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Harvard's history of racist affirmative action

BY: Michael Yik

Harvard University, one of the world's most established and sought-after universities in the world, founded in 1636 making it officially the oldest university in the United States. Despite all the prestige surrounding the university, Harvard has a history of controversy surrounding its applicants and selection system. This is most notably expressed towards Asian-American applicants, as Harvard has explicitly admitted they have a limit set on the number of Asian-American students they will accept, disregarding their academic qualifications.

This has caused the matter to be taken to court in early 2014 by a lawsuit from the SFFA (Students for Fair Admissions), which opposes affirmative action policies pertaining to educational institutes, and whose case was backed by both the Trump administration and US Department of Justice. The lawsuit claimed Harvard followed a soft quota of “racial balancing” keeping the number of Asian-Americans artificially low, while advancing less qualified applicants instead. The judge overruled the SFFA’s lawsuit on the matter, only to have an appeal filed in late 2018 thus re-opening the case for further ruling. The SFFA argued with statistical data that Harvard had favored certain races such as black or Hispanic at the expense of other minority groups, specifically the Asian-Americans. This was regarding their subjective “personality scoring” that Harvard implements in which racial bias was assumed to be used based on past scores and records. Although, even with all their garnered support, the judge ruled that although their selection process was not perfect, Harvard had maintained an admission system that passes constitutional muster and closed the case.

This brings to question affirmative action regarding its use within university applications and the confliction it brings to applicants who are denied despite their academic merit and qualifications. Should an ideal inclusion of all races in higher education overshadow the equal consideration of all applicants disregarding race? A seeming majority of people side with university’s applying affirmative action as it provides more opportunities of higher education for racial minorities. Thus, creating a much more inclusive diversity among not only universities but career fields, positions of power, and research sectors that come with post-graduation. Some people disagree and though support affirmative action, believe it shouldn’t be applied towards a university’s application process, as acceptance should rely fully on the applicant's own academic success and qualifications built upon their hard work. This is more harmful than it seems towards the target pool of Asian-American applicants who are being denied due to this favoritism of race overqualification. The premise behind Harvard's affirmative action is due to people of different racial groups have been subject to varying sorts of unfair treatment, those groups are warranted special treatment to help equalize the harm done. As many people see this to be a way of creating a more equal and fair selection, it actually inadvertently causes a racial disadvantage to other racial members, in this case Asian-Americans.

Many universities side with Harvard’s defense against the controversy as some of them may employ a similar application process thus attempting to avoid a precedent being set upon the success of the lawsuit. Nonetheless, the SFFA continues to appeal the case in 2020 and hopes to hear a different ruling than the past cases, hoping to receive justice for the injustice Asian-Americans have experienced from Harvard’s affirmative action system.

*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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