Race can't be ignored: Affirmative action corrects America's past sins

In mid-October, Harvard University faced a lawsuit from the Students for Fair Admissions regarding racial discrimination against Asian-Americans during the admissions process. According to the United States Department of Justice, “Harvard has failed to ... show that its use of race does not inflict unlawful racial discrimination on Asian-Americans.”

Harvard and many other universities are justified in using race and affirmative action in their admissions process. Race is a part of a person’s identity and neglecting that would treat each and every person as if they were the same, which is never the case.

According to an NPR article, statistics were a driving force in this trial. Initially, SFFA’s attorneys placed the blame on recruitment members and a Harvard program that sends recruitment letters to high school students. Harvard’s policy states that Asian-Americans who live in rural areas and white males need a PSAT score of 1370 and 1310, respectively, in order to receive a letter. Attorney John Hughes stoutly defended SFFA, stating, “That's race discrimination plain and simple.”

Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons upheld the policy. Fitzsimmons argued that Harvard’s policy intends to attract people who reside in rural areas who would not have initially considered applying to the school. However, this policy is not used once students become applicants.

SFFA also argued that the university should not consider race in its admissions process. Harvard rebutted the claim and argued that adopting SFFA’s method would decrease the quality of incoming students.

“It’s possible to still get a diverse class without considering race, especially if Harvard increased its ‘tip’ for applicants of low socioeconomic status,” SFFA said.

Although Harvard’s policy is controversial, its application rating system was the face of the trial. SFFA’s analysis revealed that Asian-Americans consistently perform better in both academic and extracurricular areas, but they perform poorly in comparison to other ethnic groups in what Harvard calls a “personal score.”

Former CNN legal analyst Shan Wu stated that Harvard consistently “scored Asian-American applicants lower for characteristics like likability, courage, integrity.” Wu referred to her “one definition of racism” as “when you imply personality characteristics or behavior characteristics to a person’s physical appearance that goes to the heart of a racist belief.”

When SFFA’s experts limited their analysis to only include students who scored high, the differences in the personal scores became wider.

“The magnitude of racial preferences is quite large,” said Duke University economist Peter Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono also conducted the plaintiff’s analysis.

In a graphic made by SFFA, 17 percent of the overall Asian-American applicants received high personal ratings, while 21 percent of the overall white applicants received high personal ratings.

David Card, a University of California Berkeley economist and expert witness for Harvard, said that the university has a limited number of seats for first-year students each year.

In the case of supply and demand, Harvard raises the “price,” or makes the cutoff score high, in order for students to be admitted. Card’s analysis revealed that being Asian-American does not have an effect on students’ chances of getting in to the college.

A key factor in supporting affirmative action is that it fosters diversity. Having a diverse student body increases empathy and compassion and widens students' understanding of the world. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, supporters of affirmative action state that it helps people who are underrepresented in the U.S. population. Minorities who apply to colleges or universities have increased due to affirmative action programs.

Graduate students also benefit from these programs. They claim to be better off economically in comparison to graduate students who did not attend colleges or universities that did not enforce affirmative action.

Affirmative action policies “compensate for centuries of racial, social and economic oppression.” This is a strong argument, considering the fact that the majority of minorities have had to struggle to pursue their dreams.

Therefore, critics of Harvard’s admission policy are wrong in saying that race should not be included in its admission process. Race will be an essential characteristic that will always be a part of a person’s identity. Needless to say, it should be taken into account in any application, whether it be for college or future endeavors.

-Brandon Tingle

Financial Mathematics ‘21