Can you imagine an Ivy League university today scheduling student group-alumni dinners at which they exclude black, women, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and gay groups from the dinner tables, and limit attendees to Jewish, Catholic and Christian groups? Unbelievable in today’s academia.
If somehow it occurred, demonstrations — in which I would have joined, if I were then a student — would have brought the school to a standstill, until the school canceled the dinners or tendered invitations to excluded groups.
While that scenario has not occurred, mirror-image discrimination is now underway. Yale Law School has now scheduled a new, supposedly politically correct, dining discrimination: Most student groups, including Jewish, Catholic and Protestant organizations, are excluded. Only black, women, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and gay groups are allowed to attend.
As a Yale Law School alumnus of the class of 1955, I received an invitation to our 60th weekend reunion in October. It announced that Thursday would be added for a reception and dinners, “to afford alumni the opportunity to meet student members of affinity groups in which alumni might be interested.” Recognizing an “affinity group” is defined as “a group formed around a shared interest or common goal,” I applauded the idea, and asked which groups were participating.
I was informed this was the second year of what Yale Law School called its “diversity affinity group” program. Last year involved only the six selected groups.
But there was a suggestion that mainstream diverse affinity groups might be included: I was told Yale Law School “hope[d] that some new ones will attend” this year. Grasping at that statement, I asked for the names of invited student groups so that I could choose a group with which I had an affinity. The response directed me to the list of all student groups, but quickly informed me that it was not “possible for all student groups to be invited to the dinner,” and therefore the invitees were limited to “diversity-focused groups.”
That was a new, undefined, term. I knew there were many diversity-focused groups, as most people understand “diversity.” Examples are the Yale Jewish Law Students Association (to which I have an affinity), Yale Christian Fellowship, and the Catholic Law Students Association — all being diversity student groups to which many alumni would have affinity.
I knew Yale Law School’s teaching objective is inducing diversity in thought, but that two diverse-thinking student groups on the meaning of the Constitution, the Yale Federalist Society and the Yale American Constitution Society, also had not been invited. I asked for an explanation.
Maybe you can understand the explanation; I couldn’t. I was informed that black, women, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and gay groups are “diversity affinity groups,” but Jewish, Catholic and Christian groups are not; they are “shared interest groups.”
One of the chosen student groups for which the dinner was to be held says it “supports the interests of students” in the group. Obviously, that purpose applies to Jewish, Catholic and Christian student groups, as well as those who affiliate with the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society — and, indeed, any student group.
Unbelieving — apparently naively — that Yale Law School would support such discrimination, I appealed to the dean. He responded that my position “raises a set of excellent questions,” but held fast to his subordinates’ endorsement of discrimination, explaining that it was too late to change what developed from “contingent, historical processes.”
Yes, those were his words. If you understand them, you are better than I. Further, he asserted that, if last year’s practice were altered, it would result in “administrative chaos,” and the “diversity affinity group” dinners “might become so balkanized as to defeat the purpose of promoting connections between alumni and students.”
The dean is a very intelligent person. But he was defending indefensible discrimination, and his meritless words demonstrate the reprehensible nature of what he is defending.
It is certainly less “balkanizing” for the school to allow all groups to participate rather than the favored few. His request to wait until next year to examine the issue and perhaps — no guaranty, only maybe — see if the discrimination could somehow be corrected, is no solution.
When discrimination takes the form of segregation, there is no reason for delay in eradicating it. Our courts did not hesitate in ending segregation in any aspect of the South, even though that involved many more people and complications, and had been imbedded for two centuries. No delay in ending discrimination is warranted for this one-year discrimination. There are still almost 120 days before the alumni weekend, more than sufficient time to allow other student groups to join and for an email blast to alumni of the available choices.
Historically, most prior Yale Law School deans worked against any discrimination, whether oppressing the downtrodden or privileging the favored few. They must be rolling over in their graves at this protected discrimination.
As an alumnus of a great school — a school that inculcated in me the need to speak out against wrong — I am ashamed.
• Gerald Walpin is a New York lawyer who graduated from Yale Law School cum laude and served as a U.S. inspector general from 2007 to 2009. He is the author of “The Supreme Court vs. The Constitution” (Significance Press 2013).