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College Admission Discrimination?

Harvard comes under fire in lawsuit

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  • Harvard University is an ivy league college located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It accepts about 5% of applicants every year. [Harvard Admissions]

  • A student advocacy group, Students for Fair Admissions, filed a lawsuit against Harvard in 2014 claiming Harvard's admission policies discriminate against prospective Asian-American students. [NPR]

  • The group analyzed data that it says reveals white, black and Hispanic students are more likely to be admitted to Harvard than Asian-Americans. [Reuters]

  • Academic institutions that receive funding from the federal government cannot discriminate on the basis of “race, color or national origin,” according to U.S. law. [Department of Education]

  • This policy is known as affirmative action. [Legal Information Institute]

  • The group argued that twice as many Asian-Americans would be admitted if academic performance was the only admissions factor considered. Schools often use a comprehensive review of their admission processes.  [WBUR]

  • Harvard said race is one of several things that they consider when reviewing applications and has denied the alleged discrimination. [Associated Press]



SOCIAL: The outcome of the case could impact admission practices for colleges and universities across the country and the criteria used to admit students of diverse backgrounds. [Vox]


CIVICS: Affirmative action is an action or policy favoring groups who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education. [Legal Information InstituteSome refer to it as "positive discrimination."



Some current students feel they benefited from affirmative action and don’t believe race should be separated from a student’s persona. [The Washington Post]



Full picture

Admission factors such as SAT or ACT scores, grade point average and a student’s extracurricular resume might not entirely represent the quality and potential of a student. [The New York Times]




Race is a factor of admission that helps colleges and universities create diverse student bodies. [USA Today]


Other considerations

Instead of race, Harvard should use school quality as an admission factor, the school’s newspaper opined. [The Harvard Crimson]



Change the policy

Some believe affirmative action is a beneficial strategy but that it should be based on a student’s needs rather than race. [The Boston Globe]



Majority opinion

72% of Americans believe race shouldn’t be a college admission factor. [Inside Higher Ed]


Read more from The Atlantic about how affirmative action may end soon.

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  • President Trump publically supported the group that filed the lawsuit. [TIME]

  • Oct 2019: A federal judge ruled that Harvard's admission policy does not discriminate against Asian Americans. [The New York Times] Many are speculating that the decision will be appealed, and could end up in the Supreme Court

  • Aug. 2020: The Department of Justice has accused Yale University of discriminating against Asian American and white applicants. [TIME]


  • Should race be used as a factor for admission to colleges or universities?

  • The New York Times considered what might happen if Harvard stopped considering race as a factor for admission.

  • What impact does affirmative action have on college admissions? [NBC News]

  • How would the Supreme Court use precedent to rule on the Harvard case if it reaches the nation’s highest court?

  • Learn more about the history of affirmative action from The Smithsonian

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