Yale Law Students Said a Top Journal Was Racist. Admissions Data Suggest Otherwise.

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February 21, 2021

The Yale Law Journal on Friday released admissions data in the face of a week-long pressure campaign in which activists alleged that blacks are underrepresented on the masthead. The numbers demonstrate the opposite, showing that blacks and other minority groups are overrepresented on the prestigious journal relative both to the student body at large and the general population. 

The conflagration began on Tuesday after a Journal editor, Gavin Jackson, resigned, saying he felt "used and tokenized" in his position. Jackson's resignation elicited furious statements from a raft of affinity groups at the law school, which are demanding that the Journal "prioritize anti-racism" over meritocratic selection, the postings show. The controversy played out on a student message board, the postings from which were reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. 

The activists made no concrete demands about numeric representation but alleged "inequities" in Journal admissions. "Meeting with affinity groups to present platitudes about valuing diversity in the admissions process is insufficient," the Black Law Students Association said. "The Journal must commit to fundamental changes to its governance structure, admissions policy, submission plan, and slating that will ensure this perpetuation of racism does not ever happen again."

The numbers tell a different story, however. Not only are blacks and Hispanics elected for membership to the top law school's most prestigious journal at a higher rate than their white counterparts, but the admissions rate for blacks—61 percent—is higher than that of any other ethnic group.

The admissions statistics demonstrate how demands for diversity can persist even when minorities are well-represented in relation to the student body at large. They also show that the activists making those demands do so, at times, when the underlying data aren't on their side.

The Yale Law Journal released its 2020 admissions data on Friday.

The Journal is consistently ranked the top law review in the country. Its alumni include three current Supreme court justices and top members of the Biden administration, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Journal articles often wield outsize influence in legal debates. 

Becoming a Journal member involves a gauntlet of tests and essays on citation rules and legal scholarship as well as a "diversity statement," and fewer than 40 percent of applicants make the cut.

Journal editor-in-chief Rachel Sommers did not respond to a request for comment.

Among the organizations alleging the Journal's admissions practices are racist: the Black Law Students Association, the Middle Eastern and North African Law Students' Association, the Asian Pacific American Law Students' Association, the South Asian Law Students' Association, the first-generation students' affinity group, and the LGBT affinity group. 

To combat that racism, several group leaders said, the Journal should embrace political activism, using "its entrenched power to mitigate the impacts of white supremacy and classism." It should also "prioritize anti-racism" over its traditional "gatekeeping function."

"We lament that once again, the burden of advocating for equity at Journal falls onto the shoulders of students of color who are already overburdened members of affinity groups," the statement from first-generation students reads. The LGBT group berates the Journal for its "white ableist culture," and the Black Law Students Association accuses it of "tokenizing and failing to reward the incredible contributions of students of color."

But tokenization is what the missives effectively advocate. Blacks comprise 16 percent of Journal admits, and Latinos 14 percent—even though they make up just 7 percent and 11 percent percent of the student body, respectively. Increasing the share of these groups on the Journal would make it less representative of Yale Law School than it currently is.

The black, LGBT, and first-generation affinity groups did not respond to requests for comment.

Data suggest the law school already has an aggressive affirmative action program; activists are demanding that its beneficiaries receive another leg up at the school's top journal. Though Yale does not publish the racial breakdown of its Law School Admission Test scores, in 2004 only 29 blacks scored above 170 on the test nationwide, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Yale's median LSAT is 173.

It is difficult to find data on admissions rates by race. But in 1969, the admissions rate for black applicants at Yale Law School was 50 percent, compared to an overall acceptance rate of just 10 percent. That 10 percent figure has remained constant over the years. Given the persistent racial gap in LSAT scores, it's almost certain that the current admissions rate for blacks is much higher than for most other groups.

The emphasis on identity over scholarship is not unique to the Journal. It has affected every aspect of the law school, from its culture to its course offerings. "People are very willing to throw out words like 'bigoted' and 'racist' whenever it suits their narrative," one student told the Free Beacon. Following Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, "there was a crusade against civility as an oppressive mode of engagement." 

This crusade has had academic costs. "I have struggled to find serious legal topics taught in a seminar format," the law student said. Seminars that are taught include "Is That Racist?: Theory and Methods for Diagnosing and Demonstrating Racism"; "Intervening in the Criminalization of Youth and Queer and Trans Individuals: Seminar and Practicum"; and "Critical Race Theory," which the school promised to offer every year in the wake of George Floyd's death. 

But the roots of Yale Law School's identitarianism arguably date back much further. In 1969, Macklin Fleming, an alumnus of Yale Law School, predicted that his alma mater's affirmative action policies would spiral out of control. 

"Demands will be made for elimination of competition, reduction in standards of performance, adoption of courses of study which do not require intensive legal analysis, and recognition for academic credit of sociological activities which have only an indirect relationship to legal training," Fleming wrote in a letter to the dean. "These unhappy prospects flow from the abandonment of an objective system of admission based on intellectual aptitude."

Yale can't say it wasn't warned.

Update 02/21/21, 8:00 PM: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Latinos make up 30 percent of journal admits. They make up 14 percent.

Update 02/24/21, 12:00 PM: This story has been updated to clarify that the 61 percent figure refers to the Yale Law Journal's admissions rate for blacks, not the percentage of the Journal that is black.