Harvard’s Affirmative Action Struggle

Before the Harvard Case, affirmative action was one of the least uncovered parts of the admissions process of elite universities in the US. Affirmative action is defined as “the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously.” Nowadays, this term has become more common as there has been controversy about what factors should be taken into account when students are considered for college admission. Most recently, this matter has been brought upon Harvard University. A lawsuit claims that Harvard has been unfairly discriminating against Asian American applicants. Students for Fair Admission sued the university because they feel as though affirmative action has actually been hurting them, rather than helping. They claim that the Asian-American quota is too low to benefit them. Harvard claims that it has done nothing wrong in their mission to create a diverse student body using their “holistic” approach to admissions. Plaintiffs belonging to the Students for Fair Admissions group have argued that the only way to end this aforementioned bias would be to completely remove race from the admission process.

This lawsuit began in November of 2014, when Students for Fair Admissions argued that Harvard has been “employing racially and ethnically discriminatory policies and procedures in administering the undergraduate admissions program.” Harvard’s admission data shows that Asians had been rated lower on personal metrics, despite out-performing white students on most sections of the application process strictly measuring academics. The University’s response was that Harvard strives to create a diverse class, and while race is considered in their admissions process, it is never used against any student.

Given that 37,000 students apply to Harvard each year with the expectation that their application would be considered fairly, it is crucial to understand the implications such a lawsuit could have. The answer is that it brings up moral questions regarding ideas such as reverse discrimination. Reverse discrimination actually has the same exact definition as affirmative action when searched on google.com. This is quite interesting because this is a very controversial definition. They are two quite different things, but they are defined exactly the same. Other websites such as Merriam Webster define it as, “discrimination against whites or males.” This has been a controversial topic, and many actually question the mere existence of this concept. With affirmative action, many white students feel as though they are becoming “second class,” and devalued in the college admissions process just because of their race. This is similar to the arguments of the Asian American applicants, which is what makes this case different. Both groups are arguing similar things, but a consensus agreement has not been reached. If affirmative action was retracted, classes would become much less culturally diverse, and that was the reason why it was implemented in the first place-to promote cultural diversity.

Cases similar to these are actually quite common and have affected many elite universities such as Stanford, Princeton, and the University of California, Berkeley. Most of these institutions have claimed no intentional wrongdoing, but they have recognized the effects of unintentional, subconscious bias. Affirmative action is a controversial topic because after being established by John F. Kennedy’s administration in 1961, it had almost no specific guidelines or laws regarding how it would be implemented. We still essentially are using the same policy that JFK implemented, but with minor changes adjusted for the changing times.

In contradiction to Students for Fair Admissions’ plans, some colleges argue that consideration of race is one of the only elements to create and maintain diversity on campus. In Harvard’s case, 8,000 of their applicants had perfect grades, and 5,000 had perfect scores in either the verbal or math section of the SAT. They were all applying for roughly 2,000 spots. In total, there were 37,000 applicants for those 2,000 spots. This shows just how impossible it is to consider grades alone to create a culturally diverse class.

The result of this lawsuit will provide valuable insight to America’s opinions and beliefs regarding college admission processes. The main questions that are being raised include, “Should race be considered in college admissions?” and if so, “How much of a weight should it play?” The trial has just begun, and the outcome will surely prove interesting.

Editors-in-Chief: Rory Hallowell and Jana Amin


Editors-at-Large: Sarah Palmer and Sam Bevins

Faculty Sponsor: Joshua Emmott

©Modest Incline Media Corporation, 2017

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