The day before a lawsuit challenging Harvard's admissions practices heads to a high-stakes and high-profile trial in a Boston courtroom, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in Cambridge and Boston Sunday to hold two dueling rallies — one pro-Harvard and one pro-Students for Fair Admissions, the group suing the University.
SFFA filed suit against Harvard in 2014, charging that the College's race-conscious admissions policy has led the school to discriminate against Asian-American applicants. Harvard has repeatedly and strongly denied all allegations of discrimination — and a number of students, alumni, and other universities have lined up behind the University. SFFA, by contrast, has earned the support of the federal government; the Department of Justice has twice intervened in the suit in SFFA's favor.
Pro-Harvard demonstrators gathered in Harvard Square Sunday, while SFFA's backers convened in Copley Square. Follow along with live updates from Crimson reporters spread around the city below.
Oct. 14, 2018, 2:47 p.m., Copley Square:
At 2:47 p.m., the man of the moment appeared.
Students for Fair Admissions president and conservative litigant Edward Blum stepped behind the microphone in Copley Square, drawing applause and cheers of “Thank you, Edward!” from the crowd.
The lawsuit against Harvard marks the latest effort in Blum’s decades-long career of anti-affirmative action advocacy. Since 2008, Blum has sponsored a series of cases that sought to change the way American colleges and universities admit students.
“Let me be clear: The mission of Students for Fair Admissions is to end racial classifications and preferences in college admissions,” Blum said Sunday. “When you treat and judge individuals differently because of their race, it frays the social fabric of a college campus, which will ultimately fray the social fabric of a nation.”
Blum pointed to Harvard’s history of racial discrimination in its admissions process, noting that the school set a cap on the number of Jewish matriculants in the early twentieth century. SFFA had previously asked that evidence related to the University's past anti-Semitism be permitted in court; Harvard, however, argued the 1920s-era policies are not relevant to the College's admissions system today.
In pre-trial proceedings held in early October, Judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled evidence related to the episode will be allowed in court in a “very limited” capacity.
“During the next three weeks, the court and the world will learn how Harvard has systematically discriminated against Asian-American applicants for years,” Blum said. “Sadly, this is now a new phenomenon: the history of Harvard’s holistic discriminatory practices goes back nearly 100 years.”
Blum concluded by saying he will keep fighting no matter how Burroughs ultimately rules.
Oct. 14, 2:48 p.m., Copley Square:
Zoey Lee, a ninth grader from Boston University High School, was among the first to speak at the pro-SFFA rally in Copley Square Sunday. She said she hopes to benefit from “equal opportunities” when she applies to college and that she objects to Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies.
“There are many young Asians who are gritty and determined. There are many young Asian Americans who have a great personality,” she said.
Another speaker, Kelley A. Babphavong '20, canvassed possible alternatives to race-based admissions. She suggested Harvard could weighs applicants' socieoconomic status in a race-blind manner instead.
“It is not mutually exclusive to advocate for diversity while also openly criticizing Harvard for discriminating against a specific racial group,” she said. “Being Asian at Harvard is not easy, and I hope that the eradication of Harvard’s current admissions policies will allow Asians to no longer be discriminated against."
Jacob J. Verrey ’19 took the stage after Babphavong. He said he believes Harvard lacks ideological and socioeconomic diversity, and that, because of this, Harvard’s vaunted diversity “exists on a largely superficial level.”
“Harvard ought to recognize that skin color is not a substitute for life story,” he said.
As the crowd began to thin, college admissions consultant Vijay Chokal-Ingam — the brother of actress Mindy Kaling — approached the microphone. He spoke about how he “scammed” admissions officers by pretending to be a black student while applying to medical school.
In wide-ranging remarks, Chokal-Ingam also advised Asian-American high schoolers to check off the “prefer not to say” option in lieu of listing their race on college applications and called for the resignation of Harvard's Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons '67. At several points in Chokal-Ingam's speech, members of the audience shouted, “Shame, Harvard.”
