There is no “typical” Harvard student. There are 6,699 students from around the country and the world, and every single one of us took a different path to get here. Some of us excelled in sports or in the arts, some others through writing or science, but on campus, all of us form part of one Harvard student body — constantly in the process of learning to grow in conversation with itself.
Still, a recent Duke University study confirms two things that many Harvard affiliates likely already know. First, applicants who can be characterized as having legacy, athlete, or donor or faculty family status have a leg up in the admissions process; and that, second, removing athlete and legacy preferences would significantly change the racial make-up of Harvard’s student body, reducing the number of white students.
However, the paper still makes many striking findings: 43 percent of white accepted students between 2009 and 2014 were athletes, legacies, faculty children, donor family members, or, likely in many cases, some combination of them. And, according to the study’s modeling, only about a quarter of those students would have been accepted if they didn’t fit one of those categories. Running the numbers yet further, the study finds that if legacy and athletic preferences respectively were abolished, the number of white students admitted overall would fall by 4 percent and 6 percent in each scenario.
In order to make sure it enrolls a diverse group of students, Harvard should strive for a truly holistic review that does not provide separate admissions pathways for any students. These separate pathways — including early athletic recruitment and the “Dean’s Interest List,” which came to light as part of the ongoing lawsuit of Students for Fair Admissions — are unjust, reflecting and perpetuating inequities from generation to generation. More importantly, they play a role in engineering class-based divisions between students — seeding the grounds for damaging divisions between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
In particular, the study calls us to look critically at what it means to be an athlete on our campus. No doubt, athletes have worked hard to cultivate their skills and contribute a liveliness and depth to our campus culture that we would regret losing, not least when the Harvard-Yale Game rolls around each November. But we should also recognize that even athletic ability can be dependent on the resources made available during one’s childhood. Few can afford coaching in sailing; and certainly still fewer can afford the boat to sail on. Indeed, the study finds that only 3.2 percent of white admitted athletes can be considered economically disadvantaged. Just as we critique the financial resources that go into studying for the ACT and SAT, we should be conscious of how those same resources go into fostering and providing a nurturing environment for athletic talent.
We continue to believe that the best admissions process will look at each student as a complex whole, comprised of not only their academic proficiency and extracurricular intrigue, but also the background — in terms of privileges and challenges — that they come from. To that end, every student should be considered through the same process and apart from the pocketbooks of their parents or the colleges those parents attended. Though this study does not shock us per se; it reminds us of the significant work our University has left toward achieving the goal.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.