Hawaiian shirts are now “problematic” symbols of colonialism

April 13, 2021 • 9:15 am

Oy! I wake up this morning to find, thanks to the Guardian, that my beloved Hawaiian shirts—technically, “aloha shirts“—have gotten the stink-eye from the Perpetually Offended. According to the paper—or rather, according to a Princeton academic, clearly empowered to be an arbiter of culture, these colorful shirts, worn by locals (Asians, Native Hawaiians) and immigrant mainlanders alike, are now “problematic.” The article below, which shows eminent people like Bill Murray and Rihanna wearing Hawaiian prints, tells us that we are being colonialists by wearing them.

An excerpt from the article:

The return of the Hawaiian shirt has been celebrated in the style press, as celebrities including Bill Murray, Rihanna and Sophie Turner have been seen to wear them.

But according to Zara Anishanslin, a fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton [she’s also an associat4e professor of history and art history at the University of Delaware], people should think twice before wearing the garments.

“They are the fashion equivalent of a plantation wedding,” said Anishanslin. “They could be seen as fashionable embodiments of the history of American colonization, imperialism and racism against Hawaii’s indigenous inhabitants. People might want to think twice about whether the look is worth the weight of its associative past.”

Yes, they could been seen that way—if you’re looking hard for reasons to police culture. But the Hawaiians themselves don’t seen them that way. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they were supposedly invented by a Chinese inhabitant of Hawaii, though the origin of this garment is still somewhat of a mystery:

According to some sources, the origin of Aloha shirts can be traced to the 1920s or the early 1930s, when the Honolulu-based dry goods store “Musa-Shiya the Shirtmaker” under the proprietorship of Kōichirō Miyamoto, started making shirts out of colorful Japanese prints. It has also been contended that the Aloha shirt was devised in the early 1930s by Chinese merchant Ellery Chun of “King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods”, a store in Waikiki. Although this claim has been described as a myth reinforced by repeated telling, Chun may have been the first to mass-produce or to maintain the ready-to-wear in stock to be sold off the shelf.

So in what sense are they the result of “American colonization and imperialism”?  Answer: they’re not. And if native Hawaiians and, in fact, nearly everyone wears them, what harm is being done? Even if there were an “associative past”, which is highly doubtful, the aloha shirt is an object of pleasure, brightening up the islands and bringing more color to an already colorful place. It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re wearing an aloha shirt. An island custom is “Aloha Friday,” when many workers, including lawyers and businessmen, wear these shirts instead of more formal attire.

But it gets worse, for the white-supremacist “Boogaloo Boys“, who advocate revolution, have adopted the aloha shirt as an unofficial uniform. The article goes on:

Hawaiian shirts have also been co-opted by the “Boogaloo” movement: white supremacists who advocate war against the federal government.

Not true! While some in the Boogaloo movement are white supremacists, others are allies of people of color, including the Black Lives Matter movement. The unifying aim of the Boogaloos is civil war against the government, not white supremacy. But never mind, for Dr. Anishanslin has a narrative to spin. There’s more.

About five years ago, Hawaiian shirts became part of the “dadcore” trend. Then the “Boogaloo” movement chose to combine them with camouflage trousers, body armour and weapons.

“It might not be an aesthetically pleasing combination but it’s a smart one, in terms of picking out your fellow members of the group in the crowd,” Anishanslin said.

Frankly I don’t give a rat’s patootie about what Anishanslin or any other Pecksniff thinks. I don’t wear my aloha shirts with camo pants, body armor, or weapons, so I’m not worried about accusations of being a proud boy.  I have a pretty big collection of aloha shirts, and intend to keep wearing them. Here’s a bit of my closet:

Anishanslin’s solution: anti-racist aloha shirts. Once again an object of joy is turned into a political statement:

Anishanslin also believes celebrities such as Cara Delevingne and Justin Bieber who have recently worn Hawaiian shirts have a chance to help to reclaim them.

“Why not design Hawaiian shirts that use anti-gun, anti-racist, pro-peace iconography and slogans?” she said. “Why not, perhaps importantly, hire indigenous designers to create them?”

