Giving ‘Jojo’ a second look


An odd story hit major news circuits this weekend when Vijay Chokalingam, the brother of Fox sitcom star Mindy Kaling, claimed that he had applied to numerous prestigious medical schools more than 15 years ago, ultimately attending Saint Louis University Medical School, in 1999, while pretending to be a black man.

In a website promoting his future book, “Almost Black,” Chokalingam described how he had realized that he had not been doing too well at the University of Chicago, accruing a 3.1 undergraduate GPA and a 31 MCAT score for medical school applications.

Apparently feeling daunted by the fact that his grades and scores would not get him in to elite medical schools, he decided that he would begin identifying as black, believing that “admission standards for certain minorities under affirmative action were, let’s say … less stringent?”

By shaving his head, trimming his eyebrows and going by his middle name “Jojo,” Chokalingam applied to schools such as Harvard, Washington University and Pennsylvania and was ultimately accepted into SLU’s medical school before dropping out two years later to pursue his MBA.

He describes the stunt now, 16 years later, as a social experiment with some unintended consequences as well as a critique of affirmative action policies. In his book, he will talk about his experiences in a world that perceived him as black.

“Cops harassed me,” he said. “Store clerks accused me of shoplifting. Women were either scared of me or couldn’t keep their hands off me. What started as a devious ploy to gain admission to medical school turned into twisted social experiment.”

Since this story hit the wire this past weekend, statements have been made by both Kaling and, strangely enough, SLU. Kaling reportedly stated that she and her brother have been estranged for years, that she had no knowledge of her brother’s attempts to pose as a black man for entrance into medical school and that she believes that the book will bring shame onto the family.

SLU made a statement as well, saying that Chokalingam ‘s “… MCAT and science grade point average met SLU’s criteria for admission at the time,” and that race didn’t play any factor in the decision. We appreciate the honesty SLU.

Many editors’ reactions were almost incredulous at Chokalingam’s actions and motivations.

We immediately doubted his claims that his attempts to identify as black in order to get into medical school were any part of a social experiment. This avid partier was probably just terrified after waking up one day and realizing that his GPA and MCAT scores were substandard for the type of medical school he wanted to attend.

We were also bummed that he did not have more foresight to actually conduct an experiment by applying both as an Indian-American and as an African-American. We believe that without any comparison his claims of entrance being less stringent as a black man are absurd.

In our own discussion, we noted how subjective the process of college entrance can be and how some schools may be looking to fill different quotas on any given day.

One editor argued that affirmative-action policies were designed to take race out of the equation, leaving all of the subjectivity intact. In fact, with recent studies showing racial bias in hiring decisions based solely on how “black” a name sounds, affirmative action just may still be needed. Any potential criticisms of affirmative action are certainly not going to benefit from Chokolingam’s book.

For one of the first times this year, this editorial board can agree on something: that Chokalingam’s actions are awful, for putting his family in a bad situation, for attempting to cash in on his sister’s well-earned success and for crying “racism” in admission processes when he has nothing on which to base those claims.

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