Asian-Americans face off against Harvard claiming bias in admissions


Devyn Inong

Picture via Katie Reilly of TIME

Alisa Aistrup, Feature Editor

As Asian-Americans with bright, shimmering 5.0 GPAs and impressive, lengthy list of extracurriculars apply to Harvard, Princeton and Cornell, they anxiously tap their toes and await their acceptance letters. Months later, a letter will arrive in the mail — a rejection letter.
Asian-Americans have the highest overall GPA averages out of all other races in the nation, yet, according to Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS), they comprise only 17 percent of the undergrad student population at Harvard University, often ranked as the top university in the nation. The reality behind this number lies not in Asian students’ transcripts or other accomplishments, but in the “likability” ratings that are determined during the admission process.
Now, a group of Asian-American students is fighting back.
The Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) filed a lawsuit in early June against Harvard alleging bias against minorities, particularly Asian-Americans, in their admission processes. On August 30, the Department of Justice (DOJ) ruled in favor of the SFFA and Asian-American applicants, ending the case without a trial. The DOJ, in agreement with the SFFA, stated, “Harvard admissions officers and committees consistently monitor and manipulate the racial makeup of incoming classes.”
The case began when it was revealed that the Harvard Admissions Committee scored applicants on a series of five categories: academic, extracurricular, athletic, personal and overall.
Studies showed Asian-Americans generally flourish in the academic category and are more likely to earn higher ratings than that of Caucasian applicants. Although deemed “busy and bright” in the admission files, the admission office tends to give Asian-Americans lower overall scores in other categories.
The lawsuit contends that Harvard has systematically violated civil rights laws by discriminating against Asian-Americans. Many Asian-American applicants see the system as unjust, ultimately working against them because of their race and “likeability.”
“College is a balance of sleep, social life, and your grades,” junior Jerry Johnson said. “A college shouldn’t judge you based off how likeable you are; they should solely focus on grades.”
“I have a cousin who applied to Harvard and he was declined,” Asian-American junior Lauris Dang said. “He asked the college center lady why he was declined and she said ‘there’s a high amount of Asian-Americans being accepted this year, so we reached the maximum.”
“ I think that this whole thing is confusing and dumb, especially since it seems like it is all based off race. It doesn’t show who you are as a person, grades and extracurricular activities should be the sole priority of student’s scores. ”
The SFFA argued that if Harvard were to judge applicants solely on their academic achievement, the percent of Asian-Americans on campus would rise from the current 17 percent to 60 percent.
The plaintiff, the SFFA, also declared that their admission process is used to justify discrimination against Asian-Americans, similar to that of the 1920s and 1930s when Harvard allegedly discriminated against Jewish applicants as a whole despite their superior grades and scores.
Harvard has defended its admission process by stating that the personal and extracurricular categories help to select students that are more willing to participate in on-campus sports and engage with other students on campus. In defense to the percentage of Asian-American students on campus, Harvard countered that Asian-American admission rate has increased by 29 percent over the last decade.
In a recent press release, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements.”
The case will most likely be tried in October in the District of Massachusetts, according to the “Washington Post”.
“The whole ordeal is unfair,” Asian-American junior Ashley Nyguen states. “We have to work twice as hard as other races when it comes to academics and the fact that they are being scored off their likeability and not just grades is shocking to me.”