Harvard lawsuit outcome affects student perspectives on admission standards

November 27, 2018 — by Selena Liu and Jeffrey Ma

A district court lawsuit against Harvard University’s college admissions process has raised much discussion on what constitutes a fair college admissions process in a nation where the ideas of racial acceptance and equality are becoming increasingly important.

As a school with a 60 percent Asian student body, according to U.S. News, Saratoga High is the kind of school that will be especially affected by the outcome of this lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit member organization founded by Asian-American students who had been rejected by Harvard University in last year’s college admissions process, accused the Ivy League school of “artificially capping the number of qualified Asian-Americans from attending the school to advance less qualified students of other races,” according to The New York Times.

In its defense, Harvard argued that many Asian-American students did not meet an adequate personal rating criteria, which evaluates a student’s integrity and personality. The university argued that failure to meet this personal rating standard, and not racial discrimination, resulted in fewer Asian-American applicants being admitted than would otherwise be the case.

The outcome of the lawsuit is still undecided. Both parties expect to hear a verdict from the Massachusetts district court by early 2019, but the case may travel up to the Supreme Court, as the high court issued a statement of interest on Aug. 30. In that case, the final verdict may impact whether affirmative action — accepting equal numbers of black and Latino students as those of Asian and white students — will be eliminated from every college’s admissions process entirely.

The lawsuit claims that Harvard uses a de facto quota system to cap the number of admitted students in each racial category, undermining academically qualified Asian-American students from a fair chance in college admission decisions. In fact, statistics from Harvard’s admissions office indicate that the university would accept twice as many Asian-American students if admissions were based solely on academic merit, leading the student body to resemble that of UC Berkeley, where there is no affirmative action and more than 40 percent of students are Asian.

The Asian-American students in the lawsuit argue they are victims of institutional discrimination that should not be allowed.

Despite the effects of Harvard’s decision-making process, questions about the outcome of the August lawsuit have drawn attention to Asian-American college applicants and the possible discriminations they face in the process.

Given the case’s relevance and potential importance to the school, The Falcon spoke to a number of students and allowed them to withhold their identities in the hope of receiving their most candid responses.

Anonymous Voices on Affirmative Action

 

Question:

Explain your perspective on affirmative action: Do you think colleges should continue affirmative action to preserve racial diversity?

 

Respondent No. 1: a junior girl who is Caucasian

Race-based affirmative action has a lot of flaws and puts poor Asians and Caucasians at a great disadvantage. Additionally, if we are trying to move toward a society where race doesn’t matter, paying so much attention to race can’t possibly help. It clearly isn’t fair to Caucasians and Americans who have worked harder or are better in a certain subject but get denied because of their race.

That being said, there needs to be affirmative action, especially income-based, in order to stop the trend of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Education is the way to get out of poverty, so the system must be set up where the unfortunate have a chance to utilize that. Here in Saratoga, we obviously have an advantage compare to someone from a low-income family. Most likely, we can afford tutors, have better teachers, regular internet access, etc. when that’s simply not a reality for a lot of people. To make it fairer, there must be income-based affirmative action.

Income-based affirmative action would have a similar result because African Americans and Hispanics are statistically more likely to be in the lower class, but this way it doesn’t put poor people who already are at a disadvantage at an even bigger one.

 

Respondent No. 2: a senior boy who is of mixed Caucasian and Asian ethnicity

The idea that Asian Americans are discriminated against so much is overblown, and it is necessary to not just take the people with the highest grades, test scores and competitions scores, which in many cases are Asian Americans.

One thing many people say against affirmative action is that schools like Harvard or Stanford shouldn't give blacks and Latinos advantages over Asians because Asians are more academically suited to the school as shown by their more impressive activities or scores.

My issue with this is that one of the big factors when people are talking about the draw to schools like Harvard and Stanford are that the schools allow us as students to get a different perspective than Saratoga, that there are opportunities to network and meet people. The UC system isn't allowed to consider gender or race in their admissions, so as a result Berkeley ends up looking a lot like Saratoga or Lynbrook. Berkeley's culture focuses mainly on grades, test scores and how impressive your activities are and as a result gets filled with Asian American students who grew up in affluent neighborhoods with straight A's, perfect SAT scores and standard "Asian" activities.

Once you start doing admissions the way the people in the Harvard case are arguing for (based off solely off how impressive your scores, grades and activities are) you end up like Berkeley, which certainly isn't a bad school — it's actually a great school — but my guess is the majority of the Saratoga students would prefer the current Harvard or Stanford school climate. The issue is you can't have both this pure meritocracy for admissions while still maintaining the diversity, experience and networking that draws so many students to these top private schools.

The advantage of affirmative action is way overblown, like in the Harvard case people complain that the average SAT score of an Asian student is like 100 something points higher than that of a Latino student, but that doesn't mean that the Asian students who are admitted are more deserving than the Latino ones. For admissions to these top private schools, SAT scores are mainly a checkbox, so if Asians overall have a higher SAT score, of course the Asian students who end up getting into Harvard are going to have a higher average than the Latino students who were accepted, whom nonetheless are still very qualified and deserving.

 

Respondent No. 3: a senior Asian girl

I am pro affirmative action because I believe that it is hard for minorities in America, as they experience discrimination regularly. This is one way to counteract that and level the playing field. It's hard to feel the effects of discrimination in the Bay Area, so it's easy to pretend that it's a problem of the past when that just isn't the case for the vast majority of Americans.

I am Indian and I have selected "Asian" on my college apps. I know that it may slightly hurt my chances of getting into a school, but I don't mind because people who have not been as fortunate as I have also deserve a fighting chance in the college admissions process. Colleges should continue affirmative action in order to counteract the USA's history of racism while refraining from using quota systems.

 

Respondent No. 4: a senior Asian boy

If the Supreme Court sides in favor of Students for Fair Admissions, I think we'd definitely see admission rates go up across the board for Asians applying to top universities. Rather than expecting all students to come out of high school as cookie-cutter perfect with 15-something SAT's and 4.-something GPAs, universities should admit students that show skill, passion and dedication to their extracurriculars.

Ethnic and cultural diversity are great, but the current way universities are going about diversifying their campus is not only racist, but quite ineffective. If universities value diversity, and their claims that Asian students are all identical due to their SAT's and GPA's are true, then it would only make sense to give more weightage to the areas that bring real diversity — of both character and background.

An extracurricular-focused admissions process would be better for diversity by their own standards as well as by academic standards. By changing the current system in which students are crushed into a pair of numbers, universities could be turned into flourishing campuses where all kinds of people are admitted to due to their diverse personalities, backgrounds and passions.

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