Editor’s note: Led by two co-presidents, the Editorial Board is an independent body of the Yale Daily News, separate from the newsroom. The Editorial Board is composed of 10 undergraduate students who represent a variety of backgrounds, interests and perspectives. No members may be editors or writers for the News. We publish editorials with the approval of at least two-thirds of our members and groups of three or more members can author dissenting pieces as relevant. This piece in particular was penned and signed by members of the Editorial Board of the 2022-23 academic year; a new Board will assemble in the fall.
With the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, a Yale education — an opportunity already siloed to a select few — will become even further out of reach for non-white applicants. The opportunity for building fellowship through shared identities will be diminished. The diversity of our residential colleges and classes, which even today is lacking, will decrease further. We will lose opportunities to live and learn with Yalies of different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The Editorial Board of the Yale Daily News believes that race, particularly in the context of American society, is an inextricable aspect of one’s identity that should be considered in the college application process alongside academic and personal achievements. The educational benefits of diversity in classrooms and throughout college communities are well-documented, and without the consideration of race, Yale has a lot to lose in our classes, residential colleges, suites and extracurricular communities. But Yale, with its vast resources, has the opportunity, incentive and social duty to invest its money and energy into protecting diversity on campus.
Yale is entering a radically new landscape, one in which diversity — a central component of our liberal arts education — lies on its most precarious grounds. To address this, Yale must develop programs and methods of outreach that attract students from racially and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds for whom Yale has long seemed like an impossibility. Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan, in their joint statement after the Court’s decision, outlined important steps in protecting diversity, from outreach to pipeline programs. Given the nature of these statements, few detailed plans were offered. As the University begins to develop its approach to creating diversity in the wake of SFFA v. Harvard, the Editorial Board expects that the administration pursues a policy of transparency and dialogue in these new initiatives with respect to the Yale community, drawing on the full breadth of its knowledge and experiences to design effective and well thought out solutions.
We also encourage Yale to look to universities that have already begun to develop new modes of creating racial diversity. The University of California system, which faced a rapid loss in diversity following the ban of affirmative action in California public universities, implemented a number of changes to its admissions practices, such as permanently eliminating its SAT or ACT testing requirement (and subsequently becoming test-blind), and more explicitly considering socioeconomic disadvantage. Other highly selective universities have programs intended to pipeline students of color to elite colleges — such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which hosts the MIT Introduction to Technology, Engineering, and Science program in order to offer free and high-quality STEM programs to students from underprivileged backgrounds.
Outside the College, Yale has taken similar efforts to consider diversity and equity in its admissions processes. For instance, Yale Law School allows its applicants to submit a diversity statement along with their other written statements. This allows admissions officers to gauge whether they are sufficiently considering the diversity of the incoming class in their admissions decisions. Yale College could take similar steps to preserve the diversity of its student body.
Though these programs and policies cannot and will not replace the effectiveness of race-based affirmative action, they are a vital step in ensuring diversity on campus. As selective colleges and universities across the United States consider similar programs and practices, we expect that Yale will remain at the forefront of bolstering racial diversity in this new “race-blind” admissions environment.
But the Editorial Board does not believe that these efforts will be enough. We are entering a new era in college admissions, one in which the histories of privilege and exclusion at elite colleges will only ring more discordant and out of step with universities’ declared ethos of access and equality. With this, the Editorial Board believes that Yale College and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions must take a new, proactive and vital step: ending legacy admissions.
Yale’s use of legacy admissions began in 1925 with the goal of excluding Jewish applicants. This means our university is nearing a century of service as a stalwart defender of racial and socioeconomic privilege. In a 2021 interview with the News, Quinlan argued that legacy students contribute to student body diversity. He later ardently defended universities’ right to make their own decisions about legacy preference in opposition to a Connecticut bill that would have banned the practice. However, there is little evidence that the children of Yale alumni remain anything other than disproportionately white and socioeconomically privileged. Data made public from Harvard’s legal battle with SFFA revealed that its own legacy students were substantially whiter, and wealthier, than the rest of its student body, and — despite a lack of data from our University — there is no reason to believe Yale’s own demographics stray significantly from Harvard’s.
