Children of Privilege


By Tia Will

This is going to be a completely anecdotal story about myself and my children. I write it to illustrate a point about our society and our community. I start with full disclosure so that those of you who are not interested can stop reading now. I include three brief anecdotes about my own behavior. These include one that I do not feel reflects well upon me, but which I would probably repeat given the same circumstances. I am writing this to demonstrate how relative privilege works in our community in favor of those who have gained  knowledge of how to work the system over those who have not gained such knowledge. It is a story of inequality within the system which I feel is timely in view of the recent Gate controversy.

The first anecdote is about my daughter’s decision to attend St. Francis High School instead of Davis High. My daughter’s goal was to attend an Ivy League school. She felt her opportunity would be better graduating from St. Francis than from Davis High. Sometimes life does not turn out the way you think, but that was her belief and we acted on it. First, being a doctor, I made enough money to pay for her tuition. So that was not an obstacle. Now for the extremely qualified such as my daughter, there are a few means tested scholarships, but we did not know that at the time, and many parents never do know that and it would never occur to them to ask. Money is, in and of itself, an enabler of inequality in our society.

My next example involves my son and the Davis Unified School District more directly. My son had been enrolled in Davis High for his first year of high school. It was not a good fit. In addition to not fitting in well at school, my son was experiencing a major depression and the following story occurs shortly after a hospitalization for suicidal ideation. I had called then principle Matt Best’s office to get an appointment to see him. His secretary had informed me that while Mr. Best was indeed in the office and available for parent appointments, enrollment for the year for DaVinci was closed and there would be no point in scheduling an appointment for that purpose. After hanging up the phone, I decided that was not an acceptable outcome. Within the hour, I was in his outer office where I politely but firmly informed the secretary that I would wait in the office as long as needed, but had no intent of leaving without speaking with Mr. Best. Within the hour, I had made my son’s case to Mr. Best and my son had his admission. I was, and am well aware that this option would not occur to and would not be available to many members of our community. My son was clearly advantaged by my knowledge of how to use the system on his behalf. Should not everyone’s child have the same opportunity ?

One more example which does not involve the schools, but which I have included to show the pervasiveness of this selective advantage in our society. At the time of my son’s first admission for suicidal ideation, I had taken him to a Kaiser facility where I worked and was well known. The counselor told me that admitting him would involve a 3 day hold also known as a 5150. I stated that was not necessary since it was a voluntary admission on his part. She stated that did not matter, that was their process. Knowing that this could potentially affect opportunities for him in the future, I pulled rank. I told her that I was a doctor at the facility, that she would not put a 5150 on my son, and that I would talk to her supervising psychiatrist. She called and within a half hour, the psychiatrist had appeared, was someone I knew, and wrote the admitting orders himself, no 5150 necessary. How many other children might benefit from less strict adherence to arbitrary rules imposed by our society which can be worked around if only the parent has the right knowledge, the right profession,  the right connections, or the right amount of money to obtain the desired out come ?

I suspect that many of us, including those of us who claim to be progressives, claim to be in favor of a society in which all are treated equally while at the same time doing exactly what I did.  I took advantage of our system to favor my own children. I suspect that I am not alone. I am hoping for a day when we are able to acknowledge and perhaps grow beyond favoring equality for all, only after our own are ensured favorable treatment.

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About The Author

Tia is a graduate of UCDMC and long time resident of Davis who raised her two now adult children here. She is a local obstetrician gynecologist with special interests in preventive medicine and public health and safety. All articles and posts written by Tia are reflective only of her own opinions and are in no way a reflection of the opinions of her partners or her employer.

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9 thoughts on “Children of Privilege”

  1. Mark Kropp

    On this Palm Sunday, I first encourage all to re-read the message of Easter, even as atheists, for consideration of acceptance of a higher plan. Maybe today should be anecdotal Sunday.
    My three contributions:
    First, our daughter tested into GATE Davis. She now teaches GATE in a neighboring town. The children and parents are the “new” privileged in my opinion. Davis misses out? My other daughter is adopted from the Amazon and is part of a “newcomers program,” 9th grade, and unfortunately not in Davis!
    Second, I attended UC Berkeley and in Chem1A (a critical class/grade for pre-med), a TA from one of the fraternities, while carrying the final exam up the hill to our testing site, let one test go, which was copied and answered. These answers were distributed and the ultimate “bell shape curve” was misaligned. The powers that be chose not to readjust the grades. Some who may have received an A- got a B+. I am not saying this is why I did not attend an Ivy League school, but I am saying, as my Medical School Histology Professor put it, “Life just isn’t fair!”
    On St Croix, US Virgin Islands, (US Territory), where I did my clinical and residency, the politicians routinely signed “”5050s” on their adversaries to smear them. These “normal” people were held for 2 weeks’ observation and their reputation/record was so noted.
    Lastly, I flew south, always over land, to Rio in Brazil. I wonder, if I returned leading 6 million from the “favela” up the peninsula to Davis and by miracle they displaced all, what would their analysis be of the concept of being “privileged.”

