The University in late August welcomed its first Muslim admissions officer into the fold.
Amin Abdul-Malik, a new associate dean of admissions, comes to the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions after stints at Swarthmore College and his alma mater Wesleyan College.
Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said the University did not hire Abdul-Malik specifically because of his religious background, but that he is excited for the diversity that Abdul-Malik will add to the office. Brenzel said Abdul-Malik was a strong candidate for the position and that he boasts considerable and varied experience in the field.
“We were recruiting for a senior position, and he was as strong a candidate for the job as we could hope to find,” Brenzel wrote. “He brings maturity, experience and a successful recruiting track record to us, and I was able immediately to hand him some very challenging outreach and recruiting responsibilities in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as an important responsibility for us in southern California.”
Abdul-Malik is of Puerto Rican descent and grew up in a Catholic family in New York City, in Hell’s Kitchen and Spanish Harlem. A history major at Wesleyan, he said he first read the Qur’an for “a purely intellectual understanding of one of the world’s largest religions.” His entire family, apart from his wife and children, is Catholic.
“Although I was by all accounts a skeptic and had no intention of ever becoming a Muslim,” he said, “I could not deny the beauty of the only book in the history of humanity that has, for more than 1,400 years, been preserved in its original unadulterated form.”
His relatives, he said, were initially confused and thought of Abdul-Malik’s conversion as a phase he would grow out of.
“As time progressed and they saw how much more serious I was about my education and being a responsible and productive person, they came to accept and respect my decision,” he said.
Abdul-Malik, though only about a month into his new job, has already been on a 10-day recruitment trip to Pakistan and India. Having never been to the region before, he said he found the experience “interesting” and “very productive.” He is currently planning another trip to Israel, the West Bank, Dubai, Bahrain and Jordan in mid-October. Abdul-Malik, who is actively coordinating these trips with the Yale Arab Alumni Association, a group of about 90 alumni, said he wants to “make sure that Yale is well-recognized around the world.”
Abdul-Malik said he does not believe that a shared religion or language should ever be a prerequisite when reading an application, but that it could still help students to have a reader who understands their religious background.
“You have to have a strong commitment to the philosophy of the school,” he said. “It’s nice if you can speak a common language or perspective, but it’s not ultimately what will make a compelling case, necessarily.”
Farah Al-Qarismi ’12, a Muslim student who hails from the United Arab Emirates, voiced similar sentiments when asked whether she thought it would make a difference to have a Muslim admissions officer read her application.
“Honestly, I don’t think it would make too much of a difference,” she said. “It depends on his background and perspectives on religion, but ultimately anybody qualified to become an admissions officer knows not to be too judgmental.”
Assistant Director of Admissions Liz Kinsley, who, like Abdul-Malik, has previously worked as a high school guidance counselor, praised Abdul-Malik’s experience.
“Having engaged the admissions process from the high school side lends a unique perspective to the process on the university end of things, and it’s been great exchanging thoughts with Amin,” Kinsley wrote in an e-mail.