A group of Asian American students suspicious of an illegal racial quota in college admissions filed a lawsuit against the prestigious Harvard University in the federal court of Boston. The trial, soon expected to reach the Supreme Court, has garnered immense publicity and instigated immediate controversies about the incontrovertible role race plays in admissions.

Supported by the conservative Trump administration aiming to eradicate affirmative action for minorities, the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) argued that Harvard was unconstitutionally and artificially calibrating an ethnic balance among its students. Regardless of their stellar academic performance, Asian Americans were accepted at a stagnant rate of 20% for 18 years, penalized with subjective and non-quantifiable personal rating scores. SFFA similarly accused Harvard for unfairly upholding higher standards for Asians on standardized exams like the PSAT; it sent out interest letters to solely white applicants in rural vicinities with scores as low as 1310, prioritizing them over Asian Americans with much higher test scores.

William Fitzsimmons, the dean of Harvard University, conceded to Harvard’s inclination to matriculate a broad, ethnic range of applicants in its curriculum. Nevertheless, he defended Harvard holistic admissions policy as an all-encompassing approach to admissions, denying all allegations of racial discrimination and claiming that the plaintiff was cherry-picking inconclusive evidence. Harvard underlined the substantial 23% of Asian Americans already enrolled in its freshman class and claimed that other factors like legacies and athletes were in effect, tainting an otherwise pure correlation of acceptance rates with race.

Beneath the dispute of racial quotas lies the more latent yet pressing controversy: affirmative action for minorities in elite institutions. The plaintiff is advocating for a completely race-neutral selection process and the viable alternative of socioeconomic diversity– maximizing diversity of applicants based on their economic status and background. The defendant, however, stands behind the Supreme Court’s previous ruling allowing the consideration of race as one of the numerous factors for admission.

The implications of the trial is significant and unprecedented: it has unveiled the long sought mystery behind the secretive admission process in Harvard, leaking the jargon used to classify students and the edges students have to make the dean’s interest list or the Z list. Despite the opposition of Harvard equating the leak of its secrets with those of national trade secrets, court documents now show the advantages of applicants in unpopulated areas, those with superior athletic abilities, an African-American or Latino background, and family connections to the school. More arbitrary factors like a bubbly, humorous, yet mature personality ratings by interviewers or guidance counselors play a pivotal part in determining the sociability and likeability of the applicants, enhancing their chances of getting admitted. Harvard also revealed its pursuit of more humanists and those interested in Latin or Greek languages, steering away from the overly emphasized science and engineering majors. More secrets are yet to be cracked, and more cries for justice are being heard for Asian Americans.


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