Yesterday, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in two cases against the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy. Thousands of students from throughout the country — three busloads of Yalies included — rallied in Washington, D.C., in favor of affirmative action. Here at Yale, minority students wore black armbands yesterday to show their support, and Monday participated in a day of silence, aimed to simulate what Yale would be like without their voices. The Yale Daily News reported that white students who chose to participate did so “in solidarity with students of color.”
Um, what? The vow of silence on Monday, and the conversations spurred on campus since, have led me to realize that the majority of Yalies have an inaccurate conception of what “affirmative action” is, especially as it relates to Yale. Affirmative action is about creating equal opportunities in order to benefit minorities and about diversifying campus populations in order to benefit everyone. But a minority does not necessarily mean a racial minority, and, in fact, the definition of affirmative action does not contain the word “race.”
I’m white, and I have no doubt that my background gave me an edge in my admission to Yale, making me a beneficiary of affirmative action.
I come from a rural farming community in the Midwest, and I attended a high school with no AP or even honors classes. My high school is currently phasing out chemistry and physics in favor of a larger agriculture department. I clearly was not admitted to Yale based strictly on my academic achievements, but rather for my demonstrated academic potential despite my circumstances, and for the ideas I would likely bring to campus based on my diverse background.
At Yale, each applicant’s personal history is considered on an individual basis in the admissions process, possibly including, but not focusing on, his or her race. The Office of Admissions’ Web site states that “there is no formula or strategy one can employ for gaining admission to Yale” and that “the Admissions Committee works very hard to select a class of the ablest students from a wide variety of backgrounds.” By Yale’s policy, racial minorities coming from underprivileged situations receive the benefit of affirmative action, as do other minorities — like myself — whose backgrounds are diverse in other ways. Some Yalies who participated in Monday’s day of silence may very well have benefited from affirmative action, but to imply that affirmative action is a policy restricted to, and inclusive of, all racial minorities is both unfair and inaccurate.
Even at the University of Michigan, affirmative action is not merely racial. Admissions decisions are made on a point system of a possible 150 points, with 110 points needed for admission. Racial minorities receive 20 points, but so do applicants from socioeconomically disadvantaged families who are not racial minorities. In addition, applicants from the underrepresented upper peninsula receive 16 additional points. Admittedly, this impersonal system has its disadvantages, but severe reverse discrimination is not among them.
I support affirmative action, but only when privilege, not color, is the main criterion. Luckily for us, this is absolutely the case at Yale. And, despite the black-white binary that dominates debate about the lawsuits against the University of Michigan, affirmative action there too is more than merely racial. I challenge you not to just walk beside the University of Michigan throughout this trial, but rather to walk a step in front of them, holding up Yale as a working model of a successful affirmative action system.
Alexis Sathre is a sophomore in Berkeley College.