Yale Discriminates (But?)

When my son was fencing in high school, most of the people he trained with were Asian. While the kids practiced, the parents talked. One of the benefits of being a smart student and top fencer was being recruited to good schools, and yet the mother of one fencer whose son was brilliant, hard-working, a great fencer and, on top of everything else, one of the nicest kids I ever met,* remonstrated.

Her: What are the chances he’ll get in, an Asian science nerd?

Me: About the same as science nerd Jewish kid from Long Island.

She wanted her son to go to Yale. I wanted mine to go to MIT. Mine got in. Hers did not (though he did very well, nonetheless). Yale discriminates. We knew it then, and the Department of Justice says so now.

“There is no such thing as a nice form of race discrimination,” Eric S. Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said in a statement announcing the Justice Department’s move against Yale. “Unlawfully dividing Americans into racial and ethnic blocs fosters stereotypes, bitterness and division.”

The reinvented definition of discrimination notwithstanding, Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race. Yale discriminates on the basis of race.

First, it appears Yale’s diversity goals are not sufficiently measurable. Our investigation indicates that Yale’s diversity goals appear to be vague, elusory, and amorphous. Yale’s use of race appears to be standardless, and Yale does virtually nothing to cabin, limit, or define its use of race during the Yale College admissions process.

Second, Yale’s race discrimination in undergraduate admissions is also not narrowly tailored. Our investigation revealed that Yale’s discrimination affects hundreds of admissions decisions each year.

Yale uses race as a plus factor at every stage of its admissions process, creating a multiplier effect that makes race the “predominant factor” in its admissions decisions. While the law permits race to be considered as a subfactor to help achieve diversity, as the law (as do I) finds diversity a worthwhile educational goal, it does not permit overt racial discrimination.

Yale, like many people these days, doesn’t see it that way.

Yale pledged to fight the order, saying Thursday that it would hold fast to its admissions process. In a statement, the university said that it looks at the “whole person” when deciding whether to admit a student — not just academic achievement, but interests, leadership and “the likelihood that they will contribute to the Yale community and the world.”

“The department’s allegation is baseless,” said Peter Salovey, Yale’s president. “At this unique moment in our history, when so much attention properly is being paid to issues of race, Yale will not waver in its commitment to educating a student body whose diversity is a mark of its excellence.”

Is this a “unique moment in our history” where we return, with absolute confidence in our righteousness of being a race-based society? Have we gone from drinking fountains for “white only” to fountains for “blacks only”? Have we leaped over the dream of a nation dedicated to eliminating racial discrimination to celebrating it, just the other way around?

Empty rhetoric is the stock in trade of racists, then and now. What could be wrong about looking at the “whole person”? So are white and Asian students not whole people too? Yet, the chance that the same child would get into Yale is dependent on race.

[T]he likelihood of admission for Asian American and White applicants who have similar academic credentials is significantly lower than for African American and Hispanic applicants to Yale College. For the great majority of applicants, Asian American and White applicants have only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials.

If the races were reversed, there would be uproar and outrage, and justifiably so. It would be exactly what it is, race discrimination, and it would be unlawful. Does this “unique moment in our history” change that? Have we arrived at the point where eliminating discrimination is racist and it’s not merely acceptable, but laudable, to discriminate again, just in favor of black students?

Angel B. Perez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling said via email: “I’m deeply disappointed in the DOJ ruling. Yale, like so many NACAC member institutions practice holistic admission and engage a highly complex, thoughtful, and intentional admission process. Holistic admission is about understanding the whole student, and race is a part of every student’s story and context. Removing the consideration of race in admission during a time in our history of racial reckoning and widening gaps in the pipeline to higher education is a move in the wrong direction.”

If it’s called “holistic” during a time of “racial reckoning,” is overt racial discrimination acceptable again? The answer, as far as higher ed is concerned, is “absolutely,” as long as we are engaged in discrimination for the oppressed races. The issue isn’t so much “removing” consideration of race, as the law makes clear, but not using race as the foremost factor.

Granted, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Fisher and Bakke offer guidance vague enough to open the door to “diversity goals [that] appear to be vague, elusory, and amorphous.” No clear lines are drawn, and the language falls short of the ability to distinguish what constitutes just the right amount of racial consideration and what’s too much, too discriminatory.

