Silent protest says the right thing

Today, the United States Supreme Court begins hearing arguments in two cases that challenge the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action in admissions decisions and that could have far-reaching implications for college admissions around the country, including at Yale. It is a cause University administrators, law students, and undergraduates, have taken up publicly with laudable enthusiasm and an appropriate sense of urgency.

While the high court begins debating Michigan’s policy of giving extra points toward admission to minority applicants, Yale students will join other undergraduates in a march in Washington, D.C., this afternoon. With Monday’s demonstration, students followed administrators, who filed a brief in February, in locating discussion of this issue on campus before bringing it to the Capitol.

From dawn to dusk Monday, roughly 60 Yalies took a vow of silence in anticipation of the hearing to express solidarity with minority students at Michigan. Organized by the Pan Ethnic Council, under the auspices of Dwight Hall, the Student of Color Day of Silence made for a compelling demonstration intended to “emphasize what the future of the university without affirmative action would look like.” The students, who wore stickers, passed out pamphlets and declined to speak from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., used an unusual method to make a provocative statement — though it was not perfectly clear what exactly that statement was.

The spirit of yesterday’s demonstration — supporting college admissions policies that take race, among other factors, into account — is admirable and something worthy of widespread student support. But we fear that the concept, while clever, might easily be misconstrued. The number of students, most of whom were minorities, who participated in the day of silence was far from the total number of minority students at Yale. But had the Pan Ethnic Council achieved full participation and all of the minority students here were silent for the day, the demonstration would not have given an accurate representation of Yale’s future without affirmative action. It would have shown us Yale’s future without minorities.

In all likelihood, the group’s intention was not to imply that without admissions policies that consider race, Yale would be as racially diverse now as it was 300 years ago.

But stickers provided for nonminority students who wanted to participate overcome the strained logic of the demonstration and indicate its real aim. The stickers read, “As a white student, I choose to remain silent today in solidarity with students of color to show that they are integral members of this community. My education would be incomplete without their presence.” They, in conjunction with the spirit of the rest of the demonstration, sent the same message University administrators and students at the Law School did when they filed a brief supporting the use of race as a factor in admissions decisions: minority students are an integral part of our community and the policies that help bring them here are worth protecting.

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