The Privilege of Connections

Justin P., Junior Editor-in-Chief

When we talk about privilege, we usually discuss white privilege, male privilege, or economic privilege. But what we fail to talk about, as a whole, is the privilege of knowing people. Of having friends in powerful places. Two years ago, Reporter Kelsey D. wrote an opinion article about how privilege is oversimplified, and that is what I will be building off of. Kelsey spoke about how privilege can be perceived in many different ways, but I doubt many have considered connections and knowing people as a privilege.


Let’s talk contacts. We all have them. Friends we know, acquaintances in high places. We all lean on them. A family friend of mine is an engineer at Boeing. Knowing him gives me some insight into the workings at Boeing, and I can ask him to put in a good word for me, because he knows who I am. He might be able to guarantee me an interview for a job, where someone else might not, simply because I know him. People in government can be useful for lobbying and swaying laws. This isn’t white privilege, this is connection privilege. I know people, and we all know people, one way or another.


College Alumni networks work similarly, so Seniors, pay attention. For example, at the United States Naval Academy (USNA), in Annapolis, MD., the alumni network can help secure people’s jobs in the most unlikely of places. Take a friend of mine, a USNA graduate. He majored in Nuclear Engineering at the Naval Academy and served in the U.S. Navy for 15 years. Upon leaving the service, he called up a fellow USNA graduate who works at Morgan Stanley. He now works at Morgan Stanley, brokering my grandmother’s stocks. He has a contact through the alumni network at the Naval Academy, a contact that got him an interview. At prestigious universities, the alumni know of the quality of students graduating and just the merit of that school helps secure jobs and interviews. Is it unfair for us to have an edge over one another, or is that just the way the world works, always striving for a leg up? Or is all the hard work we have put in over the years being repaid?


To enter the USNA, prospective applicants must file a pre-candidate questionnaire and be selected for candidate status. They must then seek three letters of recommendation: 11th or 12th Grade English teacher, 11th or 12th grade Math teacher, and a counselor or administrator. They must pass a Candidate Fitness Assessment, which consists of a kneeling basketball throw, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, the 40-meter shuttle run, and the mile-run. For a male applicant, they should be scoring ~80 ft. with the throw, 18 pull-ups, 42 push-ups, 87 sit-ups, 15 seconds on the shuttle run, and 6:00 on the mile run. These are incredibly difficult tasks. But that is not all. USNA candidates must also write two essays, provide SAT and/or ACT scores in the high range (1400+/30+ respectively), receive a congressional nomination, pass an oral board, a FBI background check, and a medical review board. And that is just to enter the school. Graduating is a different story, and the same is true with military service. A person who graduates from the USNA is someone of character, of commitment. And a fellow USNA alumni can testify to that better than anybody else.


Every person has these contacts, these benefits, these legs up. And some may feel guilty about using them. But it is not cheating the process. Hiring is about data. How much can the hiring manager tell about you or me? Ultimately, a contact provides another data point: a member of the company telling them about your merits. Your resume is a data point. Your application is a data point. Your live interview is a data point. They are trying to learn about you and if you fit with the company. So give them the data to see that fit.


Life is like a game of chess. In a game of chess, you play to win. Certainly, you start out on an even playing field in chess, which you might not necessarily have in the real world, but when you gain the upper hand, you take it. And ultimately, that is what we must do. When we see an opportunity, we must take it. And using contacts and that privilege we have, well, that’s a part of the chess game too.