Last week, Yale accepted its most diverse freshman class yet. Still, questions remain as to whether the Admissions Office’s efforts at diversification reach all of Yale’s most competitive academic programs.
Although these programs take different approaches to diversity in choosing their populations, students have expressed concern that the constituencies of certain academic majors or programs are not as diverse as Yale’s larger population. For example, students in Directed Studies — a yearlong intensive program for freshmen that provides a comprehensive overview of the Western Canon — described the program’s students as “overwhelmingly Caucasian,” though many mentioned that there are a significant number of international students in the program.
“From what I remember, DS was predominantly white,” said Angelo Pis-Dudot ’17, who enrolled in the program during his freshman year. “There was one black guy, and I can’t remember any black girls in the program. Some international and Asian-American students diversified the group too, but beyond that, I can’t recall more than a handful of students of color.”
However, current DS Director of Undergraduate Studies Kathryn Slanski said outreach efforts aimed at diversifying DS, particularly by including more first-generation college students — a cohort that is increasing at the University as a whole — are ongoing. In addition to adding to the program’s website, DS faculty are making efforts to correct misperceptions about the program and increase awareness of it through events like Bulldog Days forums.
Ana Barros ’18, along with four other DS students, said more should be done to expand the racial diversity of the program. Given the unique nature of DS’s curriculum, Barros said, diversity is especially important to class discussions.
“DS asks you to question your thoughts and challenge other people’s, and your racial identity — or your cultural identity — is extremely important in [that],” she said. “[Diversity] is something that should be prioritized as a way of progressing the program itself.”
Professor Norma Thompson, who teaches in DS, noted that there are some challenges to broadening the diversity of DS, but she added that Slanski is spearheading several outreach efforts. Thompson told the News in February that she wished the DS population were more diverse — but the program’s constituency relies largely on the people who apply.
Still, roughly half of each DS class is pre-admitted to the program by the Admissions Office. Director of Outreach and Recruitment Mark Dunn ’07 said the preselection of students for DS is conducted in two rounds. A few Early Action students have already been notified of their pre-admission to the program, Dunn said, and the Admissions Office is currently working with DS faculty to determine which students from the Regular Decision process will be invited to participate in the program. Slanski said while she does not see information about students’ racial or ethnic profiles, as she is not a member of the admissions staff, the Admissions Office is always working to diversify Yale’s incoming classes. She added that she and her colleagues have made it clear to the Admissions Office that increasing the number of first-generation college students is one of their goals, and she believes that admissions officers keep this in mind as they consider candidates for DS.
Efforts at diversifying vary from program to program, including in the competitive “Studies in Grand Strategy” course — a yearlong course composed of seminars and events with guest speakers that accepts roughly one third of its applicants.
“Diversity is indeed one of the things we consider, but because we think there are many kinds of diversity, we define the term broadly,” history professor John Gaddis, director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, wrote in an email.
Christina de Fontnouvelle ’16, a current student in GS, said she believes this year’s GS class is very diverse in both the cultural backgrounds of students and their academic interests. GS students vary by major, interest and past experience, she said, which enlivens class discussions.
“I think the class is also quite rich in terms of cultural diversity, especially by including many international students,” de Fontnouvelle said. “This brings in political views to the class that Americans might not have thought to bring up.”
She added that racial and ethnic diversity is definitely present as well, which adds weight and perspective to class discussions on topics such as Sun Tzu, civil rights, communism and fascism.
Additionally, de Fontnouvelle said that GS professors should continue to reach out beyond what are thought to be the “traditional GS circles,” such as history majors, in order to ensure the diversity of future classes.
Sophia Berhie GRD ’16, another GS student, said that in a course like GS, there must be a “conscionable effort” to ensure broad and diverse student perspectives in the class. However, she said, racial and ethnic diversity are just one component to consider.
“This doesn’t begin or end with a diversity selection process,” Berhie said. “Pointing to racial diversity as a sufficient condition for a diverse class trivializes the merit of those students and ignores the need for a broader sense of diversity, including student experiences.”
For example, Berhie said many graduate students in the course have worked in the public sector in the United States or abroad.
In contrast to GS, which considers the diversity of its students during its application process, the Ethics, Politics & Economics major does not ask for a student’s race on its application, according to DUS Andrew March. Still, EP&E Director Nicholas Sambanis said the program is diverse by other metrics, such as gender balance. Many EP&E majors said that even though racial and ethnic diversity were not taken into account during the admissions process, they have not noticed an imbalanced racial makeup of the major.
EP&E major Josh Feinzig ’16 said he has enjoyed hearing from a diverse range of perspectives, and from those with a diverse range of backgrounds in his EP&E seminars. This has been one of the highlights of the major, he added.
However, EP&E major Andre Manuel ’16 said that in his experience, while EP&E seems to bring together students with diverse interests, the major seems “more homogenous” in terms of race, gender and class than Yale as a whole.
“I guess if it’s true that EP&E wasn’t very diverse, it’d be interesting to see if this reflects a homogenous applicant pool, or an admissions procedure that favors some types of people at others’ expense,” Manuel said.
DS accepts approximately 125 students each year.