— Molly C. McCafferty
Oct. 14, 2:45 p.m., Copley Square:
As the pro-SFFA rally stretched into its third hour, Middletown, Conn. zoning and planning board member Tyrell Brown mounted the stage to lecture the audience about the importance of the Harvard admissions trial. Brown noted he is the youngest black Republican ever elected to office in Connecticut.
“We must take note that instances like this are happening each and every day at universities across this great nation," he said.
Standing in the audience, Kenneth Xu — a student at Davidson College who said he has written about the admissions suit for the Federalist and other publications — said he and other demonstrators are not here to simply “to file a lawsuit.”
“This is not about getting into college, this is about something bigger," Xu said. “We have a chance to set an example, a guiding light for the rest of the nation to follow.”
— Aidan F. Ryan
Oct. 14, 2:33 p.m., Copley Square:
Donning a Harvard athletics sweatshirt, Harvard College and Medical School graduate Samuel T. Wong '84 said he traveled to Copley Square Sunday because he thinks the College's admissions process is far too opaque.
“I’m supporting fairness and transparency, not Asians in particular,” Wong said. “I think there is a lot of obfuscation in this whole thing and the numbers I do think speak for themselves.”
Wong, a former freshman proctor at the College, called SFFA's lawsuit against his alma mater “good noise.”
“I think it raises a lot of noise — it’s good noise and I’m not into banners or oversimplifications but I believe it is a good noise and a necessary noise because I know too many people who are really the best citizens of America who were rejected by Harvard and I don’t even know them, but I felt their pain,” Wong said.
— Aidan F. Ryan
Oct. 14, 1:51 p.m., Copley Square:
Swan Lee, a board member of the Asian American Coalition for Education, severely criticized Harvard and its race-conscious admissions policies in opening remarks she gave at the Copley Square rally — earning claps and cheers from the audience.
“You can tell us apart because of your own ignorance,” Lee said. “If you want to help non-white students, start respecting them.”
About 30 minutes into the rally, things got political. Protesters hung a sign reading "Thank You President Trump 4 Meritocracy" along St. James Avenue. Later, demonstrators hoisted a banner reading “Chinese Americans [Love] Trump.”
Kathy Zhu, a student at the University of Central Florida, stood proudly in front of the “Meritocracy” sign Sunday afternoon. Asked whether she believes this case will go to the Supreme Court, she did not hesitate.
“Absolutely,” Zhu said.
— Aidan F. Ryan
Oct. 14, 12:40 p.m., Harvard Square:
Oct. 14, 12:31 p.m., Copley Square:
Over 250 people are now massed in Copley Square to protest Harvard's race-conscious admissions policies. Demonstrators have stuck anti-Harvard posters — including one “Race is not for bargain" — on fences around the square.
Ally Wang, the wife of a Harvard Medical School professor, said she traveled from New Haven, CT to attend Sunday's rally. Wang said she has two sons: one five-year-old and one 10-year-old.
But she says could care less whether her children get into Harvard or not.
“I don’t really care if my children go to Harvard or not — we probably even kind of have legacy because my husband works for Harvard —but the way Harvard is doing it really hurts,” Wang said.
Wang said she is rallying to protest Harvard's admissions policies because she dislikes the way the College evaluates Asian students' success during the interview process. Documents released over the summer as part of the lawsuit showed that Harvard admissions officers tend to give Asian-American applicants lower scores for "personal traits" like grit and humor than they do applicants of other races.
“I feel it’s very, very unfair,” Wang said. “And I’m offended. I’m offended. Anybody would be.”
— Molly C. McCafferty
Oct. 14, 12:24 p.m., Copley Square:
Hoisting signs reading “Harvard Stop Asian Quota” and “Harvard No More Racial Stereotyping,” protestors have gathered in Copley Square to rally in support of Students for Fair Admissions.
Alex Xia, who wielded a sign reading “Support SFFA Fair Admissions for All,” said he's spent time researching college admissions — and that the results of that research drove him to demonstrate Sunday.
“I do feel like Harvard is unfairly treating Asian-Americans in the application process,” Chin said. “When you see injustice, you have to stand up and protest.”
