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Trump wrong about Yale’s black students

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Yale is under attack for allegedly doing too much to support students from underrepresented backgrounds. In reality, the university hasn't done enough.

For Yale students and faculty of colour, progress has often been slow and incremental. It took 86 years and dozens of protests for Yale to rename a campus residential building dedicated to John C. Calhoun, one of this country's most notorious advocates of slavery. It took 22 years and dozens of petitions for Yale to grant (limited) hiring power to its ethnic studies department. Yale, built for white men at its founding in 1701 and funded in part by slave labour, has only recently begun to seriously investigate its role in the slave trade.

Kahlil Greene is an undergraduate at Yale University. He was student body president from May 2019 to September 2020

The lack of diversity among faculty remains stark: black, Hispanic/Latino and Native American faculty together make up fewer than 8 per cent of the university's educators, while Asian-American faculty are 13.8 per cent and white faculty count for 64.2 per cent. Although the university has taken substantial steps towards 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 non-profit 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 per cent to 6 per cent of the student population and Hispanic representation to decline from 14 per cent to 9 per cent". 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 per cent of US 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 US students, only 8 per cent attended such schools. The share among other groups, however, is significantly higher: black (45 per cent), Hispanic (45 per cent), Native American (41 per cent), Pacific Islander (24 per cent). The breakdown for "low-poverty" schools is lopsided in the other direction: some 31 per cent of white and 39 per cent of Asian-American students attended low-poverty schools in 2017, compared with only 7 per cent% of black students and 8 per cent 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 criticised 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 may 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.

Kahlil Greene is an undergraduate at Yale University. He was student body president from May 2019 to September 2020

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Published October 21, 2020 at 1:00 pm (Updated October 20, 2020 at 8:05 pm)

Trump wrong about Yale’s black students

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