Court proceedings continue for Students for Fair Admissions’ case against Harvard University. The Justice published a collection of sentiments on the case from Brandeis students and faculty in “Views on the News” last week. Because this case is close to home for the many college students who identify as  racial minorities, the issue deserves a more in-depth look. 

As college has become a requirement for a widening array of jobs and opportunities in America, it has become more difficult to provide equal opportunities for those who are underrepresented or underprivileged. Affirmative action is a series of policies that aim to tackle this issue. However, America is a strange beast regarding education. The population is so diverse that it is impossible and grossly unfair to treat everyone the same way, yet it is very difficult to be the arbiter of how equality should be.

Harvard has tried to tackle this through a “holistic” application review. This is all too familiar to college students who have waded their way through the college application process and, though ambiguous and cliched, we can understand the idea of looking at an applicant as a person. 

However, a major talking point in this case is the usage of a “personal rating.” Although Asian and Asian-American students filled all the admission requirements from a merit standpoint, the reason for their rejection was a low score in this personal area, which Harvard assigned seemingly arbitrarily.

It is almost impossible to objectively quantify a student’s hunger to learn, which makes it important to acknowledge that there is never going to be a perfect system in a country as highly variable as America. One is left to question whether removing race from the equation would be the better solution.

If, upon review of Harvard’s documents, SFFA and their lawyers can prove that Harvard is using racial quotas as a factor in admissions, affirmative action will change completely. The mission of the SFFA is grounded in the belief that “a student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.” This means that if the SFFA wins this case, it will set a precedent for race-blind admission to higher education.

Race-blind admissions would cause a significant influx of Asian and Asian-American students admitted into the most competitive schools in the country. A 2015 study by the Brookings Institution showed that Asians and Asian-Americans form the overwhelming majority of students with the highest scores in the SAT math section. Black and Latinx students have significantly lower scores in comparison. 

The College Board’s  report “Reaching the Top: A Report of the National Task Force on Minority High Achievement” says, “As early as second or third grade, [Black students] generally have much lower grades and test scores than Asians and Whites — patterns that persist over the course of their school careers.” In this sense, it is impossible to dispute the fact that race plays some sort of factor in academic success. 

This opens up a whole slew of problems, including the history of racial inequality in America and its contribution to socioeconomic differences. Although this discrepancy in admissions is a product of multiple factors, strong ties between race and academic progress remain. However, this issue of factors is precisely the problem.

College admissions is an extremely difficult task. How does one classify a person? Colleges do their best to find a crop of kids that will grab the opportunities they are given through schooling and do the most with it. Trying to assess the drive and integrity of an individual with the current system is the equivalent of asking about a life story through a drive through window. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, a random sample of 76 admissions officers from a mix of 28 public and 48 private higher education institutions received a mean of 854 applications each.

As much as admissions offices around the country would like to take a very personalized look at each student, it is impossible to do 854 people justice in the few short months they have without using test scores and GPA as the major indicator of success at their school. 

Even though it does cast students in broad strokes, race is merely being used to further interpret this information; it is indicative of how well a student took advantage of the opportunities presented to them. College admissions have done what America has always done, with all the same flaws intact. It has used race to classify a large group of people.

The reason why it has come to protests and a lawsuit now is because of several indisputable facts. Asian and Asian-American students with the same, if not better, academic performances are being rejected because they are among a cohort of high-performing students of the same race. Harvard may or may not be using racial quotas to admit their students; the college admission process is broken in many ways. This particular case has stirred up another round of heated disagreements about the definition of equality within a multicultural environment. 

SFFA and Harvard disagree about the meaning of equality. From SFFA’s perspective, race has been repeatedly used as the main determining factor behind college admissions and rejections. Multiple citations of the Constitution on their website make it clear that “all men are created equal” means race should be completely removed from the equation. 

From Harvard’s perspective, diversity is synonymous with inclusivity. The mission of Harvard’s Office of Diversity Education & Support is to engage students and faculty and to “enhance their skills and deepen their understanding around issues of diversity and inclusivity.” Including all types of people means taking race into account. At the end of the day, race is a major defining characteristic of people and it always has been. It can either be a point of contention or a tool; racial diversity on modern college campuses  serves to create a generation of more worldly minded people.

It all comes down to what kind of environment colleges are aiming to cultivate on their campus. A homogeneous crop of extremely successful students might excel greatly in the area of classroom education, yet no one can project how detrimental homogeneity would be to a student’s ability to reconcile differences in the world around them.

Each student is a person. I am Asian-American, and race defined my application to college. Theater was an advantageous activity for me to do because it was not the norm in the scope of the Asian population as a whole. It was a general fact that I would need another 200 points on my SAT to be on the same level as Caucasian students in my cohort.

I come from a family with significant reverence for education.  One is supposed to be able to infer droves of information based upon this simple statistic of race, yet I know that I am me first and Korean second. Unfortunately, being blind to my race would abbreviate my identity to a greater extent than I would like. 

Furthermore, Asians and Asian-Americans may be oppressed by an admissions office, but race-blind admission ignores centuries of oppression the whole country has imposed against those of Black and Latinx backgrounds that might cause a disparity in education. 

Creating  a microcosm of the world on a college campus would create  a reverence for difference. An absence of race means everyone’s personhood is confined to the boundaries of this imperfect system. In other words, one is completely defined by what an admission officer can see from an application, and admissions, though procedurally equal, are never just.