This summer, Harvard University came under fire when it was reported that they were altering their admissions to favor certain minority students. The whole case started when a group of Asian-American students who had been rejected from Harvard filed a lawsuit stating that they were being penalized for high performance, while the preference for admissions was going to other minority groups. A Princeton study said those who identify as Asian or Asian-American on average had to score 140 points higher on the SAT than white students in order to be accepted. According to the study, those who identify as Asian have to work twice as hard to earn a seat at Harvard.
Intentional race-based admissions have always been a controversial issue, especially for top Ivy League schools like Harvard. For so many applicants the goal is to be different, and to stand out in a crowd of 8,000 or more, but sometimes that is weakened when one of the main priorities of the university is to diversify a class. Harvard prides itself on taking a holistic approach when it comes to their admissions process, saying they look at academics, extracurriculars, athletic performance, as well as personal and overall quality of a student before they admit them. Although this is true, there are legacies and donors who may have a higher chance of being admitted.
Maya Rayle, a freshman at Harvard this year, believes this case is just a way to remove affirmative action from college admissions, and not necessarily help Asians out. “By pinning Asian students against one another, this case becomes objectively brilliant. Those who have opposed affirmative action can now use this as a way to show the flaws in the system.” Maya believes that the Asian students who filed the lawsuit have a fair point to be made. “They were not accepted, and the sad truth is there are many stereotypes placed on Asians, so they do have to work twice as hard, and while it is not right to punish them, I do believe that diversity is important in a classroom setting, and if that means letting some people go for the benefit of the class, that should be a priority.”
Diversity in a classroom setting is important no matter what, which is why Harvard and many other colleges and universities try to use a holistic approach. The problem, some believe, is that many applicants are complaining that not only does affirmative action kick out some of those who could be accepted, but it also limits the amount of applicants even reviewed. Janet Stevenson, a Harvard alum, a law professor and the current Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at Lewis and Clark, spoke on her approach to holistic admissions. “When I look at applicants, I look for what they are gonna bring me, and what they will bring to this school that is different and unique.” She too believes that diversity in a classroom is highly important for students to fulfill a quality education, “While I do believe that affirmative action is important, the way it is used in the admission process, like at the Ivy Leagues, is not ok. At this point places like the Ivies are filling invisible quotas to look better for themselves and not taking the time to see everyone as a whole individual, which is just giving the whole cycle a bad reputation.” Stevenson explains how holistic approaches shouldn’t just be about race and ethnicity but about a student as a whole and what they are going to offer to a college. She did mention that there are students who are legacies that feel that they are entitled to a seat. “You are never entitled to a seat. Just because your parents have gone to that college, it doesn’t automatically get you in. If we want to fix the flaws in affirmative action, we have to start by getting rid of those who believe that they have been entitled a seat.” Stevenson believes that looking at someone’s race when admitting a student into any school is never a smart idea, for the student or the college, but that by looking at the uniqueness of the applicants, colleges should be able to diversify their class in multiple ways.
Harvard has a trial scheduled for some time in October, but in the meantime the admissions processes of all Ivy League schools are going to be questioned. This case could have severe implications for colleges and universities that use race in parts of their admissions process.