The recent Harvard lawsuit

I have been following the lawsuit against Harvard over race-based admission processes and the effect it has on Asian American applicants, over the course of the semester.  For anyone who is not familiar with the case – a group called the Students for Fair Admissions is suing Harvard for requiring Asian applicants to have higher GPA and SAT scores than applicants of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. They also assert that Harvard assigns personal ratings to its applicants and that Asian applicants are typically rated lower than other applicants. The case has gone through the courts and now we are waiting on the ruling which could take several months.

What this case is actually determining is the place for affirmative action in higher education. The plaintiffs claim that they support diversity in academia but what they also want from the court is “a permanent injunction prohibiting Harvard from using race as a factor in future undergraduate admissions decisions.” If this case goes in the favor of the plaintiffs, it could be the end of affirmative action in admissions processes. No matter the ruling, both sides say they are going to appeal.

This is not the first time a case has come against affirmative action. In 1996, it was ruled in California that race can’t be used in admissions processes. It came to the courts because California was seeing a lot of students that weren’t prepared for college (or maybe they weren’t prepared for them…?) This resulted in a decrease in the paucity of Black and Hispanic students that were currently being accepted in the California school system. There have also been other small cases, such as those that ruled that hard race quotas can’t be set for an incoming class. But the California case is an example of what could happen if affirmative action is repealed.

Do the Asian American’s have a case? I think they do, and this stems from the personal rating scores. However, it doesn’t seem that the personal rating scores are something that can be changed by Harvard. Harvard determines the personal rating scores from the applicant’s recommendation letters. These are often written by teachers, mentors, and guidance counselors. Harvard can’t change what these letters say and they base the scores on the same metric as all other applicants. However, we are measuring what is said to be a minority group on the same metrics as other students. In the acceptance process, it is clear that admissions officers allow leeway to students that have had difficulties in their life or don’t come from an upper-middle-class family. Maybe, the same acceptions need to be made for Asian applicants. They likely have a different culture than white Americans so maybe it isn’t fair to measure them along that same metric.

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