With the end of race-based affirmative action, the persistent use of legacy admissions grows more insidious and insulting. This moment in history offers the College a unique opportunity to reflect on, and reconsider, a policy designed to safeguard privilege and wealth in American society. Yale must be a leader among elite and selective colleges, ensuring now more than ever that opportunities granted by a Yale education are not stripped from the disadvantaged by virtue of them instead being generously afforded to those that already have Yale’s blue blood in their veins and the associated generational privileges their Yale connections provide them.
Common arguments for legacy admissions, such that the practice helps preserve Yale traditions, feel particularly frivolous and tone-deaf in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Even the most generous argument among those that support or rationalize legacy admissions — that the preferences promote donations from alumni that allow elite institutions like Yale to offer “all need met” financial aid programs — falls flat. This argument, meant to justify why students with family connections to particular elite colleges enjoy a likelihood of admission two to four times higher than that of their non-legacy peers, crumbles in the face of basic data analyses.
There is no statistically significant evidence upholding the claim that offering legacy preference in undergraduate admissions leads to greater rates of alumni donation. Additionally, the cited publication points to several universities that have done away with legacy admissions while rates of donations remained largely unchanged. Legacy admissions do not exist at many of Yale’s peer schools, including MIT, Johns Hopkins University, and Amherst College, and in no instance did the elimination of legacy preferences result in a roll-back of financial aid. The trend of eliminating legacy admissions is growing among other universities, including most recently our Connecticut neighbor Wesleyan. Yale is better financially endowed than even these wealthy, highly selective schools. So then, for what reason has Yale stalled on the push to end an unjust admissions policy? Why, when our peers have rid an antiquated system of institutionalized privilege, is Yale remaining one of its most clarion defenders?
With its purpose still vague and its effects more explicitly discriminatory with the end of race-based affirmative action, we call upon Yale to end legacy admissions immediately. Yale, as a leading institution of higher learning in the United States, has a duty to protect access, opportunity and educational equity by committing itself to dismantling an outdated, increasingly challenged mechanism of bolstering generational wealth. It is merely salt in the wounds of those mourning the loss of racial diversity on our campus.
On July 3, Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a complaint against Harvard alleging that the system of legacy admissions preferences violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Challenges to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) regimes at employers around the country alleging violation of Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination, are widely expected. If Yale does not follow the quickly-turning tide against legacy admissions, the consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling will be felt in even greater magnitudes in upcoming years, drawing a larger divide between minority, first-generation applicants and their wealthier, white counterparts who may still count on “affirmative action for the rich.”
It is clear to the Editorial Board that the practice of legacy admissions is wildly unpopular. The Yale College Council, the elected voice of the student body, passed a resolution, and subsequently published an open letter, condemning preferences for the children of Yale alumni in 2021. Polling from the Pew Research Center reveals that 75 percent of Americans do not believe legacy preference should play any role in admissions. We wonder whether the forces that move Yale to act are not student or public opinion, or even its own commitments to justice and educational opportunity; as legacy admissions persists, it becomes increasingly clear that Yale will continue to defend wealth and generational privilege in the face of anything less than explicit legal or legislative challenge. Must it take a lawsuit or legislation for Yale to take action on arguably its most egregious defense of wealth, privilege, and inequality?
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the 1978 case that upheld race-based affirmative action, lasted through our parents’ generation and our own. There is no telling how long this new SFFA v. Harvard era will reign. But as a leader among colleges and universities, Yale’s actions, and its lack thereof, will play a role in defining this fragile new world.
In University President Peter Salovey’s message following the elimination of affirmative action, he pledged to foster diversity in its “many dimensions.” With this spirit, the Editorial Board urges Yale College and the undergraduate admissions office not only to invest bountifully in new programs to attract underrepresented students to our campus but also to build a more equitable college admissions landscape by eliminating legacy admissions once and for all.