I heard this line countless times during Camp Yale. When my best friend left our hometown of Kansas City nearly a year ago for the University of Pennsylvania, he warned me this was coming.
“Get ready to be a novelty on the East Coast next year,” he said with a laugh. “I bet there’s less than ten Kansas kids in your Yale class. Actually … I bet there’s less than five.”
I smiled, but couldn’t hide my concern. If I’ve learned anything from him, it’s that the Midwest is severely underrepresented in Ivy League admissions. Now that I have arrived on campus, I can’t help but wonder how many of my classmates are from the same high school, or even the same state. If the Yale Class of 2021 is any indication, my chances of finding other Midwesterners are slim; according to the Yale profile of the Class of 2021 only 12.8 percent of that class hailed from the Midwest — which is under half the number of Northeastern students. This lack of representation is contradictory to what the Ivy League prides itself on: diversity in its student body. If the Ivy League wants to maintain its reputation of diversity in admissions, disproportionate representations of certain regions need to end.
In my hometown, the lack of Midwestern Ivy League representation is obvious. I can count the number of Yale students to graduate from my high school on just one hand. My experience, and that of many Midwestern students, is indeed strikingly different from that of Yale students in other regions. It is far more difficult to meet fellow students and alumni because there is such a small number of us. Yet, some Yale students, from areas like New York and Boston, have more high school classmates represented in the Class of 2022 than the entire state of Kansas does.
At first glance, there may be a simple explanation for this: Fewer students from the Midwest apply to Yale. This is indeed true, but even so, the regional diversity of Yale classes should reflect, roughly, the population distribution of the United States. According to the 2017 Census, the South and West are the most populated regions of the US (followed by the Midwest), and the Northeast comes in last despite constituting nearly a third of Yale’s student body. In keeping with this seemingly reversed trend, the South and West are among the least represented regions at Yale. Evidently, the Midwest is not alone in the representation dilemma.
But what exactly is constituting this “dilemma?” In Kansas, the lack of Yale students and alumni has a greater impact than one may think. Based on my personal experiences, underrepresentation plays a role in perpetuating negative stereotypes about the Ivy League. The Ivy League paints itself as a progressive group of schools, and it indeed is; but without properly diversifying its student bodies, it is damaging this image in underrepresented regions.
I’ve met a fair number of people in Kansas City who still believe Ivy League universities are what they once were: pretentious, exclusive institutions catering to the elite. Ivy League admits in my hometown are so rare, many people are oblivious to the fact that admissions are need-blind, or that public school students can even be admitted. This is immensely discouraging to prospective applicants, contributing to an atmosphere in which many Midwestern students don’t believe they are qualified to attend an Ivy League university. The problem isn’t that there are not Yale-worthy students in these regions, it’s that not enough of these students are applying. And by not admitting enough of the few who do apply, Ivy League institutions are creating a cycle in which students remain uninformed and underrepresented. But this problem extends beyond the Midwest, South or West — it also affects the student body at Yale.
Yale prides itself on admitting students who learn as much from each other as from their classes; it is only damaging its own human capital by not admitting students from all regions fairly. Midwestern students deserve role models, and their peers at Yale deserve a chance to know that the Midwest is more than just farmland. A mere handful of students cannot act as advocates for their entire state; the more perspectives fellow Yale students are exposed to, the more they can learn about a region and lifestyle they’ve never experienced.
This is what prospective students from underrepresented regions must understand: Your hometown is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it cause to be discouraged. It is part of who you are, and you need to celebrate it.
Imani Jaroudi is a first year in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .