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To my Black legacy child not yet in this world,
I write this letter to you in my sophomore year of college, at a time when — perhaps — the seemingly inflexible status of elite institutions is beginning to change.
Within the last decade, major developments have occurred in the movement for colleges and universities to abandon legacy admissions. While some notable universities — such as MIT and Caltech — have never considered one’s legacy status, most colleges do, although they are now starting to reconsider. Schools such as Johns Hopkins University and Amherst College — institutions well-known for producing long lineages of legacy alumni — have decided to remove legacy preference from the admissions process. And recently, the entire state of Colorado did away with the practice altogether. As a consequence, there has been a great push for Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, to follow suit.
And, my child, my feelings about this are complicated. On one hand, I feel strongly that legacy preference in college admissions should end, especially within the Ivy League. When Harvard applicants of legacy status have a nearly one in three chance of being admitted — compared to the general one in twenty statistic for non-legacy applicants — it clearly preserves a culture of elitism that cannot be extricated from Harvard’s deep history of racial discrimination. Since 1636 — even before the United States secured its nationhood by way of bloodied chains and fearsome weapons — white male students at Harvard could not only forge a path to greatness for themselves, but accelerate this road for their children. They could sharpen their minds while investing in their bloodlines, ensuring that each iteration of their descendants could attain this educational pedigree with more and more ease.
But for others — for people like you and me — this path was forbidden for a terribly long time. It took more than 250 years for the first Black person to graduate from Harvard College, and the Black undergraduates who followed were far from greeted warmly. Richard T. Greener ’1870 and other Black students who dared to infiltrate the Ivy League, had to fight fearlessly for their education and for their lives — sleeping in dormitories named after slaveholders, guarding against white students in pointed white hoods, and enduring forced segregation and egregious harassment for nothing more illicit than their Black presence at a white institution.
However, even in our new millennium — which those before us had hoped would bring newfound security and peace — Black Harvard students are still battling for the respect of our university. We are disproportionately targeted by campus police, routinely denied the creation of a safe space where we may love and protect each other, and told we are undeserving of our places at elite institutions by our own instructors. And, on top of all this, less than five percent of Black students at Harvard — compared to one out of five white students — have legacy status.
So it is under these circumstances, my child, that I owe it to us both to be honest.
More than anything, I want to give you what my ancestors were denied. I want you to have security and prosperity, success, and unimaginable joy. I want to provide for you what many of my white classmates have had for generations — a future paid for in advance.
I want this for you because you deserve it — no, because you are owed it, by this school and by this country. You are my legacy child, and a likelier chance of a Harvard admission is a tainted, yet immortal gift. How come it has to expire as soon as it's your turn to have it?
I know I sound like a petulant child: “It’s not fair.” Am I not longing for a power that has suppressed our people for ages? I feel like I am being enticed by some sinister force. The goal of white supremacy is to be self-replicating — it is to secure wealth and power for one’s children no matter the cost, no matter who is trampled along the way. I want you to have it all — but never at another’s expense.
And, as my legacy child, I am certain that you will be born into a privilege that I was not.
You are much more likely to come from a higher tax bracket, and contribute to the long-standing problem of disportionate wealth among Harvard students — a problem that often deters low-income high schoolers from even applying. You will have insider knowledge of the college application process, access to tutoring and advisors, and an impressive resume that will reflect the abundance of resources you had at your disposal. You will be far ahead of the curve, and make other kids of less-privileged backgrounds feel like they could never catch up. You would become the very applicant who once disadvantaged students like me.
I cannot let this happen. I can’t advocate for a system that was designed to keep us out. Therefore, I must let go of this infinite and poisoned gift. I’m sorry, my child. I promise, I am always thinking of you.
Jasmine M. Green ‘24, a Crimson Associate Editorial editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Lowell House.
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