USC

Olivia Jade Giannulli speaks out on her privilege Red Table Talk

Giannulli turns to Jada Pinkett Smith and her family to share her story since the Operation Varsity Blues scandal unraveled.

Olivia Jade Giannulli made her first public interview on the Red Table Talk with Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Adrienne Banfield-Norris Tuesday morning to share her perspective and growth since her family’s involvement in the college admissions scandal.

Her mother Lori Laughlin, best known as Aunt Becky of “Full House,” and her father Mossimo Giannulli offered hefty bribes to get Olivia Jade Giannulli and her sister into USC. Now, they are serving time in prison for their actions. After a nine-month hiatus, she returned to YouTube in December 2019 to share that she couldn’t legally speak on that scandal. Giannulli turned to Red Table Talk to unpack the journey she’s been on to realize her privilege and view the world outside of her bubble.

However, this decision came with public backlash as well. People on social media questioned the value of putting her story on a platform like the Facebook Live talk show with 10 million followers and three Black women at the forefront of the conversation. Even Banfield-Norris shared her concerns before Giannulli took a seat at the table.

“I fought it tooth and nail,” she said on the show. “I just found it really ironic that she chose three Black women to reach out to for her redemption story. I feel like here we are, white women come to Black women for support when we don’t get the same from them.”

She commented that it was the “epitome of white privilege.”

When Giannulli came forward to share her story, she expressed how much she has grown from the experience. She lost the brand deals she accumulated as a YouTube influencer and had people calling her out for her entitlement on social media.

“I understand that people are angry, and I understand why people would say hurtful things, and I would too if I wasn’t in my boat,” Giannulli said. “And I think I had to go through the backlash and the stuff because when you read it you realize that there’s some truth in it.”

Back in March 2019 when the scandal initially surfaced, she didn’t realize the weight of the situation because of the social bubble she lived in. She described this bubble as an environment with peers who were wealthy and considered things like higher education as a given and less as a fortune. She explained that she saw it no differently than parents donating to schools.

“There was no malicious intent by it.” she continued. “I was oblivious.”

Since then she’s educated herself on what it means to be a wealthy white woman in America, noting the changes she had to make to realize that value of a college education, Giannulli said. She also mentioned her involvement in volunteering for an after-school program in Watts, California.

However, there is still room for criticism in her effort to turn a new leaf. Banfield-Norris pivoted the conversation with a single question: “Do you have any understanding as to why I would be upset?”

“I’m exhausted with everything that we have to deal with as a community and I just don’t have the energy to put into the fact that you lost your endorsements or you’re not in school right now,” Banfield-Norris said. “Because at the end of the day you’re going to be okay.”

She explained that even though Giannulli’s parents are in prison and it feels rough at the moment, they will bounce back. Her parents will return home and endorsements will make their way back to Giannulli. Everything will return to normal.

“There’s so many of us that are not going to be in that situation,” Banfield-Norris said. “It just makes it very difficult right now for me to care.”

To which Giannulli replied, “I totally understand that.”

The others at the table did acknowledge that they appreciated Giannulli’s effort to learn and understand her role in the situation.

“I’m really happy that you are breaking those patterns,” Pinkett Smith said. “You, coming to the table and also just talking about your awareness, that brings me a lot of joy.”

Giannulli shared her new appreciation for her education, something that she hadn’t acknowledged before. She used to appreciate college for the parties and the experience, as expressed in a YouTube video she posted in August 2018 and has since taken it down. Now, she understands that for some students, they don’t have the privilege to only take the experience into consideration when choosing a school. There are students who have to think about things like the cost, racial discrimination in a predominantly white institution and the weight of the application process.

Banfield-Norris called Giannulli’s situation out as not just one exhibiting her white privilege, but also “financial privilege and entitlement.” Giannulli agreed and explained how she is beginning to look outside of her bubble and understand the issues she’s unconsciously ignored due to her status.

“I think what was important was for me to come on here and say I’m sorry,” Giannulli said. “I acknowledge what was wrong and I wasn’t able to say that for so long.”