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25 Student Groups Back Harvard in Admissions Suit

William R. Fitzsimmons '67, known as "Fitzy" in his youth, is the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College.
William R. Fitzsimmons '67, known as "Fitzy" in his youth, is the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Delano R. Franklin, Crimson Staff Writer

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 Follow him on Twitter @delanofranklin_

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