Affirmative action, first established in 1965 to actively favor members of minority groups and women in employment, has shifted to college admissions and turned into a buzzword in today’s competitive admissions climate. However, alleged discriminatory practices against Asian American applicants culminated in Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard.
“The Court finds no persuasive documentary evidence of any racial animus or conscious prejudice against Asian Americans,” Federal District Court Judge Allison Burroughs said in her decision Oct. 1, ruling in favor of Harvard. “[While Harvard’s admissions program is] not perfect, ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race-conscious [sic] admissions.”
SFFA argued that the Harvard admissions office holds Asian Americans to a higher standard than other races and “uses a subjective ‘personal rating’ to limit their admission” to the school, according to NBC News. The group claimed students of Asian American descent have the strongest academic records, yet score lowest on the personal rating, which measures factors such as “courage” and “likability.”
“This creates a lot of extra pressure for Asian American students. In my case, my parents were basically saying that even a 1500 was not good enough when that’s more than enough for students of other races,” senior Albert Ting said. “ Not only do Asian students have to worry about getting a high SAT score, but we also have to check all the right activities, as pressured by our parents.”
Duke University professor Peter Arcidiacono found that Harvard University’s personal rating system works against Asian Americans while favoring black and Hispanic students, essentially. Harvard’s expert, David Card, concluded the opposite in a separate study from the University of California, Berkeley, finding no direct evidence of discrimination.
“Colleges look for a specific amount of students per race, meaning that Asian Americans are competing with other Asian Americans for a spot rather than with the general public, making it harder for us,” junior William Chan said. “Affirmative action is discriminatory, basing many admissions on race rather than merit.” As a solution to this issue, Chan suggests colleges become more race-blind and focus more so on socioeconomic status.
While Harvard President Lawrence Bacow hailed the case as “reaffirming the importance of diversity” in a statement issued following the ruling, the opposite sentiment resonated from SFFA after the decision, instead regarding the decision as a defeat in admissions fairness and a promotion of discrimination. “SFFA will appeal this decision to the 1st Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S Supreme Court,” SFFA President and long-time advocate of admissions racial fairness Edward Blum said.
This case has fueled national debate concerning race’s role in college admissions and will carry implications for other U.S. schools that consider race in admissions in relation to diversity, shaping the future of what college admissions will look like.