The Case for Affirmative Action

By Aanika Veedon ’22

A student on Yale University's campus (Photo Credit: NBC News)
A student on Yale University's campus (Photo Credit: NBC News)

The investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) into allegations of discrimination in Yale University’s admissions process concluded on August 13, resulting in the DOJ accusing Yale of violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A 2016 ruling by The Supreme Court said that a university “may institute a race-conscious admissions program as a means of obtaining the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity.” The DOJ accused Yale of using race and ethnicity as a defining factor in applications, directly violating the 2016 ruling.


Yale has denied the claims, vowing that they have a legal admissions process where race is a small factor in relation to how they weigh things such as test scores, extracurriculars, and how students contribute to their communities. The DOJ is threatening to sue Yale if they do not agree by August 27 to not consider race in the admissions process for one year.


As Yale is denying the allegations made by the DOJ completely, the lawsuit against the school will most likely be filed by the end of August. However, if President Donald Trump loses the November election, there is a strong chance that the lawsuit will not be pursued. Vinay Harpalani, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, spoke on the matter: “The Department of Justice would actually defend race-conscious policies [under Biden’s administration].”


The Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Eric Dreiband, said, "Yale grants racial and national origin preferences in favor of African American, Hispanic, and certain other applicants and disfavors most Asian American and white applicants." The DOJ’s report said Asian-American and white applicants had a one-tenth chance of admission to one-fourth chances of African-American students who had similar academic credentials. However, the report’s conclusions were made before Yale was able to provide all of the information requested by the DOJ. A spokeswoman from Yale said, "Had the Department fully received and fairly weighed this information, it would have concluded that Yale's practices absolutely comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent.” The university said it would not change its process "on the basis of such a meritless, hasty accusation."


The investigation of Yale is similar to the threat to affirmative action that occurred at Harvard University a few years ago, where the DOJ filed briefs supporting the accusation that Harvard was discriminating against Asian-Americans. Last year, a federal judge ruled in favor of Harvard, as they believed that the affirmative action program advanced a diverse student body.


The attack on affirmative action at Harvard was headed by a white man named Edward Blum. Blum has been working to dismantle affirmative action for the past decade and has garnered the support of some in the Asian-American community through finding students who were not accepted into colleges and universities across the United States and rallying them together. Blum appealed to conservative racial ideas and used Asian-Americans as a pawn in his political agenda.


Data from the 2012 National Asian American Survey demonstrated that 78% of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are in support of affirmative action.


Edward Blum, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is only invested in bolstering conservative power and backing policies that reinforce the status quo; he continues to manipulate the Asian-American community and works to further the divide between all People of Color.

Blum and the case against Harvard echo the push by the DOJ, one which fuels the Model Minority Myth. Asian-Americans have historically been some of the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action, which fueled the increase of Asian-American enrollment at competitive universities in the 1970s and 1980s. As the Asian-American population at some colleges and universities has climbed to 10-15% of the student body, Asian-Americans are no longer cast as a minority in college admissions. For example, at Yale, Asian-Americans comprise nearly one-fourth of the student body. With this statistic in mind, however, it is vital to remember that it paints the Asian-American experience as a monolith. While Asian-Americans are often the majority, other groups of Asian-Americans, such as Southeast Asians, bear heavy rates of unemployment and have staggering statistics of little formal education within their communities.


The investigation by the DOJ, headed by The Trump Administration, is divisive and pits minorities against each other. The investigation demonizes Black and Latino people, insinuating that they are taking away the spots of Asian-American and white students. The DOJ claims the Asian-American and white students are being robbed of their admission spots, yet the two racial groups are overrepresented in undergraduate admissions across America. Instead, the DOJ, Yale, and other prestigious universities should be focusing on the overwhelming role that wealthy families, donors, and legacy status play in the college admissions process.


The DOJ also asked Yale to completely eliminate using race as a factor in college admissions, but eradicating affirmative action as a whole presents extremely harmful realities. States such as California that tested eliminating affirmative action found sharp declines in the undergraduate enrollment of Black and Latino students. A University of Washington study from 2013 found that minority students had a much harder time getting into colleges and universities when programs of affirmative action were not in place.


The prioritization of diversity that affirmative action provides benefits to students across the board. A study by the Century Foundation found that when classrooms are racially integrated, students have decreased racial bias, gain intellectual self-confidence, and have enhanced leadership skills, which all later translate into more robust economic outcomes and increased social mobility. White women have greatly benefited from campus diversity as well: between the years of 1967 and 2009, their enrollment in colleges and universities doubled. Affirmative action helps the college admission system have more equity and benefits the students of color who often face systematic barriers in education. Race-conscious policies are the only way that our country can strive towards equity and advocate for a fair education system. The Trump Administration pushing the DOJ to not consider race at all in admissions will only hinder our country’s progress.