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Touching All of the Bases

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This year's Harvard admissions book lists the size of the minority population, broken down into a half-dozen different ethnic groups.

That wouldn't have been possible 25 years ago. Minorities weren't actively recruited by Harvard until admissions officers wooed them to join the class of 1973, according to senior admissions officer David L. Evans.

The reason minority recruitment began that year, Evans says, was simple--that was the first class to be recruited after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

At that time, Evans says, "minority" generally referred to "Black." The late 1950s were the first time "large numbers" of Blacks--10 to 15--were admitted to Harvard. By the late 1960s, Evans says, there were approximately 40 Black students per class. With the class of '73, the number of Black students finally rose above 100.

That number--and the number of minorities in general--has increased tremendously in the past two decades, Evans says.

And Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 is optimistic about continuing that trend. "The future is quite bright in terms of increasing the ethnic diversity on campus," he says.

Fitzsimmons says innovations in minority recruiting--such as direct mail to minority students and a flourishing undergraduate minority recruitment progrram--have helped to increase the diversity of Harvard's student body.

And the minority recruiting effort will increase even more, he says, when minority alumni return to their hometowns and become active in Harvard recruiting.

Minority recruiting, however, has some negative side effects. Many are personal--as the case of Mario Delci '94 illustrates.

Delci is a Mexican-American from a white neighborhood in Topeka, Kansas. He was actively recruited by Harvard. But that certainly didn't do wonders for his self-esteem.

Delci says he wasn't at the top of his class academically. He didn't have the highest grade point average. But still, he recalls, "I was the only one in my high school receiving letters from Harvard."

After a Harvard informational meeting, Delci says, the recruiter actually pulled him aside to talk to him. Delci wondered why.

"The only thing I could think of was I was Mexican-American," Delci says. "They just needed another statistic."

Any selection process in which race is considered at all is open to criticism--people can easily cry "reverse discrimination." And in Harvard's admissions process, race is considered.

"We won't go to the extent of saying we're going to be so neutral that we're going to ignore gender or ethnic background in a society where that does mean something," Evans says.

And although Evans says 80 to 85 percent of Harvard's applicants are academically qualified to get in, although he says that "in all the years I've been here, the person with the lowest credentials admitted to the class was never a minority," the perception is still there.

"I actually thought that being Asian was going to hinder my chances of coming here," says Eugene Chung '93.

He was probably right. A 1990 federal investigation revealed that the Harvard admissions office kept quotas for Asian students.

While he admits that's a frustrating fact, Chung says he thinks a more diverse community might be worth the sacrifice.

"A lot of people are going to be upset that someone didn't get in for such-and-such a reason," he says, "and they may claim quotas or that kind of thing, but it's a subjective process. You want to try to touch as many bases as possible."

Some students, though, might feel that touching all of the bases necessarily means taking on some slower runners. That, at least, is what Delci feels he has to deal with.

Delci says the image of being somehow "less qualified" plagues all members of RAZA, the Mexican-American students' organization.

"It's a stereotype that we build up for ourselves," Delci says. That stereotype is only rein-forced, he says, by the statistics--high school grade point averages and standardized test scores.

And that affects not only how Delci and other RAZA members carry themselves and deal with other people, but also how other students initially treat them.

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