And then they show Justin Bieber, who by wearing a racist Aloha shirt, is being a racist, for, as Ibram Kendi tells us, if you’re not an antiracist, you’re a racist. There is no middle ground:

Isn’t it often the case that the advocates of this kind of cultural fascism are white? Indeed, Anishanslin is clearly a PONC (person of no color):

This fracas about aloha shirts is a prime example of performative wokeness: pretending you’re engaging in helping the downtrodden while actually doing noting to help them—what you’re doing is singling yourself out as particularly moral and perspicacious.  What, exactly, is the harm done when white people wear aloha shirts along with all their other fellow Americans in Hawaii?

h/t: David

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

April 6, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. The days of my vacation dwindle down to a precious few: Tuesday.  . . Wednesday. . . . Thursday. .  . and I’m home.

It’s National Caramel Popcorn Day, which is usually repugnant, but finds a delicious instantiation in Chicago’s Garrett Popcorn Shop. It’s especially good when mixed half and half with the chain’s cheese corn, which we call a “Chicago Mix”. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and if you come to Chicago you must try it.

Today’s Google Doodle emphasizes the importance of still wearing masks (click on screenshot to go to the message):

News of the Day:

The chief of the Minneapolis police testified yesterday that officer Derek Chauvin, on trial for the murder of George Floyd, was not using approved techniques to subdue Floyd, I suspect that that testimony, along with similar testimony from two other senior police officers, will seal Chauvin’s fate, even before the defense presents its case.

New Zealand has just opened up a bit for travel. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that both Australia and New Zealand are in a “bubble,” and people will be able to travel between the two countries without mandatory quarantining in hotels. (Both countries have very low infection rates.) The Kiwis, of course, are celebrating this with their typical wry humor: here’s a NZ travel ad:

Of course now that I’m vaccinated, and there’s no evidence that Pfizer-vaccinated folks can be asymptomatic carriers, the Kiwis still won’t let me in. . .

Speaking of religious osculation, the NYT op-ed writer 

The way forward for the Islamic world lies in reconciling faith and reason. A good first step would be to reconsider what Ibn Tufayl’s “Hayy ibn Yaqzan” and the works of Ibn Rushd were trying to tell us.

No, the way forward for the Islamic world lies in abandoning Islam (or at least its oppressive tenets) as well as ditching a literal belief in the Qur’an. A good first step would be to read the books of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The one good point of the article is that it criticizes modern Islam for straying from the more inclusive and moderate views of Abu Bakr.

Evanston, Illinois (just north of Chicago) is rapidly become the test laboratory for the application of Critical Race Theory. They teach it in secondary schools, which also gave children of color first access to in-person learning when the pandemic began to abate, and now they’ve become the first place in the U.S. to give out official reparations for African-Americans, in the form of housing grants. In the latest Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf interviews Ndona Muboyayi, a fifth-generation American woman of Congolese ancestry, about her distress with how her children are being taught in Evanston. One they were educated decently, now they’re being hoovered into the divisiveness of CRT, told that they’re the perpetual victims of racism and white privilege. (h/t: Merilee)

And the latest hot news from HuffPost (click on screenshot), rapidly becoming a tabloid site:

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 555,109, an increase of just 530 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll stands at 2,876,067, an increase of about 8,400.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is much nicer to Kulka these days, but Kulka is still wary:

Hili: Don’t be afraid, I will not harm you.
Kulka: I prefer to be cautious.
(Photo: Paulina R.)
In Polish:
Hili: Nie bój się, nic ci nie zrobię.
Kulka: Wolę być ostrożna.
(Zdjęcie: Paulina R.)

Two from Jesus of the Day:

A meme from Nicole:

From Bruce:

We haven’t checked in with Masih Alinejad (exiled Iranian activist and feminist) for a while. Here she shows some brave Iranian women who are risking jail by their actions and words:

Tweets from Matthew. Here are two of his cats snuggling. But don’t be deceived: Ollie once laid open my nose with a deft swipe of his paw:

Well, the second tweet tells you where “moxie” really comes from, but read about the Mars MOXIE, which is designed to produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide in Mars’s atmosphere in the future when we kill humans by trying to put them on Mars.

