Few groups have been following the anti-discrimination suit against Harvard College as intently as prospective college students. The legal battle (Students for Fair Admissions v. Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College) has been widely recognized as a “test case,” the outcome of which may determine the future of Affirmative Action (AA) policies in years to come. But as of October 1, the courts have ruled that the highly prestigious college is not guilty of anti-Asian discrimination.
The plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, charged that Harvard made it more challenging for Asian-Americans (who receive higher grades and standardized test scores, on average, than any other group) to earn an offer of admission. The charge was led by Edward Blum, the white conservative activist behind the highly controversial Supreme Court case Fisher v. Texas (2016) in which a white applicant claimed that she was the victim of discrimination as a result of AA policies. Blum and the student advocacy group accused Harvard of establishing unconstitutional racial quota laws, holding Asian-American applicants to a far more stringent standard than their white, African-American, or Latino counterparts. Harvard denied these allegations, staunchly defending their “holistic” applications process (which theoretically evaluates the student as a whole, rather than solely focusing on grades and scores).
Judge Allison D. Burroughs ultimately favored Harvard, ruling that the college met constitutional guidelines for race as a factor in college admissions. Burroughs cited legal precedent from other Supreme Court cases to support her argument, and further stated that it was not yet time to overlook race as a factor altogether. “Diversity,” she wrote, “will foster the tolerance, acceptance and understanding that will ultimately make race conscious admissions obsolete.”
Burroughs noted that Asian-Americans are well-represented at Harvard, making up 20% of the incoming class while only composing 6% of the national population. They were accepted at similar rates to other groups. However, the judge did acknowledge that Harvard’s selection process was vulnerable to racial/ethnic stereotyping. For instance, Asian applicants received lower “personality ratings” than white applicants, a subconscious bias that may be rooted in prejudice. The system isn’t perfect, but for now, it seems that it will stand.
The decision has already been met with an appeal by Students for Fair Admissions, and it is expected to reach the Supreme Court. The new conservative Justices appointed by President Trump (Brett Kavanagh and Neil Gorsuch) are anticipated to sway the Court’s decision and weaken AA policies that have previously been upheld.
Asian-American students, who have been put in the spotlight in light of this case, have expressed a wide range of reactions. Many, when asked if colleges discriminate against their racial group, responded with an emphatic “yes;”
Delaney Choi (12) believes that “as an Asian, it isn’t the greatest feeling to know that you have to work that much harder to get into a school because of a factor you can’t control.” As for the outcome of the case, Delaney seeks more transparency: “I almost think it might be better for Harvard to just own that they discriminate based on race, whichever way that might be, than trying to sweep this under the rug.”
However, some Asian-American students at LCHS, such as Ellie Lim (12), agreed with the outcome of the case.
“The [plaintiff] had already tried to end affirmative action before, and failed…they jumped at the opportunity to use a minority to end AA. I don’t think colleges should be discriminating against Asians, but this wasn’t the right way to go about it,” Ellie said.
In the coming months, it will be left in the hands of the courts to determine how we should go about it.