It is no secret that many Yalies come from backgrounds that are highly privileged. Students coming from boarding schools, wealthy neighborhoods and households with highly educated parents have a variety of advantages when it comes to meeting traditional metrics of success. The pernicious part of this privilege is that students from backgrounds such as these will often come from environments that are effectively segregated by wealth. At private schools like Sidwell Friends or Horace Mann, for example, there may be some students on scholarships, but the vast majority will come from wealthy, white families. Even Yalies from public schools are likely to have attended either unusually wealthy schools, which receive high property tax revenues, or magnet schools, that are awarded disproportionately high levels of state funding.
All of this is to say that the average Yale student comes from a background that is inherently exclusive. In fact, access to these schools and neighborhoods have been deliberately kept from poor people and people of color through state and federal policy, as well as highly biased and selective admissions criteria. Yet, students from privileged backgrounds would be loath to say that their success came out of conscious acts of exclusion — or to attach any kind of guilt to their backgrounds which they never had a choice in, after all. Thus, to them, exclusion is a simply a fact of life which is rarely challenged. However, when it comes time for rush season at Yale, whether it be for a fraternity, sorority or senior society, I regularly hear some of these extraordinarily privileged students condemn the exclusiveness of undergraduate institutions. All of a sudden, the kind of exclusion which had previously guaranteed their success now seems poisonous.
One theory I’ve heard about these students’ sudden change of heart of is that they are mainly upset because this is one of the first times that they’ve been excluded from a prestigious group. After all, the concept of egalitarianism can seem much more attractive when you stand to be excluded due to an opaque selection process which you don’t control. Similarly, another complaint that I’ve often heard is that the interviewing processes for these exclusive organizations require applicants to be overly “performative.” This is ironic considering that much more harmful acts of exclusion are dangerous because they are so banal. In fact, they require very little effort on the part of the people participating in them. A teenager with plans to go to a boarding school which their family has attended for generations will likely never have to convince anyone that they belong there. After such an experience, having to convince a group of fellow undergraduates that you belong in their club would likely feel like a grievous insult.
Now, let’s analyze why exclusion is actually quite important in the context of social clubs. First, organizations have finite resources and can only open up to so many people before they are exhausted. Second, not everyone gets along very well and it’s foolish to expect people with conflicting personalities and interests to get along perfectly. Third, organizations have missions and certain people may not have values that align with those missions. Exclusion thus exists for very practical reasons. Honestly, this is quite intuitive. After all, a person rushing Delta Kappa Epsilon probably wouldn’t fit very well into the Fence Club, and vice versa.
Still, it’s no secret that these processes have been abused for quite some time. Well-connected and legacy students have an inherent advantage, and those with prestigious reputations coming into a place like Yale inevitably receive disproportionate attention. This is why an ethical interview process requires real competition which requires people to be “performative” and otherwise accentuate their best features and accomplishments. And still, even with a truly competitive system, privileged people will still have an advantage due to the number of opportunities they enjoy throughout their lives which will pad their resumes and make them seem “interesting.” But still, a competitive process is much better than a system where you get into an organization by virtue of your high school or your last name (it’s ironic, I know).
After school ends, most privileged Yale graduates will seek to achieve a standard of living equivalent to or better than the one they had growing up. They’ll seek to become more successful or wealthier than their parents and hope to give their children all the opportunities they had growing up and more. None of these actions will feel wrong or immoral in the slightest. But nonetheless, this is the way that cycles of exclusion and segregation operate. In a country where so many schools are segregated by race and wealth, most neighborhoods lack ethnic and economic diversity and an increasingly small group of people control financial resources. I would happily argue that our attention should be more focused on these types of exclusion rather than the exclusion which is necessary for the functioning of a society or a social club.
Dante de Blasio is a junior in Hopper College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .