Kai Nip

Students have largely criticized the Department of Justice’s Thursday move to sue Yale over alleged discrimination against Asian American and white applicants.

In an email to the University on Thursday night, University President Peter Salovey expressed his dissatisfaction with the DOJ’s new lawsuit against the University — and that it occurred despite Yale’s efforts to prove that its undergraduate admissions practices are “perfectly consistent” with Supreme Court precedent. Salovey has repeatedly said the allegation is “baseless.” In emails and phone interviews with the News, undergraduates weighed in on the DOJ’s lawsuit against the University.

“White people and Asian American people are overrepresented in higher education and the Ivy League in particular,” Irene Vazquez ’21 told the News. “This is not surprising, given the current administration, but still … [it’s] an affront to all the hardworking Black and Latinx students who are at Yale who of course worked very hard to get there, regardless of what the DOJ thinks.”

Vazquez said she was not surprised by the lawsuit. She added the general racial breakdown of Yale’s undergraduate student body — which Data USA reports to be 44.3 percent white, 13.9 percent Asian, 9.4 percent Hispanic or Latinx and 5.7 percent Black — is easily noticeable on campus.

Vice President of the Black Men’s Union Isaac Yearwood ’22 shared similar sentiments. Yearwood said that the lawsuit makes sense as a “function of anti-Blackness [in America].”

A call to community action

Although Yearwood explained that this was one of many crusades against racial justice that has happened in this year alone, he noted the continued importance of a commitment to social justice.

“I think every day is an opportunity for resistance,” Yearwood told the News in a phone interview. “It’s ridiculously sad, but it’s beautiful that in the times of most strife and most pain and most struggle and most blatant forms of violence against [Black and brown] people, you see some of the most beautiful forms of community.”

Several other students, including members of the Yale College Council, also called for the community to organize. In an email to the News, Associate Senator Carlos Brown ’23 called on “every student, organization and faculty member at Yale to speak out against this attack on the diversity that makes us stronger.” 

“BIPOC students belong at Yale and that should not be up for debate,” Brown said.

Yale College Council President Aliesa Bahri ’22 also expressed support for a holistic admissions process and prioritizing diversity in universities across the country.

“Our racial identity is inextricably tied to the challenges we’ve faced, the expectations we’re held to and the resources we have access to — it’s a part of who we are,” Bahri said. “And to ignore it isn’t just immoral, it’s counterproductive.”

Former Yale College President Kahlil Greene ’21 told the News in an interview that students should strive to educate themselves and others about the many misconceptions about affirmative action and should aim to raise awareness about its importance. While mobilization may look different during the pandemic, Greene hopes students will look to what organizations like the Black Student Alliance at Yale and the Black Men’s Union are doing to find their own action steps.

Who belongs?

Some students mentioned that the DOJ lawsuit will just exacerbate feelings of imposter syndrome for students of color who have faced previous discrimination from their peers. 

“It’s a lot of imposter syndrome for minorities at Yale in general,” Trenton Johnson ’23 told the News. “As a minority, you have to deal with that on campus because of stuff like this.”

Johnson added that when students of color enter a predominantly white institution, they have concerns that their white peers don’t have to think about, such as worrying about whether other people “will look like me.”

Another student, Jordan Jenkins ’24, expressed similar feelings. He said that he and other Black students must “self-assure” that they belong at the University and were admitted as “rightfully” as the remainder of their peers. Of the lawsuit, Jenkins said that it was “predictable” in light of the similar admissions lawsuit against Harvard.

One student, Isabelle Thomas ’23, said that the lawsuit could have both detrimental and positive effects. She described the lawsuit as “complex” — while she agreed that there was discrimination against Asian American applicants, she did not agree that there was discrimination against white applicants.

Thomas said that the lawsuit could encourage reflection on the implications of stereotyping Asian Americans as a “model minority.” But Thomas added that especially with online platforms like Librex that allow Yale students to hold anonymous discussions, she worried that people would take this lawsuit as an opportunity to continue using harmful language directed at students of color — specifically the Black community.

One recent Librex post reads: “How can you possibly claim that Yale doesn’t discriminate against whites and Asians.” 

The post claimed that “Asians and whites were FOUR to TEN times less likely to be admitted than black applicants.” This statistic is consistent with the DOJ’s finding that “African American applicants with comparable academic credentials are up to 10 times more likely to be admitted [to Yale] than Asian American and white applicants.”

A response from the Asian American community

Several weeks ago, student organizations affiliated with the Asian American community at Yale — including the Asian American Students Alliance and Asian Students for Ethnic Studies — signed a statement expressing concern over the DOJ allegation that preceded Thursday’s lawsuit.

These 23 organizations agreed that the DOJ’s allegation is “a thinly veiled ploy to use Asian Americans to attack the system of affirmative action and maintain unequal access to higher education, at the expense of Black, Indigenous and Latinx individuals.”

They characterized the lawsuit as “white supremacy under the guise of meritocracy,” explaining that “race-neutral” admissions cannot exist in a country that is “anything but.” They condemned the DOJ for treating the Asian American community as a monolith and claiming that affirmative action benefits many Asian American students.

“I believe this is an unproductive attempt to employ Asian Americans to attack affirmative action and uphold educational inequality,” said Michelle Liang ’22, co-moderator for AASA, in a story published on Sept. 2 after the DOJ announced its allegation. “From the erasure of the nuances of privilege within the Asian American community to the overlooking of MENA students by denying them their own category, the DOJ hinders racial justice rather than addressing ways Yale, and education in general, should address inequity.”

In an email to the News following Thursday’s lawsuit, Elijah Hong ’22 condemned claims that affirmative action and similar policies discriminate against Asian American and white applicants as “nothing less than hate speech.”

Katherine Salinas ’22 said that the DOJ lawsuit did not affect her but would affect people like her who would be applying to Yale in the future.

“I care so much about prospective students and making sure that people who have not traditionally been able to see themselves at Yale … know that there’s a place for them here,” Salinas said. “I’m just worried about the implications for prospective students and how that will affect an already stressful college application process for them.”

Salinas did say that she was surprised at the University’s “strong statement” in favor of students of color, and that she believed that Yale would win the lawsuit. 

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions is located at 38 Hillhouse Ave.

Larissa Jimenez | larissa.jimenez@yale.edu

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu

Zaporah W. Price covers Black communities at Yale and in New Haven. She previously served as a staff columnist. Originally from Chicago, she is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College majoring in english with an intended concentration in creative writing.