Discrimination at Harvard?

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Discrimination at Harvard?

Caroline Christophersen, News Editor

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Is it right for universities to consider race during the admissions process? This is the question sought after in a Boston courthouse this week.

A group called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) sued Harvard in 2014 for discrimination against Asian Americans during the admissions process. The trial finally arrived in Boston’s courts Monday morning and many speculate that it will only leave after a trip to the Supreme Court.

The SFFA accuses Harvard of racial balancing: placing caps on the number of each race of students admitted to their classes. From the demographic data, it seems this may be true. In a review presented in court from Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research, Asian Americans would constitute 43% of the class of 2017 in a hypothetical “academics-only” model. In contrast, only 17% of the admitted class are Asian.

This gap means a huge number of Asians are identical on paper to those accepted, but are rejected due to other factors such as the personal essays and extracurricular activities. Are these 26% of Asians not as valuable to the university as other minorities or white students?  

The President of SFFA Edward Blum assessed documents and stated, “This filing definitively proves that Harvard engages in racial balancing, uses race as far more than a ‘plus’ factor, and has no interest in exploring race-neutral alternatives.”

Lawrence S. Bacow, President of Harvard University, issued a statement in which he said, “Each student brings something special to our community and contributes to our rich learning environment in a way that is unique. Harvard would be a dull place—and not likely achieve the educational aspirations we have for our students—if we shared the same backgrounds, interests, experiences, and expectations for ourselves.”

The success of Harvard comes from their diverse student body that brings differing perspective and ways of solving problems. Ensuring many races and socioeconomic backgrounds are present in the classroom is part of the successful environment.

 

This filing definitively proves that Harvard engages in racial balancing, uses race as far more than a ‘plus’ factor, and has no interest in exploring race-neutral alternatives.”

— Edward Blum

The verdict of this case may have further reaching effects. Many see it as a case against affirmative action: giving minorities a leg up to balance the factors in which they are disadvantaged. Affirmative action has been a part of employment and education for decades and a change in this policy would affect many more than Harvard applicants.

Native American or Asian, metropolitan or rural, the Harvard case brings the conversation of whether or not these facts on an application help minorities and add diversity to elite classes or discriminate equally against the qualified majorities. While far from finished, the case has potential for far reaching consequences.