Sunny Zhao, who stood alongside Xia, said he thinks the admissions processes at Harvard is very unfair to students of Asian descent.
“Look at my children. Look at the people here’s children. Our children study so hard,” Zhao said. “Their hard work is not as appreciated. Why? It’s just because we are Asian. That’s unfair.”
— Aidan F. Ryan
Oct. 14, 12:11 p.m., Harvard Square:
Addressing a near-silent crowd, Harvard doctoral student Gregory Davis and the Harvard Temporary Protected Status Coalition's Doris Reina-Landaverde stepped behind the microphone to defend diversity and affirmative action.
"This is what we're meant to be here for," Davis said. "This is how we make Harvard better, and this is what's right."
Reina-Landaverde also spoke about issues including immigrant rights and unionization. At times she grew visibly emotional and almost unable to speak through tears, which she acknowledged to roars of approval from the crowd.
"I'm so sorry," she said. "It's hard for me — talking about how we suffer here in Harvard, and how when we put in complaints to Harvard, Harvard bosses say 'You don't tell me what I have to say. I'm the boss and I do what I want.'"
— Iris M. Lewis
Oct. 14, 12:09 p.m., Copley Square:
Over 100 people have gathered in Copley Square bearing signs reading “I Am Asian American, I Have A Dream Too” and “My Race Should Not Hurt Me In Admissions.”
Members of the Asian American Rights Association, a Seattle-based group, said they traveled across the country to attend the rally. Ying-Chao Liu, a member of the group, said the battle over Harvard's admissions policies and the upcoming trial reflect “the real concerns of Asian Americans.”
“We are against discrimination, not only at Harvard, but in the K-12 system as well,” Liu said. “This is paramount to all Asian Americans and will have a long-lasting impact across the country.”
— Shera S. Avi-Yonah
Oct. 14, 12:08 p.m., Harvard Square:
A large crowd of pro-Harvard demonstrators walked down Mass. Ave. from Harvard Square to Cambridge Common wielding massive banners and leading chants early Sunday afternoon.
Cambridge Police Department officers stopped traffic for several minutes as the group crossed the street.
As they marched, protesters shouted slogans including “What do we do when diversity is under attack?” and “Stand up, fight back.”
— Delano R. Franklin
Oct. 14, 11:35 a.m., Harvard Square:
Co-founders of the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard Jeannie Park ’83 and Michael Williams ’81 said their group sponsored the rally in Harvard Square to raise awareness and to drum up support for Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies.
“We wanted people to see that there was a real show of strength among not only the students, the alumni, but also the local community,” Park said. “I mean there are a lot of people here who have nothing to do with Harvard but understand that this isn’t about defending Harvard. It’s about defending principles, practices, and policies that we care about.”
“We want to make sure that people, including students and alums of Harvard are focused on this issue, and come out and stand in support of the position to support diversity, and support equity, and support higher education in general,” Williams said.
— Delano R. Franklin
Oct. 14, 11:34 a.m., Harvard Square:
Harvard graduate Lushi Li '10 was visiting her parents in Boston when she found out about the #DefendDiversity rally in Harvard Square. Li said she immediately knew she had to attend.
"[Harvard] can be a great opportunity for a lot of students, and I think having a diverse student body is really important for the student experience itself for the opportunity it offers to underrepresented and underprivileged students," Li said. "It is important to be here today."
Another graduate — Carolyn W. Chou ’13, who spoke at a pro-affirmative action panel discussion held on campus last week — said she also showed up to prove her support for the College's race-conscious admissions policies.
“Both as an alum and as someone who works in Asian American communities locally in Boston, I think this really matters,” she said. “It’s not just about Harvard. It matters in the broader racial justice movement.”
— Alexandra A. Chaidez
— Staff writers Shera S. Avi-Yonah, Alexandra A. Chaidez, Delano R. Franklin, Iris M. Lewis, Molly C. McCafferty, Aidan F. Ryan, and Samuel W. Zwickel contributed reporting.