I always thought that when hares boxed each other, it was two males competing for females or territory. Nope: it’s female hares fighting the patriarchy:

Brown hares are famous for their energetic behaviour, and during the month of March in particular they are known to ‘box’ frantically with one another. These ‘mad March hares’ do this because they are in their mating season, with the males (bucks) seeking out any females (does) that have come into season.

The boxing usually occurs when a male is being too persistent with a female, chasing her across fields in an attempt to mate. When she’s had enough, she’ll turn around and try to fend him off in a fierce boxing match!

More waxy secretions to protect larvae from predation:

Some springtails, whose placement in the tree of life is still obscure:

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Batley

March 31, 2021 • 9:30 am

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip is called “Batley”, and a note explains:

The story of Batley Grammar School and the Motoon is here.

In short, the British teacher showed his grammar-school pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a lesson in religious education. The teacher was fired, the school apologized, but locals (presumably Muslims) continued to stalk the teacher at his home, so that he now fears for his life. There were big protests at the school, and the teacher has gone into hiding (there’s another article at The Daily Fail).

Mo gets the attitude of The Offended pretty much right.

No groping at TSA!

March 29, 2021 • 7:30 am

They’ve revamped Midway Airport, and there are also multiple precautions in place for travelers, including plexiglas partitions in front of all the officials, and constant sanitation of tables and seats (at the current time I’m drinking coffee at a distance from everyone, which requires me to take off my mask).

My passage through TSA, using their PreCheck feature, was uneventful: all I had to do was remove my belt and my cellphone. My posterior did not light up yellow on the screen, I didn’t get groped (mirable dictu!) and I was through the luggage station in about two minutes.

For a Monday, the airport is almost deserted—at least compared to what I’m used to.

I found it hard to sleep after 1 a.m. and so am exhausted. A large coffee and a nap on the plane should help.  If all goes well, I’ll be eating BBQ before 2 pm.


A diligent brown hyena

March 25, 2021 • 1:30 pm

It’s been a busy day today for various reasons. One is that both of our mallard hens have apparently claimed nesting spots, and so Team Duck has identified the spots in preparation for ducklings in about 5-6 weeks.  The intriguing bit: both Dorothy and Honey have chosen to nest in the identical windowsills they occupied last year.

We’ll end the day with a BBC video of an individual from rare species of hyena (Hyaena brunnea), who, like Honey the duck, has had multiple generations of offspring in a (once) urban area.  Pickings are slim, but this intrepid canid has been successful.

Some pushback to the toxic wokeness at Smith College

March 24, 2021 • 9:00 am

In my darker hours I tend to think that Wokeness is a one-way ratchet, as I see nothing that would reverse the trend. Woke teachers in colleges turn students into woke young people, who then go into their jobs and wokeify corporations and media, as well as into academic where they train yet another generation of performative authoritarians.  Still, one could have said the same thing about religiosity a few centuries ago. Nevertheless, I don’t have a few centuries to see if Wokeness diminishes. What heartens me is when people I respect oppose Wokeness, especially when they’re liberals and are in favor of eliminating bigotry and racism—but not in a useless and performative way. Here we have a bunch of African-Americans speaking out about the Wokeness that permeates Smith College like mites permeate our eyelashes.

Glenn Loury issued this tweet, which then led me to the yahoo!news article (reprinted from The National Review) and then to the letter to Smith College from a group of African-American notables.

The original article (link above) reports that more than 40 (it’s actually 43) African-American intellectuals (well, some are preachers, others CEO, but all qualify as “notables), wrote a letter to Smith College decrying its treatment of “service workers” (cafeteria employees and security people) after a black student, Oumou Kanoute, reported in 2018 that she was racially profiled while lying on a couch in an unoccupied dorm.  It turned out that Kanoute was reported to security simply because that had asked to be notified if anybody was seen in the dorm, and race wasn’t an issue. Several investigations, including one by Smith college itself, concluded that this was not a racist incident.

