Life isn’t fair. It’s something we’ve all grown to learn from a young age, and it will likely remain true long past when we’re gone. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try to make things a little more fair for those who did nothing to deserve getting the short end of the stick.
Minorities around the country are by far more disadvantaged than caucasians from a systemic perspective. Many children of color face massive barriers to higher education growing up. Underfunded inner city public schools, a lack of resources for things like tutors and a systemic culture that makes it harder for them to stay away from things like drugs and crime are only a few of the massive hurdles they must leap to make it to prestigious universities.
This is where affirmative action comes in. Affirmative action, as it relates to college, is a set of admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented, such as minorities, by giving consideration to things like race in admissions. It not only helps to insure diversity and tolerance within the future leaders of the world, but it also makes sure that everyone gets an even and equal chance at pursuing their dreams with hard work and determination.
In a recent case, however, Harvard’s affirmative action techniques are being brought into question by a group named Students for Fair Admissions. Surprisingly, this group is made up of Asian American students. Less surprising, however, is the fact that the group is backed by a conservative who hates affirmative action named Edward Blum.
Blum was also the man behind the high profile Abigail Fisher affirmative action case against the University of Texas, which they lost in the Supreme Court. Statistics were released that showed only 5 of the 47 students who were admitted with worse grades than her were black or latino, while the other 42 were white. In addition, 168 black and latino students with as good or better grades than Fisher were rejected from the school along with her. Affirmative action didn’t keep Fisher out of UT — her bad grades did.
Now Blum and Students for Fair Admissions are alleging that Harvard is unfairly discriminating against Asian-American students through the use of “personal ratings” that measure hard to quantify skills such as leadership and personability in each of their applicants. They claim that Harvard is trying to limit the number of Asians attending in order to raise the number of African American and Latino minorities, and that they’re doing so by giving Asians lower personal ratings and giving African Americans and Latinos higher personal ratings.
Purely based off the numbers, these claims seem ridiculous. According to Harvard’s admission statistics, 22.9% of the class of 2022 is Asian American. Compared to the 5.8% of the U.S. population that Asians make up, it seems that they’re not only represented, but vastly over-represented in Harvard’s student body. However, many Asian Americans feel that 22.9% still isn’t high enough compared to the rate they feel they should be accepted at based off academics, and that this is caused by the unfair personal ratings that Asian Americans receive.
Harvard has denied any intentional tampering with personal ratings to try to manipulate the number of minorities admitted into their school. While they do admit that things like race and personality ratings factor into a holistic review of each student, which is a model held up by the supreme court, they deny allegations of quotas or caps for certain races, which are illegal because of the supreme court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.
The Students for Fair Admissions are claiming that Harvard has a hard quota for race in admissions, where they must admit at least X% of African Americans, Latinos, etc. This idea suggests that even if someone is extremely underqualified, they may be admitted just because of their race. The idea is if a school needs more African Americans than those who were qualified that applied, they will start admitting even those who are underqualified to meet the % of African Americans they were hoping for. However, this model has been declared illegal, and is not what Harvard’s holistic reviews are doing.
Holistic reviews are vastly different things from a quota system. Holistic reviews take into account different things, such as socioeconomic background, race, extracurricular activities, volunteer experience and the applicant’s intended profession to reward those who were involved in things outside of just school or who are at a systematic disadvantage. Grades and test scores are still usually the main factor in determining who gets in and who doesn’t, but along with grades they do incorporate other characteristics of a person, and I feel that most of us would agree that a person is more than just their GPA and SAT score.
Many Asians are pushing for a system where Harvard’s admission system is based purely off of academic merit. The problem with that, however, is that with a school like Harvard, every applicant has almost exactly equal academic merit, and there is little to separate them based purely off of test scores. Harvard receives around 40,000 applications a year, and only admits about 1600 of those. Of those applicants, 8,000 had perfect GPAs, and more than 5,000 had a perfect math or verbal SAT score. Minorities aren’t getting in just because they are minorities; most of those getting in have near perfect GPAs and SATs, and their race is only a small factor in whether they are admitted or not. Race isn’t the determining factor, but rather a single section in a large holistic review.
What this case ultimately comes down to is fairness, and in a world like this, things can’t always be perfectly fair. Is it fair that someone with a 4.0 GPA loses their spot to someone with a 3.99 GPA? No, probably not. But on the other hand, is it fair that the person with the 3.99 GPA couldn’t achieve a perfect GPA because instead of private schools and tutors, they had an underfunded inner city school and a part time job to help support their family? Once again, nope, probably not.
The purpose of holistic reviews like the ones Harvard uses isn’t to maintain quotas or percentages of minorities; it’s to make sure that everyone, not just those who have money to hire SAT tutors and private teachers, has a chance to make it if they work hard. And while that may not be perfectly fair, nothing probably ever will be.