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Groups File Federal Complaint Alleging Discrimination in Harvard Admissions Process

Sixty-four Asian-American groups have called for an investigation into the College's admissions practices

Harvard acceptance letters are sealed by members of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid prior to being mailed off.
Harvard acceptance letters are sealed by members of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid prior to being mailed off.
By Meg P. Bernhard and Noah J. Delwiche, Crimson Staff Writers

Sixty-four Asian-American groups filed a complaint against Harvard on Friday with the federal Departments of Education and Justice calling for an investigation into what they charge is the College’s “unlawful use of race” in its admissions process to discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

The complaint alleges that Harvard,  as well as other Ivy League colleges, deny Asian-American applicants with “almost perfect” SAT scores, “top 1% GPAs,” and “significant awards or leadership positions” in extracurricular activities, while similar applicants of other races have been admitted.

The complaint comes just months after the group Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., filed a similar lawsuit against Harvard alleging that its undergraduate admissions processes  “have injured and continue to injure” the student plaintiffs “by intentionally and improperly discriminating against them on the basis of their race and ethnicity in violation of Title VI.”

Harvard General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano ’83 issued a statement in response to the new complaint on Friday, writing “that our approach to admissions is fully lawful remains true today.”

“[W]ithin its holistic admissions process, and as part of its effort to build a diverse class, Harvard College has demonstrated a strong record of recruiting and admitting Asian American students,” Iuliano wrote, citing recent increases in the percentage of admitted Asian American students at Harvard College.

This year, Asian-Americans comprise more than 21 percent of the incoming freshman class.

To build its case, the new complaint frequently cites external research by national experts, including Thomas J. Espenshade, a sociologist at Princeton and co-author of “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life.”

In an interview Friday, Espenshade said his research found that, controlling other factors, Asian-American applicants seemed to face a disadvantage in college admissions. Still, Espenshade said researchers lack access to other application materials, including essays and letters of recommendation, making it difficult to draw further conclusions.

“I stop short of saying that Asian-American students are being discriminated against in the college application process because we don't have sufficient empirical evidence to support that claim,”  Espenshade said.

The groups’ Friday complaint, filed to both the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, cites the Students for Fair Admissions lawsuit.

Representatives from the Department of Education could not immediately be reached for comment.

—Check and follow @thecrimson on Twitter for updates.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

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