Over the past three weeks, Harvard University has been under intense fire from the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) organization, who ultimately wanted to eliminate what they saw as the unfair race component in the University’s admissions process, otherwise known as affirmative action. This lawsuit was filed in November of 2014 and was recently judged by Allison D. Burroughs.
The group criticized the Ivy’s admissions process, saying it is discriminatory towards Asian Americans, while Harvard’s attorney charged that the SFFA was trying to disassemble the diversity that enhances the school community. SFFA argued that Asians are being capped off by an important “personal” rating where Asian Americans score poorly, while African American applicants are awarded the highest ratings. To this, Harvard countered that academic superiority had nothing to do with the personality rating, and its lawyers defended that the two categories are completely separate and that it is by coincidence that the majority of the Asian population receives a severely lower grade in the personality rating than their counterparts.
The group further demanded admissions data on hundreds of thousands of applicants be released to the public, claiming that the public should be informed provided that they give more than half a billion dollars in federal funding to Harvard. Rachael Dane, a spokeswoman for Harvard, commented on the matter, saying that “Harvard College does not discriminate against applicants from any group in its admissions processes. We will continue to vigorously defend the right of Harvard, and other universities, to seek the educational benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions.”
Harvard compiled and disclosed six years of admissions information, revealing that 40,000 applicants apply to Harvard each year while 1,600 students are accepted as the freshman class. In the class of 2022, it was found that Asian Americans constitute 23% of the class population, African Americans constitute about 15% and Latinos 12 percent. Meanwhile, the other 50% of the incoming class is white. Accordingly, Seth Waxman, a Harvard lawyer, stated that although statistical modelling shows correlation, it does not show causation.
To further defend themselves, Harvard’s attorneys brought multiple students to demonstrate why diversity is a beneficial factor to the community. Students such as Thang Diep and Sally Chen expressed how Harvard brought reassurance that they could succeed even while being a minority, directly countering the claim made by SFFA.
On the other hand, SFFA failed to provide a testimony from a student that was rejected. In order to protect their identity, rejected students refused to testify, mostly deterred by possible harassment and other concurring issues.
Overall, the plaintiff relied heavily on statistical information that hints towards racial bias but lacks concrete evidence. However, the case is not yet over as it still needs to be resolved most likely in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Graphic: Ryan Rhew