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.”
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.