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Following the nationwide college admissions scandal, featuring wealthy parents photoshopping their children’s faces onto athletes’ bodies in order to make them more attractive candidates to prestigious schools, a conversation surrounding student athletes and their “unfair advantage” has taken center stage.

Last year, after I would tell people I was attending Penn in the fall they would often ask if I was playing a sport. I found myself saying, “Yes! But I’m a walk on!” in order to cut down the looks of judgment that I would have gotten by simply saying “Yes.” Had I just said “yes,” a look that said, “Ohhh, that makes so much more sense” would spread across their face as if playing a sport here diminishes the accomplishment of admittance. Then, a floodgate of patronizing questions — questions that I still hear from my peers at Penn — would follow: “So your admittance was basically a shoo-in? What was your GPA? Your SAT score? Did you even have to submit an application?” 

This infers that a student athlete’s route to admission is a cakewalk; it says that they deserve to be here less than their peers since there are designated slots for them at Penn. This condescending attitude not only permeates my home town, but in the classroom, and around the nation.

There’s no doubt that athletics plays a big part in admissions, but it should. Especially at a school like Penn. 

Researchers including William Bowen from Princeton University, Eugene Tobin from Hamilton College found that an athlete is 30 percent more likely to be admitted into a university than a non-athlete with the same academic record.

However, student athletes are deserving of this “boost.” The athletes at Penn and at our Ivy league peer institutions worked extremely hard in high school to reach a level of recruitability. Not only were they working hard on the court, field, or track, they were studying to reach a certain point at which Penn would see them as academically suitable. Contrary to popular belief, (minus any illegal activity taking place) not just anyone can get into this school as a student athlete. 

Not only do athletes work hard to get here, but they display Penn’s excellence on a national stage. With Nia Akins getting runner up in the 800 meters at the Indoor Track and Field Nationals, our No. 10 ranked women’s lacrosse team consistently making the national tournament, or our men’s basketball team beating Villanova and getting replayed on ESPN all night long, you can’t ignore the exposure that Penn Athletics brings the school. 

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Despite national athletic success, Penn athletes do not get preferential treatment as some might think. The academic rigor here slows down for no one. Penn athletes don’t have athletic scholarships, special dorms, or state of the art cafeterias as many Power 5 student athletes get. Here, we get a free Penn Athletics t-shirt, a blue water bottle, and the utmost pride that comes with competing with Penn across our chests. 

I feel blessed to have the opportunity to study at such a distinguished school while competing against some of the country’s best athletes. However, there should not be this lingering question about whether or not student athletes deserve to be here. Our belonging and existence at this acclaimed university is justified and should be celebrated instead of questioned. 

In 2015, The New York Times published an article titled “In College Admissions, Athletes are the Problem.” This anger is misplaced. Because actually, in college admissions, wealthy families shamelessly bribing and buying their way into schools is the problem. 

Instead of looking at the students who spend countless hours practicing their athletic craft and balancing practice on top of grueling school work and extracurriculars, the recent scandal has shown that it is time place the blame elsewhere.

NIA CALDWELL is a college freshman from Houston, Texas. She is a member of the women's track and field team. 

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