The recent news regarding accusations of disadvantages for and discrimination against Asian-American applicants in the Harvard admissions process has put several students in scenarios where they must defend their admission to the College and prove why they deserve to be here. Constructed by Students for Fair Admissions as part of its lawsuit against Harvard, such allegations have provoked thoughts and conversations filled with do-I-belong-here's and did-I-get-here-solely-because-of-affirmative-action's, while catalyzing the growth of a credentialist culture where judgements of others and constructions of social hierarchies are based solely on accomplishments—all with little regard for individuals’ unique circumstances. The case revives a threat to future students of color and their chances of achieving higher education, on top of taking an emotional toll on students of color at Harvard.
Students for Fair Admissions has taken a firm stand against affirmative action and believes that “racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.” While I believe that consciousness of a student’s race in the college admissions process is fair, necessary, and constitutional, I further stand against SFFA because it is an organization that strives for color blindness. We are not searching for fairness through erasure of our identities and struggles—fairness never comes at such a cost.
Students for Fair Admissions seems to be looking to achieve something more extreme than what lays on the surface of this particular case. Edward Blum, president of SFFA, director of the Project on Fair Representation, and legal strategist in the Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court case, has been leading the fight against race conscious admissions and affirmative action for decades. As we question why Blum is choosing to target Asian and Asian-American students, why he’s doing it now, and what this has to do with his recent 2016 near-victory in the Fisher case, I haven’t a doubt that this case is a small part of a much larger plan to dismantle affirmative action entirely.
Blum pulls no new tricks here. The use of Asian Americans as political props is not a new tactic, and occurred during the 1980s against Stanford, Brown, and other top schools. It is a clear cut example of racial mascoting and exploitation of another social groups’ struggle for the benefit of one’s own. While in no way aiming to invalidate or ignore the struggle Asians, Asian Americans, and other groups face—one can only ask that as we grow to understand each other’s struggles and oppressions, completed through greater levels of diversity, I might add, that privilege is recognized and institutionalized oppressions are not negated and nullified in the process.
Affirmative action stands as an imperfect policy. It disproportionately benefits white women and favors upper-middle class students of color. Many students, including myself, would also say it does not give enough attention to economic and socioeconomic class. Nevertheless, it is the only policy currently addressing the institutionalized and systematic oppressions students from marginalized communities—especially students of color—face in achieving higher education. Our world, our schools, and our role models would be and look different without it.
If we were to picture a Harvard that didn’t recognize these challenges in the admissions process, a Harvard without affirmative action, what would it look like? Well, with affirmative action, adapted by many institutions with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the admitted class of 2020 was the first one to be majority-minority. It took 53 years of affirmative action at work for underrepresented groups to collectively represent a majority—by just over one percent.
If Harvard were to admit individuals based solely on academic successes such as grades, SAT or ACT scores, and class rankings, based on a reported Harvard model from 2013, the percentage of Asians that make up the class would more than double to 43 percent. This number may be even higher as the rate of admission for Asian Americans has grown 29 percent over the last 10 years. Keeping this in mind, the gap between white students and students of color is still quite wide when it comes to one of the most important traditional indicators of academic success—standardized tests. Thus, the percentage of white students enrolled at Harvard would most likely remain high, and might even increase. Under this scenario, little room, if any, would seem to be left for Brown and Black students. A Harvard like this would accept students based on test scores and GPAs that are poor indicators of merit, especially for Black, Latinx, and Native American students, which are influenced by implicit biases teachers have about students of color.
Harvard, among many other colleges and universities, prides itself on the communities it bridges and relationships it cultivates. Without diversity, exposure to different and underrepresented perspectives, and recognition of the hurdles students overcome, Harvard is, and many colleges would be, a room full of mirrors; an echo chamber which never sees change as a product of dialogue.
For this reason, the Black Student Association has worked with NAACP lawyers to collect narratives and voices of Harvard students regarding affirmative action and the overall positive impact it has had on the student body in order to assist in the construction of an amicus brief.
The BSA stands with those who support affirmative action. Together, we stand against Students for Fair Admissions as in their fight for color blindness in higher education, we strive to be seen, we strive to be heard, and we strive to have ourselves and journeys recognized while helping others do the same.
Jasmine N. Hyppolite ’21 lives in Eliot House. She is political action chair of the Black Students Association.
Correction: July 10, 2018
A previous version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that the Class of 2021 is Harvard's first majority-minority class. In fact, the admitted class of 2021 is the second class in a row to be majority non-white. The College has yet to seat a freshman class that is majority nonwhite.
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