Despite that, several Smith employees involved in the bogus “profiling” were fired or forced out, and the odious President of Smith, Kathleen McCartney, has never apologized for that treatment. I reported on this incident several times (see here, for example), and it’s what initiated the toxic climate at Smith that includes mandatory diversity training and, according to Jodi Shaw, harassment of students who were white.

An excerpt from the article:

More than 40 African American intellectuals are asking Smith College to end the “forced, accusatory ‘anti-bias’ training” that was mandated for campus service workers after a student falsely accused some workers of racially-profiling her.

The letter, obtained by National Review, was sent on Monday to Smith College president Kathleen McCartney by Bob Woodson, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement and founder of “1776 Unites,” and 44 fellow black intellectuals. The signatories ask McCartney to “rethink how you have handled” the fallout over an alleged incident of racial profiling in the summer of 2018, and urge her to “publicly apologize” and “compensate” the school’s service workers that were caught up in the firestorm.

As detailed by the New York Times, a Smith student accused a janitor and a police officer of questioning “my being at Smith, and my existence overall as a woman of color” after the service workers asked her why she was eating lunch in a closed dormitory lounge. McCartney immediately sided with the student, who drew national attention and backing from the ACLU, as she held up the incident as an example of an oppressive campus environment.

. . . Despite a subsequent investigation by an outside law firm revealing no persuasive evidence of bias, McCartney responded by arguing that “it is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias,” and subsequently implemented mandatory anti-bias training for campus staff. The move has led to public blowback, including from a former staffer and Smith alum who recently resigned over the treatment.

That “former staffer and Smith alum” was, of course, Jodi Shaw, whose GoFundMe campaign for her own expenses as well as a lawsuit against Smith, is now at nearly $300,000—double her original request.

You can see the pdf of the letter here, and read about the 1777 Unites website here. Among the signers of the letter—I’ve reproduced just the first page below—are Glenn Loury, Shelby Steele, John McWhorter, and Clarence Page. It appears to be a consortium of influential African-Americans who are opposed to the machinations of the elect, to Wokeism, and to Critical Race Theory. What I like about the letter is that it’s pushback against the madness and, especially, that it stands up for those who were really marginalized in this case: the Smith College employees who were victims of the entitled administration and students who have made their College a place to avoid.

I especially like this bit, which I’m betting was written by Loury:

Imagine an institution that responded to an allegation of theft by a Black employee by searching the pockets of all its Black employees before they left the workplace. Then after an investigation showed that the employee in question had not actually stolen anything, the institution only increased the frequency and invasiveness of the searches. Such treatment would rightly be condemned as racist. Yet that is exactly what Smith College has done to its service workers.

The letter (click to enlarge it):


Pressure grows to label Atlanta shootings as a “hate crime”

March 22, 2021 • 9:00 am

The article below in the New York Times could well have been given the headline, “Georgia lawmakers divided on whether last week’s shootings should be labeled hate crimes.” For indeed, that’s the truth, but the subtle slant of the headline is one of the ways the NYT editorializes the news. (This is a news piece.)

First, let’s review the hate crime provisions, signed into Georgia state law last year (my emphasis):

The hate crimes bill that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law on June 26, 2020, imposes additional criminal sentencing guidelines on anyone who commits a “hate” crime intentionally based on race, sex, sexual orientation, color, religion, national origin, mental disability, or physical disability.

Under the new law, a person found guilty of committing a hate crime would face an additional six-to-12 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 for one of five misdemeanor offenses, and at least two years in jail for a felony offense.

This law also specifically requires law enforcement officers to prepare and submit a written report, called a “Bias Crime Report,” when investigating any crimes that appear to be hate crimes, whether or not an arrest is made.

In the case of Robert Aaron Long, who has apparently confessed to eight murders (six of them Asian women), the extra years in jail for a hate crime will hardly matter: if found guilty, which is likely, he’s either going to be executed or spend the rest of his life in jail.

