Harvard Racial Bias

  • Anisha Menath ’21

Diversity has been a struggle for many private schools, and this is particularly relevant at the college level. Private schools have no regulations on who they can or cannot admit. Most of the time, private schools try to fill quotas. But, they also are looking for people who will benefit from their institution. Many colleges consider race in the process of admission because of affirmative action, diversity, and the need to fill internal quotas. Although most colleges agree that diversity is a good concept to incorporate into their schools, they are unsure of a way to do it that is productive and effective. 

Harvard has been dealing with this situation due to the court case of Asian Americans at Harvard saying that they have been discriminated against in an effort to increase “diversity.” According to Harvard’s website, the ethnicity breakdown of their student population is 25.3% Asian Americans in the class of 2023. Although this is the largest racial minority on their campus, it is also important to realize that the largest racial group in this class is white. In addition, the Asian Americans who do attend Harvard also come from socio-economically privileged backgrounds, which is not a true representation of the Asian American population in the U.S. 

The Harvard case outcome was the judge saying that Asians are not discriminated against. Different people have many different opinions about this issue, especially Asian American students. In the New York Times article titled, “Harvard Does not Discriminate Against Asian-Americans in Admission, Judge Rules”, an Asian-American student says that he hopes that Harvard (and other colleges) will stop using race in the process of admission. Another Asian-American student says that race should be included in the process of admission, but it should not be the deciding factor of whether one should get in or not. It is important to acknowledge someone’s race, but if it prevents a person from gaining admission into a college, then it is unfair. 

In addition to this admission scandal at Harvard, many other prestigious schools have had scandals of people being accepted not based on merit. Hopefully, this leads to more awareness about the inner workings of college applications. As a person who is starting the process of searching for colleges, I find all of this new information about admissions a little overwhelming. I do not know exactly where I stand because there is a lot of behind-the-scenes action that makes me weary about what I choose to do. I am supportive of schools making an effort to include programs to promote diversity, but I do not think that the way to do it is by holding one group to a higher standard and thus limiting their admission. 

After this case, a lot of people have been cautious of checking their race on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. It is most likely that there is some data that the College Board already has about a test taker’s race, but giving more information only adds to another way bias can interfere with an application. Asian Americans are stereotyped to be smart and intelligent; therefore, studies have shown that people expect them to have higher standardized test scores, take more AP classes, and have higher GPAs. It is interesting that Asians are held to a higher standard because of racial stereotypes, contrasted with all other racial stereotypes. This comes from the idea of Asians being the “model minority.” 

The “model minority” idea is that even though Asians are people of color (people who do not identify as white or caucasian), they are stereotyped to be high-achieving and obedient. This does not help Asians grow in any way, and although it is not the most malicious stereotype, it is harmful for some students to have to set higher expectations for themselves just because they need to fit in with their ethnic group. These stereotypes should be excluded from admission processes.

It is worth mentioning that other students of color who identify as part of the Latinx and Black community are admitted at even lower rates than Asian-American students. This displays that even though Harvard is trying to create a more diverse environment, they are doing so by acting on a racial stereotype and holding Asians to a higher standard. The college admission process needs to become more fair, and racial discrimination through the college process of any race should be unacceptable. Overall, the real problem is that there are still predominantly white institutions who are struggling to implement diversity and no one knows the most effective way to do it. 

Photo Provided by New Yorker

By Axel de Vernou

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