Legacy—the tradition created by the rich to protect those they deemed worthy and to preserve a hierarchy of elitist families that you and I could only yearn to be a part of. Just? Absolutely not. Accepted? You already know the answer to that question.
When you hear the term “legacy student,” what do you think of? Does it boil your blood? Are you completely indifferent? Or, are you a part of the 15% of students that are legacy? In that case, do you look nervously down at the ground and avoid eye contact or would you proudly tell me of your family’s extensive history at Yale University?
Regardless of your natural reaction to the term, the concept of legacy students and their prominence on campus remains the same. Yale defines a legacy student as a student currently attending the University whose parent(s) also studied at Yale. This is a standard definition established by most Ivy League schools. On its surface, the concept seems pretty palatable–at the end of the day, what’s wrong with a child wanting to follow in their parents’ footsteps in experiencing a world-class education?
However, behind this seemingly palatable definition and the ambitious and (normally) worthy array of students it brings to campus, I believe that as Yale students, we have a responsibility to understand the undercurrent of corruption and elitism that is inherently intertwined with this concept. We must accept that “legacy” goes far beyond the individuals that attend this school–far beyond you and me. It’s a pillar of our application system, a pillar of Yale culture, and a pillar that reinforces an elitist and unequal system within our society.
Despite common misconceptions, Yale actually set the precedent of hierarchy within higher education in America. Yale University was, in fact, the second college to institute a policy that favored students of alumni in 1925. The institution did this in an effort to reduce the number of Jewish students attending the university. Not a pretty history, but that was 100 years ago, right? Times have changed! Within the administration of Yale, I would argue that attitudes towards the structure of legacy have not. Despite the Yale College Council Senate passing a resolution to stop legacy preference in 2021, Dean Quinlan has not indicated that the process needs to change. As a result, 14% of the 2025 class consists of legacy students, and legacy students enjoy approximately a 30% acceptance rate–at least three times higher than any other defined student group at Yale. Therefore, in my opinion, the issue here is not the students or the people themselves that attend Yale, but instead it is the overwhelming privilege that Yale’s system proudly creates. Whatsmore, this privilege is no secret, with an anonymous legacy student sharing that, “I remember that when I applied to Yale, my father (a Yale alum) was sent a letter in the mail on Yale letterhead. It said that Yale recognized that his kid had applied to Yale, and provided a number for the average percentage of legacies that get accepted. I don’t remember the number exactly, but I believe it was 30%.”
So, we must ask ourselves: is this hierarchy okay? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding no. As a society, we have actively campaigned to ensure that the Ivy League becomes accessible to female, BIPOC, first-generation, and low-income students. So, why do we remain idle in the fight to knock down this fundamental pillar of hereditary privilege? Is it because, secretly, we all yearn to have a place within this elite group of families? Is it because we have run out of energy and simply do not care enough?
Answering these questions will not topple the system overnight, but we can address it with one easy micro-solution. We can celebrate the students among us who have defied the extended odds to be here–the students who had to push back against financial and societal oppression while maintaining the standard of excellence that comes with being a Yale student. As individuals, we can confront the privilege we have. In the face of a system designed to resemble an idyllic landscape, have the courage to turn its head and recognize that it is built upon a structure of elitism, capitalism, and oppression.