But that’s not the point for those people agitating (“outraged people” as the NBC News said last night) for Long’s crime to be labeled a hate crime.  There are reasons for labeling a crime a “hate crime”, one of which appears to be to penalize someone for targeting a special group that might be terrorized, something that’s presumed not to happen with “nonhate” crimes. Regardless of how you feel about a difference between murders and “hate murders”, the law is the law.

The problem, of course, is that although Long shot six Asian women, there’s no evidence yet that he was targeting Asians. Rather, as he told police, he was trying to get vengeance on spa workers who presumably gave him sex, and happened to be Asians, who make up a large percentage of spa workers. And his motivation was to get rid of the temptation of extramarital sex, which his church (which has now expelled him) forbids. Of course, Long could be lying, and it’s early days. That’s why it’s premature to try to get his crime labeled as a “hate crime”. We must wait.

But people don’t want to wait, as detailed in this NYT piece (click on screenshot). And their premature demands for Long’s crime to be classified as a hate crime says more about ideology than about the facts of the case.

Over and over again, I hear people proclaiming that they know what motivated Long, despite the police statement that we don’t know. And of course the other people don’t know, either. They want a charge that fits that fits their desired narrative. Here’s an example of The Argument from What I Want to Believe:

Law enforcement officials and some legal figures have shied away from labeling the killings a hate crime, saying there is insufficient evidence of motivation. Prosecutors in two separate counties are still weighing whether to invoke the hate crimes law.

But that has not stopped the shootings from resonating as bias crimes for many in Georgia, a state that has been at the forefront of the demographic changes coursing through the South.

“I don’t want to draw any conclusions, but it’s obvious to me that if six victims were Asian women, that was a target,” said Georgia State Representative Calvin Smyre, a longtime Democratic lawmaker who helped shepherd the hate crimes bill through the General Assembly.

But of course he did draw a conclusion. And Smyre is making a false equivalence between a victim and someone targeted by ethnicity, not by their profession. 

Political leaders, especially in Atlanta, have gone much further, characterizing the events as domestic terrorism and, at least in part, motivated by a web of racial and misogynistic intolerance. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Georgia on Friday, casting the shootings in the context of broader abuse and intolerance directed at people of Asian descent.

But absent clear evidence of the shooter’s intent, there is broad division on whether there are sufficient grounds for adding hate crime charges.

Representative Sam Park, a Democratic member of the Georgia House and the state’s only Korean-American legislator, said it is impossible to separate the crime from the anti-Asian bias and violence that has surged over the past year.

“Regardless of the motive of the perpetrator, we very much feel like this is an attack on our community. Condolences are good. Words of sympathy are great — but actions are necessary.”

Here Representative Park asserts that this is prima facie hate crime because a). he knows the motivation and b). “it’s impossible to separate the crime” from anti-Asian bias crimes that occurred last year. Well, a). is premature and b.) is ludicrous. What counts is the motive of the perpetrator, not that of perpetrators of preceding crimes. Nor does it matter how the community feels, much as I sympathize with their anger. What matters—and what NYT editor Dean Baquet said did not matter—is INTENT. And we don’t know that intent. All we have are the statements of the perpetrator and his acquaintances, which don’t point towards anti-Asian bias.

Some other statements. First, a cautious one:

But Byung J. Pak, a Republican, Korean-American and former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, urged caution before linking the killings to a hate crime before the investigation is completed.

“Prejudging the case before the completion of the investigation puts pressure on prosecutors to perhaps file charges which may not hold up in court, or raise expectations that cannot be satisfied,” Mr. Pak said. “I would be cautious designating this crime as a hate crime until the investigation is complete.”

Then one less cautious:

Marvin Lim, a Georgia state representative who was also among Asian-American lawmakers at the meeting with Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris, called for prosecutors to carefully consider using the hate crime statute.

Though officials in Cherokee County claimed that Mr. Long was motivated by sex addiction and not bias against Asians, Mr. Lim pointed out that gender is also protected under the hate crime law.

