The lack of diversity among faculty remains stark: Black, Hispanic/Latino and Native American faculty together make up fewer than 8 percent of the university’s educators, while Asian American faculty are 13.8 percent and White faculty count for 64.2 percent. Although the university has taken substantial steps toward equity and equality, more diversity is needed on campus today and among future leaders.
Despite the long road ahead, the Trump administration filed suit against Yale this month, alleging discrimination against Asian American and White applicants. It first alleged such discrimination in August, when the Justice Department ordered Yale to stop considering race or national origin in undergraduate admissions for one year.
The administration hopes to set a legal precedent that would end the use of race-conscious admissions at Yale and peer institutions. When a conservative nonprofit sued Harvard in 2014 over allegations similar to the charges against Yale, a federal court in Massachusetts found that eliminating consideration of race in admissions without other policy changes “would cause the African American representation at Harvard to decline from approximately 14% to 6% of the student population and Hispanic representation to decline from 14% to 9%.” Simply removing race considerations is likely to have similar detrimental effects at other colleges.
The scope of the challenge in diversifying elite college admissions can be seen in national data on race and ethnicity and school poverty. In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, some 25 percent of U.S. students attended “high-poverty” public schools, or those where more than three-quarters of the student body were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Of all White U.S. students, just 8 percent attended such schools. The share among other groups, however, is significantly higher: Black (45 percent), Hispanic (45 percent), Native American (41 percent), Pacific Islander (24 percent). The breakdown for “low-poverty” schools is lopsided in the other direction: Some 31 percent of White and 39 percent of Asian American students attended low-poverty schools in 2017, compared with just 7 percent of Black students and 8 percent of Hispanic students.
As Beverly Daniel Tatum discusses in her book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race,” majorities of Black and Latino students attend segregated schools that are more likely to have less-experienced teachers, high levels of teacher turnover, inadequate facilities and fewer classroom resources. Such supports are critical to their future advancement.
“Yale College will not change its admissions processes,” Yale President Peter Salovey rightly pledged in August. The university “will not waver in its commitment to educating a student body whose diversity is a mark of its excellence.”
Yale students from an array of racial and ethnic backgrounds criticized the Trump administration’s allegations this summer, and we will continue to both push back against these claims and support Yale’s administration in defending its admissions policies in court.
The Justice Department’s lawsuit is, unfortunately, the latest action in the Trump administration’s campaign against race-conscious admissions. The Education Department opened an investigation into Princeton University last month after Princeton’s president spoke about the university’s efforts to grapple with the effects of systemic racism. It is possible that the cycle of lawsuits and appeals might ultimately bring a case about race and admissions to the Supreme Court. The likely expansion of the high court’s conservative majority could mean that the very existence of affirmative action and race-conscious university admissions is at risk.
Last month marked the end of my tenure as the first Black student-body president in Yale’s 319-year history. I don’t want the university to go years and years before its next Black president. Although Yale is being attacked for doing too much to support students from underrepresented backgrounds, the truth is that Yale still has far to go.
Where our university community has worked to take steps forward, the Trump administration wants to drag us back. This lawsuit seeks to impede efforts for equity in higher education and destroy the foundation on which so many seek to build. My fellow students and I refuse to let that happen.