Twenty-five Harvard student and alumni groups argued in court documents Thursday that the University’s race-conscious admissions policies are vital to the school’s educational mission.
“Given racial bias in standardized testing and endemic racial inequities in educational opportunities in primary and secondary school, Harvard must consider race if it is to assemble a diverse student body and achieve the educational benefits thereof,” lawyers representing the students wrote in the filing.
The students’ brief comes as part of an ongoing lawsuit that alleges Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants, a charge the University has repeatedly denied. Anti-affirmative action advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions brought the suit in 2014.
The student groups are partly being represented by lawyers from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Some of the groups seek to promote diversity or public service on Harvard’s campus, while others are affinity organizations. Ten of the groups are specifically targeted to Asian or Asian-American students.
The students’ brief was one of several filed Thursday. Economists, social scientists, and academics — as well as prominent legal organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union — also entered amicus briefs in support of Harvard’s admissions practices.
At least one brief fell decidedly on the other side of the issue. The United States Department of Justice on Thursday morning filed a statement of interest asserting Harvard’s admissions process inflicts “unlawful racial discrimination” against Asian-American hopefuls.
In their brief, the students noted that SFFA’s goal is to eliminate the use of race in college admissions — something the group’s president Edward Blum previously admitted to The Crimson in an email. The students’ filing argues the loss of affirmative action would lead to discrimination against minority students including Asian Americans.
If universities could no longer consider race, the filing states, “applicants would no longer be able to present their authentic selves in their applications, deterring and disadvantaging applicants whose leadership and other experiences are inextricably intertwined with their racial and cultural heritage.”
Contrary to SFFA’s rhetoric, the student groups argue that race-conscious admissions actually benefits some Asian American applicants, especially those who are flagged as coming from “disadvantaged” backgrounds.
“Within the category of disadvantaged applicants, Asian Americans receive the largest preference in admissions,” the document reads. “Attention to the particular disadvantages faced by Asian Americans is important because this group has the highest intra-racial inequality.”
The students’ filing is specifically arguing against SFFA’s motion to decide the case without a trial. Experts have said that is unlikely.
The suit is set to go to trial in a Boston courtroom on Oct. 15.
The groups that signed the brief include:
21 Colorful Crimson
Harvard Black Alumni Society
Association of Black Harvard Women
Coalition for a Diverse Harvard
First Generation Harvard Alumni
Fuerza Latina of Harvard
Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance
Harvard Asian American Brotherhood
Harvard Islamic Society
Harvard Japan Society
Harvard Korean Association
Harvard Latino Alumni Alliance
Harvard Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students
Harvard Phillips Brooks House Association
Harvard South Asian Association
Harvard University Muslim Alumni
Harvard Vietnamese Association
Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association
Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Women’s Association
Harvard-Radcliffe Black Students Association
Harvard-Radcliffe Chinese Students Association
Kuumba Singers of Harvard College
Native American Alumni of Harvard University
Native Americans at Harvard College
Task Force on Asian and Pacific American Studies at Harvard
Correction: Sept. 5, 2018
A previous version of this story indicated that the 25 student groups are partly being represented by lawyers from the NAACP. In fact, they are being represented by lawyers from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @delanofranklin_
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