“Given the facts that we know, and I understand there are more investigations to be completed, I would certainly urge prosecutors to apply it to the extent legally possible,” he said.

As far as I know, Long’s murders could be a gender-bias “hate crime” only insofar as they were intentionally directed at women. This is a judgment call, but it was directed at sex workers, which is like someone shooting killing postal workers because he was mistreated by the post office. It may well be that most of the workers were members of minority groups, but that wouldn’t be the motivation. Disproportionate deaths of one sex or the other (and remember that Long killed a man as well) might not be the direct object of the crime. I’m not a lawyer, though, so we’ll see what happens.

Regardless, the defendant needs and deserves to be treated as an individual, not as a lesson to society or as someone whose crime follows earlier crimes motivated by hatred. Long deserves to be tried oncharges that match his actions and intentions, not somebody else’s ideology.

Let’s face it: even if Long is not executed, if convicted, he’ll never get out of jail, even though one person says in the article that adding “hate crime” to his sentence ensures that he’ll never be released. But he won’t be released anyway. You can’t use the “hate crime” designation that way, either: it needs to be based solely on motivations, not to ensure that someone stays in jail to satisfy your feeling of proper retribution.

The observation that in this case motivation seems to be nearly irrelevant to ideology is a sad commentary on the divisiveness of America. And you can be sure that if the authorities don’t decide that Long’s murders rise to the level of “hate crimes”, there will be a huge outpouring of outrage.

Livestream of volcanic eruption in Iceland

March 20, 2021 • 10:00 am

If you click on the screenshot below, you can go to a livestream on the website of an Icelandic site. It’s southwestern Iceland’s first volcanic eruption in around 800 years, the first eruption of this one in 6,000 years, and the livestream is pretty impressive.

Björk is excited:

h/t: Matthew

The elimination of standardized test requirement makes college admissions crazy this year

March 18, 2021 • 11:00 am

As I’ve noted here before, many colleges have either made the submission of standardized tests (SATs and ACTs) optional for applications because of the pandemic, or are contemplating forbidding the submission of test results. The situation arose because of the pandemic, for you have to take the tests in big halls crowded with people. Nevertheless, many students were able to take the tests anyway.

Many colleges are also contemplating making the optionality permanent, so that students no longer have to take the Big Two standardized tests at all. My own view is that the tests will eventually no longer even be used, the reason being that their use has highlighted racial disparities in outcomes, and, as Ibram Kendi maintains (and many believe), these disparities are the result not just of racism, but continuing structural racism.

The Wall Street Journal article below is the first I’ve seen that discusses the results of making tests optional. Click on the screen shot to read it, though it may be paywalled.  This seems to be from the paper’s “news” section, which I’m told is not slanted rightward at the WSJ, though editorials are. (But of course the NYT is slanted left.) I say this only because some readers judge an article by its source, not its contents.

The authors of this piece are Melissa Korn and Douglas Belkin, and at the link you can also listen to the article.

The clearest result is that the test-optional system has hugely increased the number of applicants, but mainly at “prestige” schools. The only reason I can give why that happened is that students think they stand a higher chance of getting in without test results. That tells you something, I suspect, but what?

Excerpts from the article are indented. First, the glut:

Harvard University received more than 57,000 freshman applications for next fall’s entering class, a 42% year-over-year jump. Yale, Columbia and Stanford universities were so overwhelmed they also pushed back the date to announce admission decisions. The University of Southern California’s applications pool beat the prior record by 7%. And New York University topped 100,000 applications, up 17% from last year.

This increase, documented for “highly selective schools” in the first figure below, is not because universities have expanded their class sizes.

The uptick in applications is correlated with the prestige and selectivity of the university—qualities that are themselves correlated.

Some readers have applauded the demise of required SATs and ACTs, saying that they measure only family wealth (money spent on quality education and test tutorials) and not accomplishment or learning, but that’s not completely true. And at least the test results correlate strongly with success in college and afterward (this being America, “success” is measured by income).

