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In a post-affirmative action world, I often find myself questioning my worth as a Harvard student. Did I get in solely because of my race? Am I academically qualified to be here? Did I steal a spot away from another applicant?
These questions have often trapped me in a self-perpetuating cycle of self-deprecation, hindering my academic potential. For a while, I believed in the pervasive lie that impostor syndrome imposes on its victims. I often felt not good enough, like Harvard made a mistake in accepting me. But after a few months on campus, I have come to embrace myself in the beautiful mosaic of Harvard freshmen. I, and every other Black freshman, belong here.
Individuals who spew anti-affirmative action rhetoric claim that affirmative action is “reverse discrimination,” giving minority students an advantage in the college admissions process. Within this line of thought is the belief that such a non-meritocratic advantage means these students may not be prepared for the rigor of an Ivy League institution.
These arguments seek to hinder Black students in predominantly white spaces. By hiding behind the assumption that Black students have lower test scores, on average, than their white counterparts, opponents dream of a merit-based application process — a process that allows only the applicants with the highest scores to be accepted.
But merit is inseparable from life experience.
Though grades and test scores are a critical part of the admissions process, ignoring the historic and personal difficulties a Black student has had to face effectively disregards parts of their identity — an identity that many feel their application is incomplete without.
Systemic oppression means that less privileged individuals often haven’t had access to private tutors and multiple chances to take expensive admissions exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. In its 2022 SAT annual report, the College Board reported that students from families earning less than $67,083 annually made up only 22 percent of test takers who reported their family income. The percentage of students taking the SAT from self-reported high-income families — families who make more than $83,766 — was 46 percent.
Further, although Black homeowners tend to pay more on average in property taxes than white families, their public schools still receive less funding. Predominantly white districts are typically smaller than minority ones, and, overall, they receive $23 billion more in funding. This disparity in public school funding results from the tendency to draw district lines around affluent communities within larger poorer areas.
Thus, the sacrifices some Black students have to make when grappling with marginalization can effectively take a toll on their academic performance. Some Black students have had to put their families’ needs before their own, leading to attendance issues. Others have experienced prejudice within their own communities. And these experiences often have a great impact on Black students’ identities. To emphasize these experiences on their college applications is not harmful. In fact, it is beneficial for the college considering them for admission.
Diverse classes allow for different perspectives and ideas to be shared, which leads to students learning from one another. This, in turn, can help to develop critical thinking skills by forcing us to encounter information that challenges our own beliefs.
In other words: Black Harvard freshmen, our ideas matter.
But we don’t just bring fresh perspectives to this University — we are more than capable of succeeding here. One analysis of graduation rates at Ivy League institutions reveals that at Harvard, 99 percent of Black undergraduates graduate within a six-year period, compared to 98 percent for undergraduates overall. While this might seem like a minute difference, it is significant in relation to an already high graduation rate.
Black students have the experiences, intellect, and determination to succeed at prestigious universities. It is time for us, Black Harvard freshmen, to believe in our prosperity.
In the wake of the upcoming 2024 admissions cycle, sans affirmative action, it may be tempting for current Black freshmen to compare ourselves to the incoming freshman class. Because the incoming class could not click a checkbox indicating their race, we may believe that they are more qualified than we are, that their acceptances are more valid than ours. But we have unique experiences and talents to bring to this institution — ideas and abilities that Harvard wants us to continue to explore and flourish.
Black Harvard freshmen, you belong here. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Dalevyon L.J. Knight ’27, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Canaday Hall.
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