The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt application question about civil discourse added to reflect shifting university values, affirmative action ban

The prompt was added during the 2022-23 admissions cycle.
Ophelia Lu
Vanderbilt Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Office, as photographed on Sept. 30, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)

In the 2022-23 admissions cycle, Vanderbilt added a new optional supplemental essay question about civil discourse to its application, which has otherwise remained unchanged for at least 12 years. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Douglas Christiansen explained that this change was made in light of the university’s shifting values, desire to lower student stress and in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

The prompt, which students can choose over the traditional prompt about their extracurricular activities, focuses on free speech and learning from different viewpoints. 

“Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences, and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength. Please reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you?” the prompt reads.

Christiansen explained that the decision to add this short answer question in the 2022-23 admissions cycle reflects Vanderbilt’s dedication to diverse perspectives and civil discourse. He emphasized that the university is not looking for students to change their perspectives but to harbor an understanding of how to navigate differences. 

“Vanderbilt seeks students who, in the face of contrasting viewpoints, contribute to the cooperative and enriching tapestry of the university community,” Christiansen said. “This nuanced understanding aligns with the university’s ethos of building a dynamic environment where diversity is celebrated not as a challenge but as an inherent strength.”

Furthermore, Christiansen said Vanderbilt’s decision to offer applicants a choice of two short answer question prompts was a deliberate commitment to lowering student stress during the application process.  

“We wanted to have a choice for somebody to think about,” Christiansen said. “It’s not just about presenting a polished academic profile but about giving voice to the multifaceted nature of individual experiences.” 

Christiansen said the motivation for the new prompt also stemmed from Vanderbilt’s commitment to continue building diverse classes in anticipation of the federal ban on affirmative action in college admissions. He stressed that, for the admissions team, learning how a student balances their academic and social experiences is equally as important as understanding students’ diverse viewpoints. This approach is reflective of Vanderbilt’s commitment to nurturing a well-rounded community, according to Christiansen.

“The point really is: ‘What have you learned [from] debating with someone else [with] a different viewpoint? How did that experience influence you? How did that help you think?’” Christiansen said. 

Christiansen explained that the consideration of changes to the application occurs as a collaborative effort between other deans and faculty, though the ultimate decision rests with the admissions team.

“We’re always in constant communication with our faculty and our deans to understand what they are seeing or not seeing in the classroom and what they’d like to see more of,” Christiansen said. 

He further encouraged applicants to move beyond the surface in their responses. Rather than presenting a “laundry list” of achievements, he emphasized the need to unearth the lessons learned, skills honed and profound personal growth achieved through their experiences.

Jakie Thompson, a Vanderbilt applicant to the Class of 2028 from Fort Lee, N.J., said the new prompt resonates with her. The application to the Class of 2028 will close on Jan. 1.

“It’s not just about showcasing achievements; it’s an opportunity to reveal the depth of personal growth through diverse experiences,” Thompson said.

Olivia Hsien, an EDII Vanderbilt applicant from Taipei, Taiwan, said the new prompt is “refreshing.” 

“It’s not just about grades; it’s a chance to show how open-minded I am, how I learn from others,” Hsien said. “It feels like Vanderbilt values more than just what’s on paper.”

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About the Contributors
Swarada Kulkarni
Swarada Kulkarni, Staff Writer
Swarada Kulkarni (‘27) is majoring in neuroscience in the College of Arts and Science. Outside of writing for The Hustler, she enjoys singing, reading books and exploring new restaurants with her friends. She can be reached at [email protected].
Edward (Yumin) Oh
Edward (Yumin) Oh, Staff Writer
Edward Oh (‘27) is from South Korea. He is considering majoring in communication studies and human and organizational development in Peabody College. When not writing for The Hustler, he enjoys playing the jazz violin, taking pictures with his SLR film camera and going for walks. He can be reached at [email protected].
Ophelia Lu
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Director
Ophelia Lu (’26) is from Los Angeles and is double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering. She previously served as a staff photographer. When not covering events and sports games for The Hustler, you can find her listening to a lot of music, studying at Starbucks or lying on Alumni lawn. She can be reached at [email protected].
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3 months ago

Good one!