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Justice Department Finds Yale Admissions Illegally Discriminated Against Asian American and White Applicants

Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., October 7, 2009. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A two-year long Justice Department investigation has found that Yale University illegally discriminated against Asian American and white applicants in violation of federal civil rights law.

In a letter to the college’s attorneys Thursday, the department said that Yale “rejects scores of Asian American and white applicants each year based on their race, whom it otherwise would admit.”

“Yale’s race discrimination imposes undue and unlawful penalties on racially-disfavored applicants, including in particular Asian American and White applicants,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, the head of the department’s civil rights division, wrote.

The investigation found that Asian American and white students have “only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials,” the Justice Department said.

Yale uses race as a factor in multiple steps of its admissions process and also “racially balances its classes,” the department said. 

“Unlawfully dividing Americans into racial and ethnic blocs fosters stereotypes, bitterness, and division,” Dreiband said. “It is past time for American institutions to recognize that all people should be treated with decency and respect and without unlawful regard to the color of their skin.”

While the Supreme Court has previously ruled that colleges and universities may use race as a factor in admissions decisions to promote diversity, the Court says such policies should be narrowly tailored and undertaken for only a limited amount of time. Schools also must be able to explain why their race-related admissions policies are appropriate. 

The department ordered Yale to immediately halt its use of race or national origin in its admissions process. If the college wants to continue to use race-based admissions policies in future years, it must submit a plan to the Justice Department “demonstrating its proposal is narrowly tailored as required by law, including by identifying a date for the end of race discrimination.”

In 2018, in response to the announcement of the investigation, Yale’s president Peter Salovey denied that its admissions process was discriminatory, saying, “Yale College could fill its entire entering class several times over with applicants who reach the 99th percentile in standardized testing and who have perfect high school grade point averages, but we do not base admission on such numbers alone. Rather, we look at the whole person when selecting whom to admit among the many thousands of highly qualified applicants.”

He defended the school’s policy, saying it “complies fully with all legal requirements and has been endorsed repeatedly by the Supreme Court” and that over a period of 15 years, the number of Asian American students in Yale’s incoming classes grew from 14% to 22%, the Associated Press reported.

The Justice Department has also previously accused Harvard University of having discriminatory admissions practices, though a federal judge ruled in 2019 that the school had not discriminated against Asian American applicants. That ruling has since been appealed, with arguments scheduled for next month. 

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