Last fall, I read my Yale admissions file in a Zoom with a frustrated, middle-aged woman from the University Registrar’s Office. She silently shared her screen, probably wanting to do something more exciting than clicking back and forth through a first-year’s file. It was an underwhelming experience and, like her, I was bored reading it. But next to my name at the top of the document, there was an amusing note:
I stifled my laughter. Me? Diverse? I’m rarely considered “diverse” in my hometown of Doral — a 17-year-old city in Miami-Dade County overflowing with Venezuelan Americans — and I don’t claim to be. But diversity has different meanings based on context. Seventy percent of Miami’s population is Latino. At Yale: 13.5 percent.
The problem is that, in the context of their defense of the legacy admissions policy, the definition of diversity is left unclear.
According to the most recent Yale Daily News article about the policy, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said that legacy students “contribute to the undergraduate student body’s diversity,” citing “the statistic that over the past four years, enrolled legacy students have hailed from more than 40 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.” Legacy students are considered “priorities” alongside “first-generation students, students with ‘exceptional’ artistic talent and students from underrepresented racial, ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic circumstances.” But I thought that legacy status was an ancestral privilege. On its own, it doesn’t refer to any unique lived experience or culture. In referencing the various regions legacy students come from, Quinlan implies that legacy status does not make legacy students diverse — the other characteristics that comprise their identities do. So, what makes legacy status a diverse identity in and of itself?
Andrew Lipka ’78, an alumnus referenced near the end of the article, provided a potential answer by focusing on the role that alumni play at Yale. Lipka claims that “alumni keep Yale going in ineffable and vital ways” and that they help in preserving Yale’s traditions — after all, Yale prides itself for being “at once a tradition.” Perhaps legacy students are diverse in their ways of thinking; maybe having a Yale alum as a parent has shaped the way they view the world. But is this different mode of thinking, if it even exists, enough to consider legacy students diverse? Is this Yale’s definition of diversity –– thinking differently?
James Luce ’66, an alumnus and a former legacy preference student, points out that Yale doesn’t seem to know what diversity means and “how it can benefit the full Yale educational and social experience.” But where Quinlan and Lipka don’t pin a precise definition down, Luce makes it too broad. He suggests that diversity should not revolve around race, “but rather more importantly about cultural and individual differences,” since “there is no such thing” as an “Asian,” “Black,” “White,” “Indigenous American” or “Latino” culture. Buy a plane ticket from Mexico City to Buenos Aires and see, he says. As Luce suggests, if Yale begins to deny “legacy preference status to scions of high-income alumni, regardless of race or ethnicity” and instead adopts a policy using “cultural categories,” then “all the major issues arising from the legacy preference system” would be resolved. But there’s one problem: there are simply too many cultures. To cram them into categories and to ensure that they are represented on campus would be difficult.
Yale is in an elevated position as a world-class university in the United States. It attracts people from different backgrounds and through a “holistic” admissions process, gathers them underneath a blue-and-white banner that proudly proclaims “Boola Boola.” Maybe Quinlan is right; perhaps “legacy status alone never determines an individual’s admission” — who knows what’s said and done behind Yale’s doors. But if “diversity” is one of the countless, contentious reasons why Yale is defending the legacy preference practice, then admissions officers have to define what they mean by it. If they can’t, throw that reasoning in the trash bin instead.
ISA DOMÍNGUEZ is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at email@example.com