Students Suing Harvard University are going after the Wrong Target

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Students Suing Harvard University are going after the Wrong Target

User Chensiyuan- WIkimedia

User Chensiyuan- WIkimedia

User Chensiyuan- WIkimedia

Kimberly Wilson, Opinion Editor

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Harvard University is being sued for allegedly discriminating against Asian American applicants. Students for Fair Admissions argue Harvard’s quest for a diverse incoming class each year has led to other minority groups gaining an unfair advantage in their admissions process. While it is true Harvard has discriminatory admission practices, the plaintiffs, in this case, have set their sights on the wrong target.

Students for Fair Admission, led by attorney Edward Blum, claim Harvard is holding them to a much higher standard when considering applicants. To remedy this, they say Harvard must effectively get rid of affirmative action and try harder to find other ways to diversify their campus.

But affirmative action, for minority groups at least, is not the main culprit in this situation. Students for Fair Admissions have largely overlooked practices such as legacy admissions and preference for applicants of wealthy donors. Even though they’ve pointed to legacy admissions in their court filings as problematic, they’ve chosen to focus their blame on other minority groups.

According to the Harvard Crimson, the university’s class of 2021 was made up of 29 percent of legacy students, most of whom were white. This is compared to 14.6 percent, 11.6 percent and 2.5 percent African American, Hispanic or Latino and Native American or Pacific Islander, respectively. Asian Americans were the most admitted minority group at 22 percent.   

College of DuPage Sociology professor Robert Moorehead, Ph.D., talked about how these longstanding practices can be seen as a type of affirmative action for white people.

Not because they put these applicants on equal footing with everyone else–which Moorehead stressed affirmative action for minorities is intended to do–but in that they give these students a “step ahead” in the admissions process.

“Well, certainly the reserving of spaces for legacy admissions disadvantages other applicants, including applicants of color,” Moorehead stated. “There are fewer spots for you to get into. There are fewer spots that are openly competitive.”

Moorehead gave the example of Jared Kushner gaining acceptance into Harvard University after his father donated $2.5 million to the school, despite reportedly being a “less than stellar student” while attending The Frisch School in Paramus, N.J.

These practices that advantage a considerable amount of applicants must conversely disadvantage all other applicants, including Asian Americans.

“In this case, they [Students for Fair Admissions] are not concerned about all the legacies who are getting in ahead of these more qualified applicants, they’re concerned about the way in which racial factors are included in the admissions process,” Moorehead said.

“And so it’s the forest and the trees and you’re like, look at this one tree here, and you’re not seeing this bigger forest around you.”

Why the Students for Fair Admissions did not pursue the legacy admissions avenue is likely at least in part due to the man leading their case.

Edward Blum has spent much of his career fighting against affirmative action. He was Abigail Fisher’s attorney in the 2016 Fisher v. University of Texas Austin lawsuit which sought to–you guessed it–effectively get rid of affirmative action at the school.

Blum and Fisher claimed the school unfairly rejected her by admitting African American students with lower grades and test scores than she had. But a brief UT Austin submitted to the court showed 42 of the 47 students admitted with lower grades and test scores than Fisher were, in fact, white.

Blum lost the case, but he clearly has not given up on his onslaught against affirmative action. Now he’s taking advantage of a group who is rightly frustrated and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their preferred outcome. Regardless of whether or not their methods are actually targeting the real problem at hand.

Also problematic is the Students for Fair Admissions’ assertion that grades and test scores should be the determining factor in who gains admissions to the university. Many higher education institutions across the United States have adopted a holistic approach in their admissions process–and for good reason.

According to a Boston Globe article, research has shown the most important factors in determining test scores are parents’ income and education. Someone with a 3.7 GPA from a working or middle-class background could very well have shown more grit than someone with a 4.5 GPA who is from a well-off family and had all the best resources at their disposal.

This underscores the importance of considering multiple factors during the admissions process. As professor Moorehead pointed out, “Studies have shown those measures, the SAT, ACT, aren’t necessarily particularly strong measures of student performance once they actually get into university.”

Going after affirmative action may very well result in increased acceptance rates for Asian Americans. Still, quelling the influence “white affirmative action” practices have on admissions to schools like Harvard would logically do more to increase the acceptance rates of all other applicants, including Asian Americans.

But for the Students for Fair Admissions, going after other minority groups makes the most sense. It is the easier route for them, coupled with the dream route for Blum.


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