Harvard admissions trial in progress

Unlike Harvard, MIT does not practice legacy admissions, does not have a Z-list, and does not favor children of donors

Harvard is defending its admissions practices in a trial that alleges it discriminates against Asian-American applicants. The trial started Oct. 15 and is set to end by mid-November, according to The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper.

This four-year-old lawsuit by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) has been working its way up the judicial system, but it has gained traction as previously top-secret admissions data was released to the public this summer.

The admissions documents revealed that out of the many factors such as standardized test scores and extracurriculars that Harvard considers in its admissions, it also has a more subjective “personal ratings” component that judges character traits such as likeability, courage, and kindness.

According to The New York Times, admissions data showed that although Asian-Americans generally scored higher than other racial groups on academic measures of excellence, they were consistently marked down for their “personal ratings,” such as for attributes like “humor” or “grit.”

Furthermore, court records revealed that Harvard conducted an internal investigation in 2013 that found there was bias against Asian-American applicants, but it did not take any action on the findings. The SFFA is using these documents as evidence that Harvard uses their “personal ratings” metric to systematically discriminate against Asian-Americans.

Other public documents showed that students on Harvard’s “Z-list,” applicants who receive admission after a year, were overwhelmingly white and legacy students, according to The Times. In general, legacy students were admitted at a rate five times higher than their non-legacy counterparts.

There are some important distinctions between MIT and Harvard’s admissions processes. MIT does not practice legacy admissions, does not have a Z-list, and does not favor children of donors, according to Kimberly Allen, deputy director of MIT News, in an email to The Tech.

The Department of Justice filed a “statement of interest” in late August in support of the SFFA, alleging that Harvard practiced “unlawful racial discrimination” and had admissions processes “infected with racial bias,” The Crimson reported.

On the other hand, sixteen top U.S. universities, including all of the Ivy League schools and MIT, filed a joint amicus brief defending race-conscious admissions. “A diverse student body is critical to the educational mission of MIT, and benefits all students,” according to a statement from MIT sent to The Tech in an email from Allen.

The statement also clarified that through MIT’s holistic review process, “an applicant’s race or ethnicity is not the defining feature of his or her application,” and MIT supports a “narrowly tailored use of race in admissions.”

“Although Asians are held at a higher standard, I feel that this law case is just coming from the wrong motivation,” Yejin Kim, a Harvard student, said in an interview with The Tech. “We have to acknowledge that this is not a problem with Harvard, but on college admissions, and further, our society as a whole.”

“Discrimination against Asian Americans exists, and it is important for the society to acknowledge that … winning or losing this lawsuit will not make a difference in the long term. It’s more important for America to take this into consideration and attempt to make a difference,” Kim continued.

As more admissions data is set to be released during the trial, the public will gain more insight into the black box of selective college admissions. Harvard had a record low 4.6 percent acceptance rate for the class of 2022, according to The Crimson. SFFA v. Harvard will set the course for the future of affirmative action in admissions practices all over the U.S.