The Race to the Ivy Leagues: An Unjust Legacy | Teen Ink

The Race to the Ivy Leagues: An Unjust Legacy

March 17, 2019
By mvp BRONZE, San Ramon, California
mvp BRONZE, San Ramon, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Countless number of students perfectly suited for the admissions process of elite American universities face devastation and despair receiving rejection letters from Ivy Leagues and elite universities every year. Such pattern of rejection has garnered great scrutiny, prompting Edward Blum of the Project of Fair Representation to “represent these voices” by filing a lawsuit in 2014 suing Harvard University. The lawsuit alleges that the holistic admissions method is a cover for racial discrimination, that Asian Americans are discriminated against in admissions, and that their percentage in Harvard has remained the same over the past two decades while the percent of qualified applicants is increasing, suggesting a racial quota.

In the name of Affirmative Action, first introduced to the United States in 1961 under President Kennedy with an intent to allow for equal employment opportunity among diversely advantaged backgrounds, modern day college admissions process has built up opponents who argue that an admissions board may reject qualified “non-disadvantaged” applicants in favor of “disadvantaged” applicants. Some call affirmative action “positive discrimination,” as they believe that it effectively “discriminates” against the more privileged applicant and favors the less privileged one. As the debate continues, one area that both advocates and opponents can agree on is that its laws intend to “level the playing field” in favor of disadvantaged individuals.

However, some groups, such as the “Students for Fair Admissions” (SFFA) founded by Edward Blum, believe that affirmative action policies have veered from their initial purpose. SFFA affirms what some Asian Americans believe that it is more difficult for them to gain admissions into top universities, even with higher test scores and grades than those of students from different backgrounds. However, Asian Americans as a whole have consistently favored affirmative action, with a reported two thirds supporting such policies. Further analysis reveals that only 41 percent of Chinese Americans support these policies, while 73 percent of non-Chinese Asian Americans support such policies. This growing disparity in opinions may sound absurd, considering Asian Americans, who make up only about 6 percent of the American population, are minorities in the United States.

Universities justify their admissions decisions in a variety of ways, but Harvard cites their “personality” component when accused of discriminating against Asian Americans. Harvard rates these applicants lower than their white counterparts in the “personality” section, regarding traits such as courage, kindness, and likeability, ultimately rejecting many qualified applicants. Some Asian Americans believe this is simply a way for Harvard to reject them based on the university’s quota system while Harvard rejects this claim and says it values a diverse campus.

The concerns these Asian American applicants have may seem unrealistic, but they are perfectly valid. As a student at a highly competitive school with 73 percent Asian Americans, I often see people worrying about racial matters in their college applications. Students are constantly stressed about grades, extracurriculars, colleges; they join countless clubs, take an absurd number of Advanced Placement classes simply because “it will look good on college applications.” I also hear my friends worry that if they take too many advanced STEM (as opposed to humanities) courses, they will look “too Asian” to universities, and be dismissed on that basis. Meanwhile, as they try to stand out, many others do the same thing feeding a perpetuating culture of anxiety, as they truly believe the world has ended if they do not get into the university of their (or their parents’) choice.

In light of this social pressure to succeed at admissions, it is convenient to claim that affirmative action is the culprit. However, Harvard admissions policies truly seem to favor affluent applicants, legacy students, children of politicians and important donors. In addition, these applicants are predominantly white. The percentage of whites at Harvard exceeds the percentage of minorities who are there thanks to affirmative action.

Harvard admits to this discrepancy, reporting that they accept Asian-American students “at a significantly lower rate than white students,” despite their “slightly stronger” SAT scores and grades. The white applicants that comprised this gap in admission rates were mostly legacy students and recruited athletes. According to Harvard Crimson, 53 percent of legacy students are white and 50 percent of those whose families earn more than $500,000 annually are legacy students. Furthermore, even with a shrinking general admissions rate of 4.59 percent, legacy students admission rate remains at 33 percent while only 22 percent undergraduate class identifies as Asian. The disparity between the admission rate of the general population and that of the legacy population shows clear preference for legacy students, as well as their overrepresentation. The fact that most legacy students are white can make the situation seem like racial discrimination, but the reality is that there is a clear preference for legacy students who, unsurprisingly, happen to be largely white.

Careful analysis and interpretation of these statistics prompt one persisting question — what changes can be made to make the admissions process more fair? In turn, this prompts one to wonder whether or not universities should even consider race in a student’s application. On the one hand, diversity is invaluable on college campuses, but on the other hand, race-based applications seem to enforce quotas. In reality, race disclosure is not the real problem, nor are any supposed racial advantages. The factors that really skew the admissions process are wealth and familial connections, especially in the Ivy Leagues. A disproportionately high number of students at Ivy Leagues are either legacy students or they come from families who donate to said schools. It is no surprise that most of these students happen to be white, but it is important to distinguish that their “unearned” admissions do not come as a result of them simply being white. The admissions process would be far more fair if the Ivy Leagues stop admitting so many students from wealthy and influential families, because that does not speak to an applicant’s qualifications for an institution of higher education. It also takes away spots from considering those who are perhaps more qualified.

It seems that this lawsuit brings up the concept of “pitting minorities against each other.” After all, Asian Americans complaining about Hispanic students “stealing” their spots at Harvard is bound to create extreme resentment at some point. However, it is evident that Harvard’s preferences are not necessarily based on race. It is easy to point to affirmative action, which was designed to help racial minorities as one of its functions. When such a system disadvantages Asian Americans, a minority in the United States, it is either not serving its purpose, or it is not to blame. In this case, claims that “affirmative action pushes down Asian Americans only to aid blacks and Hispanics” are extremely destructive. Such claims make minorities turn on each other when, in reality, the enrollment rate at Harvard is still predominantly white. Although Asian Americans do outperform whites, white students still make up a large portion of those applying to Harvard. Pitting minorities against each other is not constructive or reasonable in this situation. We must recognize that if Harvard truly values diversity, the admissions board should start by cutting down on the number of affluent, white, legacy students that they accept in abundance each year.

The author's comments:

In the era of college admissions scandals, this is just one aspect of how such issues impact fair practices in higher education.

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