The former editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, who is gay and Hispanic from an underprivileged single-parent family, apologized for the law review's "troubling history of marginalization" after leftist students alleged that the outlet's admission practices were racist and classist.
The apology from the Journal's ex-editorial head Alexander Nabavi-Noori followed claims that the student-run law review's practices are discriminatory towards race and economic class. Student groups on campus then demanded that the Journal release its recent admission data, alleging unnumbered "inequities."
Despite the accusations, the numbers demonstrate the opposite, revealing that blacks and other minorities are overrepresented on the Journal relative both to the student body at-large and the general population. As the Washington Free Beacon reported on Sunday, the prestigious Journal's board touts their 61% admissions rate for black applicants in 2020, far higher than any other demographic group.
Nabavi-Noori, who graduates in May, is gay and Hispanic and comes from a disadvantaged, single-parent household. He also champions affirmative action. Still, he denounced the alleged "unwelcoming" culture at the Journal.
"Although we tried to implement a process that departed substantially from the one that left many feeling hurt, disrespected, and stigmatized last year, our process did not go far enough," Nabavi-Noori said via statement posted to an online forum for Yale Law School students. "As a Board, we have reflected on the Journal’s troubling history of marginalization, and we understand that affinity group members have encountered an unwelcoming culture on the Journal."
A week-long pressure campaign prompted the Journal’s current editor-in-chief Rachel Sommers to release admission data from the previous year. While the statistics show that black students were admitted at higher rates than their white counterparts, left-wing activists nonetheless complained of "injustice" perpetuated by Nabavi-Noori, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Some critics singled Nabavi-Noori out by name, all issuing similar denunciations. "Tokenism is not a substitute for diversity," a joint missive from the Yale Law Women and the Women of Color Collective posted Monday evening to the online forum reads. "Previous leadership, especially former Editor-in-Chief Xander Nabavi-Noori…must take accountability for their perpetuation of this problem."
To combat racism, several group leaders exhorted the Journal to embrace political activism, using "its entrenched power to mitigate the impacts of white supremacy and classism." First-generation students "lament[ed] that once again, the burden of advocating for equity at Journal falls onto the shoulders of students of color" who are "overburdened members of affinity groups" while LGBT student activists berated the Journal for the law review's "white ableist culture."
Admission to the Journal is competitive. Students must complete an array of tests and essays as well as the "diversity statement." Fewer than 40% of applicants make the cut. Notable alumni of the Journal include three Supreme Court justices and high-level members of the Biden administration.
Nabavi-Noori had struggled to apply to college. He provided details of his first-generation background in an op-ed for the Desert Sun in 2019: "There was next to no guidance available for me in preparing my applications."
He had also attacked Students for Fair Admissions, the nonprofit membership group that sued Harvard University and believes that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are "unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional."
"If we're serious about education access," Nabavi-Noori wrote in the 2019 piece, "we must make our voices heard and reaffirm our commitment to programs that make these elite institutions accessible to more and more diverse groups."
Prior to the fallout, Nabavi-Noori had worked to make Yale more accessible. He tutored LSAT test-takers, the Yale Daily News reported. Nabavi-Noori serves as the clerkships chair of the Latinx Law Students Association for this academic year.
His progressive intentions extend to the Journal, where he oversaw the publication of last year's symposium dedicated in memory of Judge Juan Torruella who served on the District Court of Puerto Rico before he was confirmed to the First Circuit. "Proud to have worked on this collection on the Insular Cases, Puerto Rico, and the history of American empire," Nabavi-Noori tweeted Nov. 2.
That didn't stop several student organizations—including some to which Nabavi-Noori belongs, according to his LinkedIn page—from lambasting his editorial leadership. Both first-generation and LGBT student groups on campus decried the "racist" workplace environment of the Journal that their fellow member, Nabavi-Noori, once presided over. "Just as we recognize that some members of the LGBTQ+ community have been harmed by this culture," the LGBT organization said, "we recognize that others have played a role in perpetuating it."
The Latinx Law Students Association "affirmed" these sentiments in Thursday night's post, stating that "some of our members benefit from whiteness and/or class privilege." The shaming worked when Nabavi-Noori conceded Wednesday.
"Meeting with affinity groups to present platitudes about valuing diversity in the admission process is insufficient," the Black Law Students Association declared. "The Journal must commit to fundamental changes to its governance structure, admission policy, submission plan, and slating that will ensure this perpetuation of racism does not ever happen again." The group also accused the Journal of "tokenizing and failing to reward the incredible contributions of students of color."
The policies that the activists of the smear campaign are attacking, which included "targeted outreach" to minorities for specific positions on the masthead, were adopted in order to make students of color feel welcome at the Journal.
That pandering approach left some "feeling tokenized and that their preferences…were underappreciated," Nabavi-Noori's apology reads.
The practice "did not conduct any covert outreach to editors" and replaced rank-order preferences with an "open-ended" application process, "believing this format would allow editors to provide additional nuance regarding their hopes and expectations for future involvement."
Women of Color Collective members on Saturday contradicted leftist complaints, then arguing that the new process had also been tokenizing. The distribution of racial minorities "did not reflect" the "organic slating preferences," the collective told the student message board, but instead appeared to be "orchestrated" by the Journal to "satisfy the appearance of having 'diverse' committees."
The group noted that under Nabavi-Noori's leadership, "each committee had exactly one BLSA [Black Law Students Association] member, with the exception of Notes (because the one BLSA member offered that position declined). Latinx members were similarly distributed."
The incident exhibits how demands for diversity can collide with anti-tokenism calls. Nabavi-Noori had gone out of his way to ensure that the Journal is more inclusive. He was then attacked by the demographics that he was trying to include. Many of those groups have urged the Journal to "prioritize anti-racism" over meritocracy, the "traditional gatekeeping function."
However, doing so would tend to exacerbate the sense that ethnic minorities obtained their positions on the Journal because of their race.
Members of the Women of Color Collective came close to this argument, realizing that the artificial and coercive construction of an inclusive and diverse masthead "is an insult to the integrity of the Journal at large," the group wrote. "True, lasting diversity cannot arise from unethical, forceful, and demeaning practices."
UPDATE: The outgoing board had "reflected on the Journal's troubling history of marginalization." The quote was sourced from the aforementioned Washington Free Beacon article, which has also since been corrected to amend the typographical error brought forward by the Yale Law Journal.