eliminating stigma so that students with LD/ADHD have the grit to self-advocate. As such, we felt the need to publicly address the setback this creates for kids with learning and attention differences and the Disability Rights movement at large.

Many will want to shame those involved. In this moment we hope to rise above shaming (though it is justified) and elevate the good that can come out of this. Understanding is a start. Please help share our message of understanding (letter below) and if you aren’t already on it, join our mailing list to make our chorus of voices heard in unison.

Letter to the Editor:

As I read about the college admissions bribery ring (“College Admissions Scandal: Actresses, Business Leaders, and Other Wealthy Parents Charged,” March 12), I was outraged not only because I saw adults behaving badly to squeeze their children into elite schools through a so-called “side door.” I was angry because many of these desperate parents successfully bought learning disability diagnoses that granted prospective students extra time on standardized tests.

As a former Brown University Admission Officer, a person with dyslexia and ADHD, and the Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye, a nonprofit mentoring program that serves the 1 in 5 who learn differently, I know very well how hard students fight to be identified by their schools as “learning disabled” and to receive appropriate accommodations. A typical student with a learning disability like dyslexia may spend years being evaluated and then, even with a diagnosis, must ask for accommodations at the risk of being embarrassed, judged, or misunderstood.

I join the chorus condemning the abuse of the college admissions process and want to shine a light on how this scandal mischaracterizes the journey of students with very real learning disabilities. The parents and test-taking coaches who were able to manipulate the system to give extra time on tests to students who don’t have learning disabilities acted unethically—and they’ve done a considerable disservice to the 1 in 5 students with learning disabilities across this country. They’ve appropriated an accommodation—extra time on standardized tests—that levels the playing field; the Disability Rights movement worked for decades to secure this accommodation. They’ve also appropriated my identity and the identity of thousands of students who have struggled to succeed with a learning disability. This signals to me that these parents and coaches don’t understand the nature of learning disabilities at all. According to a 2003 study released by the College Board, students who don’t have learning disabilities don’t significantly benefit from extra time on standardized tests. For students who do have learning disabilities, the extra time is game-changing; it’s often the difference between getting into college and not.

It takes tremendous courage to carry the label “learning disabled.” We should all be extremely uncomfortable when parents are able to buy a diagnosis—and with it, an accommodation—to sway admissions officers. These desperate, wealthy parents aren’t helping their children’s scores. Instead, by taking advantage of the system, they’re hurting the students who genuinely struggle with learning disabilities and need accommodations to get into college, period.


David Flink
Chief Empowerment Officer/Founder
Eye to Eye


David Flink is the Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye, the only national mentoring movement run for and by people with LD/ADHD. David holds a master’s degree in disability studies in education from Columbia University and bachelor’s degrees with honors in education and psychology from Brown University.

David sits on three national nonprofit boards: Hunt Alternatives, Generation Citizen, and New Profit Reimagine Learning Advisory Board. David is also an ambassador for the UCSF Dyslexia Center. He was awarded a Prime Movers Fellowship sponsored by the Hunt Alternatives Fund, is an Ashoka Fellow, has received the Early Career Award from Teachers College at Columbia University, and received the GQ Gentleman’s Fund Leader Award.

He is the author of Thinking Differently. For more information about David, his book, and Eye to Eye, visit davidflink.com and eyetoeyenational.org.

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