Vijay Chokal-Ingam, the brother of comic TV writer and actor Mindy Kaling, made a splash this week when he claimed to have gotten into med school purely because he pretended to be black.
The claim was part of a publicity campaign for a forthcoming book, Almost Black, in which Chokal-Ingam says he will use his experience to attack the validity of affirmative action. The centerpiece of this campaign is an image that suggests that Chokal-Ingam applied to med school twice: once as an Indian-American named Vijay (rejected), and once as a black applicant named Jojo (accepted).
Nearly every media outlet that wrote about the stunt prominently featured the graphic, yet very few addressed whether Chokal-Ingam had applied twice, and some erroneously concluded that he had.
But Chokal-Ingam told BuzzFeed News he only applied to med school once, and only as a black applicant. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also confirmed that they did not have an application on file with Chokal-Ingham's real first name.
"Unfortunately, you're right," Chokal-Ingham told BuzzFeed News when asked if he had only applied under one identity. "I am one person, I'm not two people, so I can't actually apply twice."
Chokal-Ingam said he did not believe the image was misleading, because the rest of the material on his website shows that he only applied once.
It would have likely been impossible for Chokal-Ingham to apply twice under two different identities, as the image suggests. Both the AAMC, which handles the centralized med school application, and individual med schools verify the identities of applicants at several steps in the process, according to AAMC officials and med school admissions officers interviewed by BuzzFeed News. AAMC also investigates any discrepancies it finds in separate applications from the same person.
Chokal-Ingam says that, as a junior in college, he came to believe he was unlikely to get into med school unless he took advantage of affirmative action by posing as a black man. So he shaved his head, trimmed his eyebrows, and identified as black in his MCAT exam and his school applications. He applied to more than 20 schools and was rejected by all but one, St. Louis University School of Medicine.
In Chokal-Ingam's view, the fact that he got into St. Louis and received interviews at other schools is proof that he got into med school because of his purported race. But the fact that he only applied once means this was an experiment without a control: There is no way of knowing whether Chokal-Ingam would have been rejected had he applied without falsifying his race.
There is some statistical evidence suggesting discrimination against Asian-American applicants to elite schools. At the same time, black students have always been greatly underrepresented in med schools. Just over 6% of medical school enrollees are black, according to the latest data from AAMC.
The point of the image, Chokal-Ingam said, is that "the statistics showed that if I applied as an African American with my grades and test scores, I was dramatically more likely to be accepted than if I applied as an Indian American."
"Do people sometimes show graphics to make a statistical point in a colorful way? Yes," he added. "It's a comical way to make an important statistical and sociological point."