With rush season well underway, now is the time that many students are thinking about networking and social opportunities. But we should also be thinking about the ways in which connections harm rather than enhance the world of higher education. Johns Hopkins University recently ended their policy of legacy admissions, which almost all other top universities still practice.
The time has come to end this policy across the country, including and especially at places like Yale, where it has disempowered generations of students. Speaking in favor of the change, Canadian-born president of Hopkins Ronald J. Daniels said, “I never became reconciled to the prevalence of this form of hereditary privilege in American higher education, particularly given this country’s deeply ingrained commitment to the ideals of merit and equal opportunity.”
Daniels’ statement is a far cry from the beliefs of former Harvard president Lawrence Summers, who has said that “legacy admissions are integral to the kind of community that any private educational institution is.” In the case of legacy admissions, Yale doesn’t beat Harvard — our university holds this belief, too. In fact, during the admissions process, special distinctions are made for applicants with donor connections.
But why are legacy admissions considered “integral” to a university’s community? Shouldn’t the community come from all of the students on campus, not just the legacies?
This sentiment that a school’s community is somehow bolstered by legacy students isn’t limited to Lawrence Summers. University of Pennsylvania student Agatha Advincula took to the Daily Pennsylvanian last semester, proclaiming in her article’s title, “I’m a legacy student and I’m not ashamed.” Underneath the bold title, the subheading reads: “Here’s the tea, we need legacy admissions.”
I wonder who Advincula means by “we,” because it certainly isn’t me. She goes on to echo similar points made by Summers, decreeing that “legacy is just as closely tied with a school’s spirit and community as it is with its prestige.” This belief that a school only has strong spirit and “prestige” because of legacy students reeks of elitism, privilege, close-mindedness and — put simply — lack of empathy.
Penn, Yale or any other institution isn’t going to lose status or academic rigor if too many non-legacies attend. Otherwise, schools without legacy admissions like MIT, UC Berkeley and Oxford wouldn’t still be ranked among the best colleges in the world.
In fact, most universities had plenty of school spirit and success before legacy admissions even became a common practice. According to an article in the Review of Religious Research, in the early 20th century, elite universities like Yale and Harvard started considering “lineage” and “character” among applicants due to a rise in Jewish and Catholic immigrants in the Northeast.
Admissions offices wanted to limit non-protestant students from attending their universities so they could maintain the socioeconomic homogeny. Before legacy admissions grew in popularity, many of these immigrant students were gaining admission, winning scholarships and unsettling centuries-old white American families because of their religious and cultural differences.
These educational barriers were put in place to maintain power, not to increase donations or school spirit. The very origin of legacy admissions is rooted in inequality and injustice, yet Yale and many other schools consider it in their application process to this day. In a world in which legacy students already have ample resources and advantages during the college application process, why are they given another leg-up with legacy admissions?
I used to wonder why certain people are born higher up the socioeconomic ladder, but now I wonder why there’s a ladder at all. While Advincula fails to acknowledge the origin of legacy admissions, she does make one fair point: regardless of their status before attending an elite university, every student who graduates will pass on the coveted legacy status to their children.
Reading her article, I couldn’t help but think about my own potential children and how I would feel about them benefiting from a system that has disadvantaged so many others.
I would want my child to succeed. I would want for them to have opportunities that I might not have had. But, I would never want them to be handed an advantage that disempowers others on no other basis than who one’s parents are.
ADDISON BEER is a first year in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at email@example.com .