Yale Unveils New, Racially Charged Essay Question On Its Application. Is it a Litmus Test?

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By Jillian Kay Melchior | 12:00 pm, September 17, 2016

After a year of being roiled by controversies over identity politics and diversity, Yale has rolled out new essay questions for applicants to the exclusive college, questions that appear to prompt students to address their own ethnic, racial or religious background.

The new questions replace a single question that’s been at the center of Yale’s application for decades. Previously, applicants were simply asked to write something about themselves the application didn’t otherwise reveal. Now, however, students will be asked to answer two of three questions, and it’s the first question that’s raising eyebrows. It asks students to describe “a community to which you belong” and “the footprint that you have left.”

By deadline, Yale did not respond to emailed questions from Heat Street asking, among other things, how the university defines “community.” But it’s clear from how the new questions were announced that Yale wants applicants to discuss how they will contribute to a “diverse” student body.

Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions, Jeremiah Quinlan, said in announcing the change that “we want to send a message to our applicants that Yale expects its students to be engaged citizens in our diverse community and to pursue their academic ambitions with genuine enthusiasm and a love of learning.”

He also noted that the applications resonate with the priorities of Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, specifically noting diversity.

To get a sense of Holloway’s priorities, look no further than his Aug. 27 address to the freshman class, which he opened by asking them to “take a quiet moment to acknowledge your privileges” and to “realize… how others, beyond your family, had a role in your success.”

Applicants are not required to choose the “community” question, and can instead answer the other two, less loaded questions. One of the queries from Heat Street Yale did not answer was whether admissions officers would look askance at applicants who chose not to write about their “community” and “footprint”.

At worst, this “community” question could be viewed as a litmus test that weeds out prospective students whose ideas don’t mesh with Yale’s social-justice priorities.

Indeed, Yale is coming off a raucous year in which controversies over race and ethnicity drew unwanted worldwide attention. In the most prominent controversy, student social justice warriors bullied a college “master” and his wife in an argument over “culturally appropriative” Halloween costumes. The master and his wife ended up resigning. Another controversy — yet to be resolved — has swirled around whether to rename Yale’s Calhoun College, which is named after Vice President John C. Calhoun, an avowed white supremacist and slaveowner.

Applicants to Yale are seeking admission to a campus rife with racial controversy, which makes the new essay question particularly loaded. And so to students who dare not to answer this “community” question: May the odds be ever in your favor.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.

 

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