I'm a Black Yale Alum. I Support Legacy Admissions | Opinion

A new bill was recently proposed which would ban legacy admissions in universities around the nation. The bill seeks to ban the common practice of giving extra consideration, whether formally or informally, to a college applicant because their parent or family member is an alumnus to the institution. Some colleges, including Amherst, have already banned legacy admissions.

While I agree with the assertions that legacy admissions were created to keep elite institutions white-dominated—institutions like Yale, my alma mater—I still support continuing the practice, for the simple reason that the forces that are keeping elite institutions white extend far beyond legacy admissions. Banning legacy admissions is not going to stop Ivy League institutions from being white-dominated—but it would stop Black alumni from being able to give their descendants the leg-up long enjoyed by white applicants.

Yale was founded in 1701, yet it was over 100 years before the first Black person was allowed to enroll in Yale College due to racist segregation policies. And it was not until 1964 that a substantial number of Black students were admitted—14, to be exact. They went on to start the Yale Afro-American Cultural Center, the first Black cultural center in the Ivy League, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary this past weekend.

Think about that: The founders of this center, which played a large role in building community for Black Yale students during racist turmoil in 1960's America, are only in their 70s. It was not so long ago.

Since then, the Black community at Yale and its alumni pool has grown. Now, children, and grandchildren of Black alumni can gain a bit of the privilege that their wealthy white legacy counterparts have enjoyed for 300 years.

While white legacy applicants may often enjoy generational wealth, the same is not true for legacy applicants of color. Due to the intentional economic oppression of Black Americans, Black families make far less than their white counterparts. Black families who have managed to gain affluence are often barely one generation removed from poverty, especially when it comes to American descendants of slaves, whose families have reaped the sorrows of American racism and genocide for generations and whose labor was exploited to build this country (along with indigenous populations).

Let them get a little piece of the pie: Give these legacy applicants, descendants of those who managed to graduate from an elite institution despite oppressive odds, some additional consideration in the admissions process.

Yale Unniversity campus
Yale University. Lawrence hall in old campus courtyard. New Haven, Connecticut. Kathryn Donohew Photography/Getty Images

To be sure, you can say that it's unfair to non-legacy college applicants, especially non-legacy college applicants of color, and that they will be left behind. But this would be a crabs-in-a-barrel mentality. Limitations should be placed on the percentage of legacy admissions. If wealthy, white legacy applicants want to give up their legacy privilege in the name of reparations and redistribution of power, let them do it.

But legacy admissions of color do not enjoy that same power. And with the rising number of college applicants to elite schools, admissions are increasingly competitive. Legacy status does not guarantee admission. And anyway, even if legacy admissions are eliminated, do you really believe that tremendously wealthy white families who donate to elite institutions won't have a "leg up" in admissions, in more ways than one?

The way to solve the exclusionary practices present in many elite institutions is not to eliminate legacy admissions, especially now that there are more people of color than ever before who are legacies. It is to add policies that redistribute the wealth and privileges that advantage wealthy white applicants over others.

Why not increase the percentage of people of color and first-generation college applicants in universities i.e. overrepresent the underrepresented?

Why not fund test prep programs and tutoring services for applicants whose families cannot afford them?

Why not invest in school support services for children long before college is on their minds?

Generational wealth privilege starts at birth, not at the college admission process. Generational wealth pays for math tutoring programs, top elementary and secondary schools, and college prep courses, all leading up to college admissions.

So, let's not rush to ban legacy admissions. Black alums, and other alums of color, deserve to enjoy that privilege for a few centuries, too.

Dr. Amanda J. Calhounis an Adult/Child Psychiatry Resident at Yale Child Study Center/Yale School of Medicine. She is also a Public Voices Fellow of the OpEd Project at Yale University.

The views in this article are the writer's own.