This problem brings up a second one: how can colleges deal with this increase in applications, especially because one criterion that was important—standardized tests—are now gone? And, to my surprise, most of the admissions people seem to regret the absence of these tests. A few quotes:

“Kids are sending out more applications out of nervousness, out of anxiety, just saying, ‘Let’s see what happens,’ ” said Cynthia Rivera, who oversees counseling at New Canaan High School in Connecticut. Seniors there applied to an average of 10 schools this year, up from eight last year.

Greg Roberts, dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of Virginia, is concerned about whether the soaring numbers affect his team’s ability to stay focused while reviewing applications. Applications there rose by nearly 17% this year; 43% didn’t include standardized test scores.

“The fear is that your team gets exhausted and beaten up reading so many applications all hours of the day for six months, and the end goal is a number and not a person,” Mr. Roberts said. “Can colleges and universities continue to read in a way that allows them to make the best, most thoughtful decisions when they’re dealing with such a high volume? I don’t know the answer to that.”


The pandemic “is calling on us to walk the talk,” when it comes to thinking more broadly about assessing applicants, said Lee Coffin, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College. Dartmouth saw a 33% rise in applications after it waived standardized test scores this year.

Mr. Coffin says he is conflicted about going test-optional. Before the pandemic Dartmouth considered standardized test scores to be among the most important information alongside grade point average, essays and class rank. Seeing strong scores helps his team feel more confident that admitted students could cut it at the Ivy League institution. “It becomes a moral question,” he said. “I don’t want to admit someone who is going to struggle.”


Some veterans in the field are skeptical that waiving standardized tests alone will have a big impact. Sam Bigelow, director of college counseling at Middlesex School in Concord, Mass., said some underrepresented students may get a boost without borderline test scores holding them back.

“But I don’t think it’s tipping the scale on access and equity,” he said. “More than anything else it’s just making these applicant pools disturbingly big. It’s by and large just making more kids for them to reject.”

Grade point averages (GPAs), which are another critical number, aren’t that useful this year when many high schools have gone to a pass-fail system. This makes a shambles of “holistic evaluations” which are intended to give a “whole person” assessment, but are highly subjective, especially without GPAs or test scores:

Admissions officers at top-ranked colleges and universities have long boasted of conducting a holistic review of applicants, putting academic qualifications into context. Did a teen take the hardest courses offered at her high school, or pull straight-A’s with less-challenging classes? Did a candidate maintain a 3.9 GPA with few distractions, or while working part time at the drive-through, taking care of an ailing parent and playing varsity soccer?

And who deserves priority for a coveted spot: the one who thrived on an easier path, or the one who did all right despite having a more hardscrabble background?

The result of this glut is that students are submitting test scores only to less selective schools, presumably because they don’t think their scores would help them. Again, what does this mean?

Amal Sayed from Dearborn Heights, Mich., submitted applications to 21 schools this fall and winter, receiving fee waivers through a program geared to low-income students seeking admission to selective schools.

An academic high achiever, Ms. Sayed is enrolled in a prestigious STEM program that draws top students from the city’s three public high schools. She said she has a 4.2 GPA and ranks in the top 2% of her class. But her SAT test, which she finally took in October after two cancellations, was a disappointment. She said she scored below her target of 1400, which itself would have placed her below the 25th percentile for the current first-year class at Stanford University, one of her targets.

So she pivoted, submitting her SAT score only to safety schools where she would measure up well, and omitting it for the others. Her final list included local options like Wayne State University and the University of Michigan—to which she has already been admitted—as well as Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“It was a lot easier to apply to some of those higher-reach schools” without the score, said Ms. Sayed. “It didn’t feel like I was at a disadvantage. Why not just shoot my shot?”

Were I Ms. Sayed, I wouldn’t have gone public with this in the pages of the Wall Street Journal!

I still think the test scores give admissions officers useful information about the applicant. You can say that they’re not correlated with smarts or with learning, and that they simply index familial wealth, but presumably admissions officers would be cognizant of that were it true. And there’s no denying that the test scores are highly correlated with how well students do in college.  As the Dean of Admissions at Dartmouth said “I don’t want to admit someone who’s going to struggle.”