In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), an anonymous group of Asian American applicants rejected from Harvard, filed a lawsuit against the University alleging racial discrimination. While the ongoing SFAA v. Harvard case is not a case on the legality of affirmative action, the outcome is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court. A Supreme Court decision, in turn, could have national implications.
The Young Democrats of Massachusetts (YDMA) stands in support of affirmative action policies in college admissions used by Harvard and other higher education institutions. We recognize the importance of institutional checks and balances in the admissions process to ensure that race is never used as a negative or deciding factor in the admissions process. However, YDMA believes that the systemic and historical oppression of racial minorities in America has created a society that disadvantages some applicants on the basis of their race in their pre-college life experiences and that this needs to be taken into account in a holistic way.
The SFFA suit has only provided more evidence of preferences for legacy students and relatives of donors, which research has shown swamps the impact of race-conscious policies. Further, class-only admissions policies fail to account for ongoing racial discrimination in each phase of the admissions process.
SFFA did not file this suit in the interest of Asian Americans. For conservative “race-blind admissions” activist Edward Blum, this is a front for dismantling an entire system of admissions that recognizes how diversity benefits all students and that tries to correct societal imbalances in pre-college opportunities. If this case goes to the Supreme Court and it is found that Harvard University discriminated against Asian Americans, it could spell the end of affirmative action policies that seek to level the playing field for applicants from marginalized racial groups, including Black, Latinx, and Indigenous applicants, as well as applicants from many marginalized Asian American ethnic groups.
Problems undoubtedly plague admissions processes in ways that favor the privileged of all races, and race is not the perfect proxy for wealth or advantageous pre-college life experiences. But the answer is not to drop race as a consideration entirely in the admissions process.
The narrow empirical question before the court that is currently being addressed is whether race was used in a discriminatory manner against Asian American applicants to Harvard University. If racial stereotypes were being used, that is wrong and hurtful, and we do not condone such practices.
But the more pressing political question before the country is whether affirmative action policies in higher education are a legitimate response to racial inequity in our country. We believe the answer is yes.
Photo credit: Harvard Crimson