Harvard College and affirmative action

There were approximately one million things I considered during the college process. In the comfort of Mr. Frappier’s office, I was presented with a seemingly complete diagram of who I was to colleges. Grades, test scores, and the 200 word blurbs written on extracurriculars became the summation of what I was presenting to the institutions I applied to. Everyone has their own opinion or argument for which is the most important part of one’s college application. What I never had to confront before that moment was a tiny, single check mark portion of the application that would drastically influence the way that my application would be read. Race.

It is a bit hyperbolic of me to say that the race section of the Common App drastically influenced my application. I’m partially Asian and partially white, so I don’t live under the Asian title entirely. When I was filling out that section, as we all have many times before on countless College Board assessments, I did not think twice about both of those boxes. However, as pressures mounted and college seemed to be all the talk of the lunch tables, I learned more of the anxieties of checking the Asian box. I had hidden under the combination of my privilege of a Caucasian father from Alabama and my fear of ever learning too much about truly how rough my chances at competitive schools were, so I never considered what checking that box truly meant.

It is a little bit easier for me to evade Asian stereotypes as an ambiguously mixed person. That does not mean that I have not sat witness to plenty, though. The expectations of being good at math or naturally excelling in STEM and taking on one million extracurriculars were plenty real. But, I had never confronted the reality of these expectations in the real world.

Harvard was served with a class action lawsuit in 2014. The plaintiffs consisted of a group of Asian-American students hailing from highly competitive college preparatory high schools. The goal of that lawsuit was to determine if race correlated to differences in admission in comparable students. This November, attorney general Jeff Sessions threatened a lawsuit against Harvard unless they released the records requested by the department for their investigation of racial discrimination in the college process. Basically, the aftermath of checking the Asian box is becoming a really big deal.

In delving into research to understand this lawsuit and what it meant to my peers and me, I began to read many diverging opinions on the matter. To me, it seems wrong to discriminate based on race. And, on a basic level, that is what appears to be happening. While they are by no means the only ones facing this scrutiny or accused of this practice, Harvard has published arguments that they must preserve diversity in order to preserve the quality of their institution. And there are plenty of students, including Asian Americans, who could concur. This argument gives me pause. I have always believed and expressed an appreciation for diversity. And, as I thought about it, a diverse community was something that I looked for during my own college process. What I didn’t understand at the time was that this wish was paired with a reality of considering race in the application process. A conservation of diversity in an admitted class, while the Asian population in our nation continuously grows in number and in competition, could be maintained only by considering the proportion of races. But how do I cope with my appreciation for diversity and the blatant unfairness of one Asian male facing drastically different admission chances to the school of his dreams simply because of a factor completely out of his control. I understand the benefits of a diverse class, but I also relate to the arguments that the best person should get in, regardless of their sex or ethnicity.

The conversation about the role of race in admissions is one I do not have a full grasp of. I do not know where I stand. Throughout the college process, the many supportive people of Westminster will tell you that “it will work out.” And I’d like to believe that regardless of which box you check, it will. But these lawsuits are far from being dropped. And the future of college admissions hangs in the balance. Where do you stand?