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Wesleyan University in CT says it will end legacy admissions

Students arrive to attend the commencement ceremony on May 27, 2018 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Getty Images
Students arrive to attend the commencement ceremony on May 27, 2018 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Middletown, announced in a letter to faculty and students Wednesday it will end legacy admissions in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action.

Wesleyan’s president, Michael Roth, said legacy students make up about 5% of the total population, and that legacy status rarely comes into play, typically as a "tiebreaker" between two equally qualified and equally diverse candidates. Roth has considered removing legacy status from consideration entirely for years.

“At the time, I said, ‘Okay, it's not worth fighting about because it's not a big part of our process.’ But in the wake of this Supreme Court decision in regard to affirmative action, it seemed to be more pressing to say, ‘We’re not going to give more advantages to the still predominantly white alumni body,’” Roth said. “Our legacy preference made all the other things we do seem kind of hypocritical. And so we removed that distraction, so we can talk about these other efforts we're making.”

Roth specifically referenced the University’s programs for recruiting international, rural and veteran students. The University is working to ensure that next year’s admissions process will still be able to produce a culturally and racially diverse class of freshmen, he said.

Opponents of legacy admissions say the practice is no longer defensible without affirmative action providing a counterbalance. The court’s ruling says colleges must ignore the race of applicants, activists point out, but schools can still give a boost to the mostly white children of alumni and donors.

Connecticut’s legislature considered banning legacy admission preference in a 2022 bill that many universities, including Yale and the University of Connecticut, opposed. Yale’s legacy students make up about12% of its student body. Yale officials have not yet returned a request for comment.

The NAACP has supported the effort to overturn legacy admissions, asking more than 1,500 colleges and universities to even the playing field in admissions, including by ending legacy admissions.

Roth, who has been critical of the court's affirmative action decision, reiterated his position that Wesleyan's admission process takes into account the "lived experience" of applicants "as seen through the college essay, high school record, letters of recommendation, and interactions with our community."

"Our admission decision is based upon diverse facets of the individual’s history, talent, potential to contribute to the university and get the most out of a Wesleyan education," Roth said.

Kay Perkins is a student at Wesleyan University. The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story has been updated.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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