I applied to college during Yale’s first-ever test-optional application cycle in the fall of 2020. Everything I thought I knew — everything I knew I needed to find out — had been overhauled. Not only would my classmates and I compete against students who had perfect standardized test scores, we would also compete against a new unknown in the elite admissions space: students who did not, or could not, submit any scores at all. 

Calvin Yang, the face of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) championing the assassination of affirmative action, competed in this extraordinary admissions cycle with me. But when I learned Yang and I applied to college at the same time, I struggled to understand Yang’s place in SFFA’s test scores-obsessed argument against affirmative action when he applied during a pioneering, unprecedented test-optional cycle. 

SFFA made Yang the poster boy of the anti-affirmative action movement because his rap sheet sporting a 3.9 GPA and 1550 SAT score looked incredible on paper. To say he was a competitive applicant would be an understatement and SFFA was smart to prop him up on their pedestal. 

In a recent article in the New York Post, Yang discussed his reaction to being rejected from his dream university. He concluded his Asian identity ultimately worked against him despite trying his hardest to downplay his background, a tactic he said many Asian applicants felt the need to employ. 

Yet the admissions process that Yang navigated had fundamentally changed from the process SFFA first disputed in 2014. SFFA did not update its argument to acknowledge the disruption in college admissions in their February 2021 appeal to the Supreme Court. Yang has not recognized the distinctive shift away from test scores and lean towards personal and supplement essays due to the pandemic, either. 

SFFA’s 2014 filing compared the SAT scores of Asian American students to Black, Latine, and White students. Their February 2021 Supreme Court appeal repeated this same strategy using Harvard’s own “academic index,” a comparative metric calculated from test scores and GPAs then often reverted back into SAT scores for reference. 

SFFA also included a scathing critique of Harvard’s holistic admissions approach by tracing its origins to outright discrimination against Jewish students after World War I. However, their deep dive into history was not an honest effort for the sake of all students. It was a selective, manipulative tactic to guide the court and public opinion to believe standardized testing data were the most objective admissions metric to compare students racially and determine their worth. 

Their real intentions became clear as they turned a blind eye to what scholars have been sounding alarms about for decades: the SAT serving as a neutral baseline is a myth. The exam was largely developed by Carl Brigham, a staunch eugenicist who designed tests for the army and College Board as part of his belief testing could prove the superiority of White people over Black and other ‘undesirable’ populations. The SAT also has a history of excluding questions Black students correctly answered more than white students. SFFA used one racist admissions method to discredit another. 

Still, SFFA was able to shape public rhetoric around the notion that “undeserving” Black and Latine students were handed offers based predominantly on these SAT score comparisons. Analyzing applicant data from 2014-19 cycles, they pulled together a case that unsurprisingly won over the conservative-stacked Supreme Court.  

So what does all of this mean for the future without affirmative action? 

I honestly don’t know the full solution. I do know, however, that test-optional policies will be key in keeping the doors of access open to students from historically denied communities. The Ivies will always be academically selective, so I implore these elite institutions and their very own graduates to develop new processes that see every student for where they come from, what they’re passionate about, and who they aspire to be.

For the record, the absence of perfect standardized test scores, or of scores in general, doesn’t reflect in the quality or passion of the work I’ve seen my dear classmates accomplish at all. Likewise, regarding my classmates who I know received perfect or near-perfect scores, I refuse to completely reduce their admission and the talent I’ve witnessed to a good-looking two- or four-digit number. 

To students of color worried about the upcoming cycles: everything you think you know — and everything you know you need to find out — has changed once again and there is no rulebook for you like there wasn’t for me or Yang.

I hope the next cycle of applicants can find solace in the fact that Black, Latine, Asian, Indigenous and first-generation, low-income students currently studying at their dream universities are not accepting this decision quietly. We are organizing, in our own communities and in coalition with each other, to ensure that we are not the last beneficiaries of the foundation our predecessors laid for us while our proud existence at these institutions was still just a dream.

KaLa Keaton is a junior in Silliman College. She can be reached at kala.keaton@yale.edu.