    1. Tia Will Post author


      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This in particular struck me.

      as my Medical School Histology Professor put it, “Life just isn’t fair!””

      “Life” is not fair. But we humans have the ability to change our circumstances. We have the ability to make life more fair, but often do not chose to do so, even in so far as what is within our power.

  2. John D


    Thanks for sharing your parentel experiences and the particilar examples you cite.  As a St. Francis parent, you will no doubt be familiar their philosophy and encouragement of philanthropy in support of their academic mission.  Culturally, among their graduates, this tradition continues.  It is one small way of giving back – for those who feel so inclined.

    Particularly given the exceptional opportunities afforded by public school districts like Davis, I have often wondered why there is not more overt recognition and encouragement of a similar tradition – specifically in support of the districts academic mission – amongst its many successful and accomplished alumni.

    Maybe something to consider as the district moves forward in these challenging fiscal times.

    1. Tia Will Post author

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your thoughts also. While I agree with the St. Francis emphasis on philanthropy and think that we could employ more here, I find it a shame that in such a rich country, we have to. I believe that if all were willing to lend that “helping hand” to those in need, philanthropy would ultimately not be necessary and all of our children would be given the support needed, not just the children of those well connected or well educated, or just plain assertive.

      1. John D

        Ah, yes.  But it never hurts to reflect upon we have been given.   When it is part of the institutional or community culture, explicit opportunities are presented to contemplate those gifts.  By that very step, some are moved to act when they otherwise might not – particularly in this all consuming, rapid paced society in which we live.

        1. Tia Will Post author

          it never hurts to reflect upon we have been given.”

          Agree. And I believe that some will always do so, and will always want to contribute, simply because that is in their nature.

        2. John D

          Indeed.  But I have found that sentiment seems to get a little jaded, if not offended, when we are talking about what we have been given/received – specifically from our public schools.    There is this, quite natural, but somewhat self-fulfilling perception that once we have paid our local taxes – that the good schools (for all) should come with the package.   My point is that this a very different way of looking at things when compared with a model – whether it be Berkeley or Stanford – in which there exists an alternate, self-fulfilling, cultural expectation of post-graduate financial support back to the institution. Be curious to know if some of the higher-performing school districts around the state have established endowment opportunities similar to those found in our state universities.

        3. Tia Will Post author

          it never hurts to reflect upon we have been given.”

          Agree. And I believe that some will always do so, and will always want to contribute, simply because that is in their nature.

  3. Claire Benoit

    I really appreciate your contributions on here Tia.

    I think the simplest way for communities to feel more equal could come from parents teaching their children not to be judgmental… at all. It seems like well intentioned people cherry pick issues/groups deserving of tolerance and compassion.

    “liberals” have their babies and “conservatives” have theirs. At the end of the day we’re all individuals with complex stories that have led us to whatever page we’re on now.

    most the time I’ve found a bigot to be as deserving of compassion as a street criminal. I’ve found an aloof “privileged” snob as deserving of compassion as a meth addict whose just offed her kid (the latter turns my stomach but if we dig a little, she probably deserves compassion too… had she have been shown more earlier – it may have prevented the worst of tragedies).

    were all carrying burdens, even if the greatest one is our blind side/privilege/ignorance. We’re all doing the best we can. Everyone is. And everyone has some sort of privilege. It’s just that often times no one has recognized the value in the privileges of the “underprivileged” and not everyone is blessed with the ability to see it in themselves. So never discourage a dreamer, because that might be the only “privilege” they’ve got.

    Your article touches me because I had an epiphany a few days ago on the train. This young man sat across from me barely blinking his eyes. He smelled awful, and looked filthy and tired. It dawned on me that maybe this kid was working night/day to survive, maybe he was a refugee who had walked, hitched trains, and hustled for meals all the way from Syria.

    I thought of all the times I’ve felt disgusted with people for having foul body odor when I had no idea what their back story could be. And then it made me think about how most people do this to each other every single day over the little things.

    its easy to be mindful of the big causes; gays, minorities, obviously “underprivileged”, disabled…

    but what about the homely kid. Or the kid who doesn’t know what it means NOT to be racist, or the adult who was never taught things that you may take for granted….

    these judgments are not only hurtful and isolating but they obstruct a view that is already limited, that person’s ability to see in them self what no one else has.

    kindness goes farther than people think and is something more of us need to be carelessly generous with. I think we’d find nature has created a lot of equals among us but our strengths lie in very different areas. Cruelty and judgement gets in the way of finding them.

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