Opinion | 2:42 pm | April 18, 2013 | By Jacob Sandry and Julian Debenedetti

Forum: Response to Ross Douthat

In this installment of the YDN Forum, contributing bloggers Jacob Sandry ’15 and Julian Debenedetti ’15 respond to a recent column about diversity in the Ivy League penned by Ross Douthat of the New York Times. 

In his recent New York Times column, Ross Douthat paints the Ivy League as a surreptitious tool used to perpetuate the insularity of a highly educated, elite upper class. Douthat mocks critics of Susan Patton, the now-famous ’77 Princeton grad, for exposing an “unspoken truth”: that elite universities exist solely to preserve that educated upper class.

Beyond the irony that Douthat berates a system he himself embodies, he is gravely out-of-touch. Not everyone at Yale is prep school-educated, white or affluent, as Douthat would have his readers believe. Douthat claims that the student-body diversity at Ivy League schools is “mostly cosmetic” and thus does not threaten existing hierarchies. Yet, in the fall of 2011, across the Ivy League fewer than 50 percent of students identified as white compared to 63 percent of the population overall. Similarly, need-based financial aid is given to the majority of Yale students (56 percent), opening Yale’s gates to hundreds who otherwise would not have access to the community we currently call home. This is hardly cosmetic.

Is Yale a perfect cross-section of the U.S. population? No. Are students from households in lower income brackets currently fairly represented? No. Is Yale’s admissions process fair? No. The admissions process is inherently imperfect. But blaming Yale or Harvard for enforcing social stratification is a sinister tactic to hide the larger structural deficiencies that enforce inequality.

Inequality in contemporary society is not the fault of Yale or her peer institutions, but rather the result of a broken education system that blocks students from poor areas from opportunities a decade before they even think about SAT scores. It’s the fault of discriminatory housing policies that enforce de facto segregation on communities across the country. If anything, Yale and her peer institutions continue to do more to improve outcomes for those underrepresented in the educated elite than many of Douthat’s regressive policy prescriptions ever could.

What we find most striking is Douthat’s assertion that “elite universities are about connecting more than learning.” This entirely misses the point of the “elite” education we are so lucky to receive. Connecting is part of learning at Yale. Interacting, befriending and even, gasp, marrying the diverse peoples — ethnically, racially and socioeconomically — on campus is a formative part of our education. Learning happens in the classroom, too, but what has provided us the most growth as students, citizens and people is exposure to the wide range of individuals not found within the walls of our suburban high schools.

Ultimately, Douthat’s article would have perhaps been appropriate in the 1950s. Yes, Yale is not a utopia where socioeconomic inequity evaporates the minute you walk through Phelps Gate. Nonetheless, Douthat would do well to visit our campus (or even that of his alma mater) and see that we are not Tom Buchanans running around to find mates. We are diverse in every way, shape and form. Douthat’s article does a disservice to us all by misrepresenting that reality.

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