Op-ed: Legacy admissions and grilled cheese

The annual Tuftonia’s Day carnival took place less than four weeks after our Faculty Senate passed a resolution to end legacy consideration in admissions processes. Both ideas work well in theory: While the latter allows the university to take one step further into becoming an anti-racist institution where students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds may obtain greater representation, the former allows the current Tufts community, of which many members celebrated the elimination of legacy admissions and other pro-egalitarian measures, to enjoy the magic of dizziness-inducing rides as well as food trucks, ranging from apparently Asian dumplings to the classic American grilled cheese. 

As a graduating senior participating in my second Tufts carnival, I found my food truck experience just as irksome as it would be had I been waiting at the customer service counter of a holiday-season airport — waiting in line for 47 minutes until you realize the line isn’t moving because a newly formed block of line-cutters has somehow unseated your endeavor of getting fed within a reasonable timeframe. As early 2010s music blasted in the background, countless heads and arms appeared from nowhere in front of the window and, by the time I realized my position in the line was compromised, I had somehow been pushed even further back. 

As I will depart from the Hill next month, I daringly squawked at the block of line-cutters and impolitely informed them that they had ignored the line. Perhaps shocked by the unusual act of public shaming, many line-cutters stood still, while some others continued to squeeze forward. When I walked away from the truck knowing that my last chance of consuming grilled cheese on the Tufts campus had been crashed by certain ‘friendly invitations,’ someone holding a sandwich squawked back: “Come on man, it’s just grilled cheese!” 

I don’t plan to discuss how line-cutting contravenes the interpersonal social contract and, consequently, heightens further transaction costs between Jumbos. I shall, however, point out that benefiting from legacy admissions and being invited to cut the grilled cheese line share a few traits. Both are favored by the beneficiaries: Tufts alumni may advocate for the preservation of legacy considerations for their children, whereas current Jumbos who have cut in front of everyone else declined to leave until served.1 Meanwhile, the ones whose spot in line was cut did not possess the bargaining power to articulate their disadvantage. I am therefore perplexed that many members of the Tufts community spoke vocally against legacy admissions but were perfectly comfortable with paradropping ahead of the food truck crowd. 

I’d, in fact, imagine speaking against line-cutting to be more mainstream. After all, legacy admissions, as papal conclaves, unfold behind closed doors. It is less difficult to visualize the manifestation of inequality through the violation of agreed-upon standards (such as academic merits or arriving early for grilled cheese) on Fletcher field rather than in Bendetson Hall. Nevertheless, cutting the line while disregarding stares from the equally cheese-craving yet line-abiding Jumbos is undoubtedly more conspicuous. I therefore worry that the practices of the Tufts community, an ostensibly pro-justice collection of socially active individuals, fails to uphold the rhetoric of our Instagram stories.

Populist politicians have promised to drain the Washingtonian swamp for nearly half a century. Tufts, entering its 171st year of operation, has arguably made notable contributions to such swamps.2 Many Tufts graduates, as we have been for decades, will enter positions of social, political and/or economic power: lawyers, lobbyists, investors, the list continues. Many among this group will also encounter opportunities where their potential erosion of public trust would almost certainly go unchecked, if not completely uncheckable. 

The normalization of line-cutting at the grilled cheese truck contradicts our community’s commitment to become an egalitarian institution. It is hard to see how the line cutters at Tuftonia’s Day won’t take full advantage of their privileges (such as legacy connections for their children), notwithstanding their ostentatious liberalism. The erasure of legacy admissions echoes the incremental progressivism of the student body, but I wonder how much resistance such efforts will continue to face, given how some of our peers seem unreservedly comfortable when breaching the valuable trust that other Jumbos (let alone our global pool of applicants) have naively given — even for something as insignificant as, let’s say, ‘just grilled cheese!’


A Tufts Daily interview with Dean of Admissions JT Duck last year noted that “[It’s] when our Admissions Committee is making tough decisions about similarly competitive applicants from similar contextual backgrounds that we would give some consideration to a family connection to the university, with strongest attention paid to a parent connection.”

I should note that any institution that has not produced comparative quantities of swamps would not have been as prestigious as our beloved alma mater.


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