But that isn’t really the issue here, except for the sake of making fuzzy public statements. Yale wants to be anti-racist. Yale wants to lead the way in discriminating in favor of black and Hispanic students. It’s not that it wants to deny admission to white and Asian students based on their race, but that’s an unfortunate consequence of what they see as their positive anti-racist goal. Hey, there’s only so many seats, and once they have butts in them, game’s over.

I remember well my conversation with the Asian fencer’s mom. Her son worked exceptionally hard to be worthy of admission to Yale. She worked hard to make sure he did. But no matter how hard they worked, the one thing they couldn’t change was the color of his skin. She didn’t tell me that Yale was wrong to admit black and HIspanic students. Her concern was for her child, and she knew damn well that his perfect SAT scores, top grades, national renown as a fencer, feeding the hungry and curing cancer, still wouldn’t assure him a seat at Yale.

The elimination of racial discrimination is a battle many of us have fought for our entire careers, our lives. We didn’t do this to see the old discrimination replaced with the new discrimination. And if the sacrifice to be an acceptable anti-racist is our child’s future, it’s a price no good parent will pay. Yale discriminates. It’s against the law and must stop.

*This pretty much describes the majority of epee fencers, to be fair. They were a remarkable group of young people. Sabre fencers were a little different. I’ve taken some poetic license with the conversation.

16 thoughts on “Yale Discriminates (But?)

  1. PseudonymousKid


    Have you finally changed your mind on diversity for diversity’s sake, or do you still enjoy the warm and fuzzies you get from mouthing support for a vague and indeterminate goal? From today’s and yesterday’s posts it seems like you’re there, but I wouldn’t ever assume to know what goes on in that magnificent mind of yours. I don’t feel particularly good quoting Roberts, but the discrimination has to end. Doesn’t it?

    There’s no baby. It’s all bathwater.


    1. SHG Post author

      I still support diversity for the same reasons as before. And it still suffers from the same problem of how to draw a line, which is an answer no one, myself included, has been able to express. But when Yale goes far over the line, it’s still unlawful even if the location of the marginal line remains a mystery.

      1. Howl

        You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
        Come for the thoughtful, insightful commentary. Stay for the world-class entertainment.

  2. Jay

    So doing it your way, as they have in places like California, the percentage of students who are black at Yale drops to let’s say 4%. Knowing you, you’d say great, it’s meritocracy. But wait! Study upon study shows you can’t remove race from admissions. So what, you say, at least it isn’t overt racism. And maybe, despite the strong appearance to the contrary, you’re not a racist, and you do want equal opportunity, so you push for better schools and neighborhoods for kids of color in this country. But for some reason, that keeps not happening. And the number of black professionals keeps declining.

    What did you accomplish? Is this the post race works you want Greenfield?

    1. SHG Post author

      Have you given up your PD job yet so a black lawyer can have it, or do you just forward your paychecks to random poor black people?


      I assume then you are all for school choice wherein parents can get vouchers to send their children to a better school than the neighborhood where they live?

      Also, why is Harvard’s black enrollment always exactly 14%? It never varies. Year over year you’d think there would be some change, a couple of percentage points either way.

    3. Scarlet Pimpernel

      So for Black students it is either Yale or bust? That is rather depressing way to look at it.

      To your point about California, you really should dive deeper into the numbers, because, except for Whites, for CSUs the numbers do tend to track fairly closely to the states racial breakdown, which would tend to undermine the rest of your comment.

      Blacks make up 6.5% of the states population but only 4% of CSU students
      Whites make up 36.5% of the states population but only 23% of CSU students
      Asians make up 15.5% of the states population and 16% of CSU students
      While Hispanics (Latinos) make up 39.4% of the states population but 41.5% of CSU students

      For completion, the rest of the CSU breakdown
      Other/Unknown – 4.6%
      Two or more races – 4.4%
      Nonresident Alien – 6.4%

      1. j a higginbotham

        Yale, MIT, CSU system? How about Yale, MIT, UC system? Berkeley for example has an entering enrollment of ~ 3% Black, ~ 23% White, ~ 42% Asian, ~ 15% Hispanic. [Getting off topic, but facts are facts.]

  3. Miles

    It has to suck to be a hard-working accomplished Asian kid, knowing you’re going to be discriminated against and yet being forced to pretend you’re woke and in favor of it lest you be called racist and anti-black. All that work and you’re fucked on both sides.

    1. SHG Post author

      The perception isn’t that they’re competing against black and Hispanic students, but against their fellow Asians for whatever slice they can get. For those putting in the effort, the competition is beyond brutal. I was beyond awed by the effort.

Comments are closed.