Admission standards must treat disadvantages fairly

Yale and other elite institutions are attempting to reach out to the disadvantaged and underprivileged. Such trends are put forth with the hope of sending an all-inclusive message of understanding; these policies deceptively advertise that nothing can bar one from entry into the ivory tower ­— nothing, that is, except utterly arbitrary (if not utterly ridiculous) factors such as the mental illness experienced by re-admit student Naasiha Siddiqui ’07 (“Re-admission process can prove traumatic,” 9/26). Siddiqui’s story illustrates a horrible paradigm of the Yale admissions system: It is a system selectively permeable only to the types of disadvantage it deems worthy of sympathy.

Yale is doubtlessly most sympathetic to financial disadvantage, and if anything, it might go without saying that a lower income bracket coupled with grades and scores as high as any other applicant’s would push a candidate over the edge in the admissions process. Countless are the efforts to promote support of income diversity. Our inboxes are flooded with letters advertising chances to work for the promotion groups that tour lower-income schools, our school publications constantly cover the latest updates regarding the newest financial aid thresholds and reform, and our activist groups can often be seen on Beinecke Plaza protesting overbearing student expenses or work requirements. Whether or not the promotion of income diversity is ethical is a different issue entirely, but the fact remains that the University believes it is a worthy factor in determining whether a student’s hardships bring him in or keep him out. Money makes Yale understand.

Similarly as selective, but certainly more disturbing, is Yale’s sympathy toward al Qaida affiliates. Of course, there isn’t a student on campus who isn’t familiar with the apparent plight of former Taliban spokesman Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a past student in Yale’s non-degree program. Though it is impossible to argue whether or not Hashemi had actually reformed himself while a student at Yale, the University nonetheless managed to justify sympathy not only towards a man once associated with a current enemy of the state, but one who became infamous for a scene in “Fahrenheit 9/11” in which Hashemi sneered at a woman who removed her burqa, “I’m really sorry for your husband. He might have a very difficult time with you.” It’s hard to remember the last time Yale’s application essay asked applicants to describe a time they were misogynistic, hateful, actively discriminatory or engaged in the indirect or direct support of terrorist activity, but such qualities that are unacceptable in the social climate of Yale (or anywhere for that matter) are apparently worthy of sympathy as per the admission committee’s decision.

Unfortunately for Siddiqui, who is afflicted with an uncontrollable illness (as opposed to a deliberate affiliation with terrorism operations), she is not included in the admission committee’s definition of what incurs sympathy. The committee would have us believe Siddiqui’s struggles are not worthy enough to elicit learning experiences. How could students possibly benefit from insight into the life of a person with bipolar disorder? Ironically enough, in regards to Hashemi’s presence, Yale officially asserted that “universities are places that must strive to increase understanding.” But it seems the understanding of the admissions committee is reserved only for people of low income or suspicious, potentially terrorist-related backgrounds (in 1993, Yale admitted another man, Hiram Torres, with potential Al Qaida ties, though he did not graduate). The committee forgets that the very word “understanding” encompasses a broader range of experiences and struggles, neither of which should ever be immune to the University’s supposed current increases of admissions sympathy.

What is especially upsetting is that in selectively distributing its alleged understanding, Yale is simultaneously turning its back on people like Siddiqui who have already proven themselves deserving of attendance here. How does Yale have the right to make the presumptuous assumption that Siddiqui’s illness has rendered her incapable of being a student? Why doesn’t the understanding granted to others extend to offer Siddiqui and students with similar plights the support, help and benefit of the doubt they all deserve?

How does being afflicted with any other apparent disadvantage deserve more “understanding” than being bipolar? It doesn’t. If Yale wants to be sympathetic towards potential terrorists, lower income students, native Alaskans, people with three heads who grew up in Siberian orphanages or any other member of the group “The Inherently Disadvantaged,” there is absolutely no reason to deny readmission to students like Siddiqui. On the other hand, Yale may believe itself an ivory tower with the right to be selectively sympathetic. If that’s the case, nobody should be granted reprieve, and we should all be looking for the application questions geared towards our experiences being wealthy, WASP-y or maybe just al Qaida affiliates.

Elizabeth Moore is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.

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