Harvard sued over ‘legacy admissions’ after Supreme Court targets affirmative action

Cambridge, MA–5/29/2022 – Graduates and their families fill Harvard Yard during Harvard’s Commencement ceremony for the Classes of 2020 and 2021. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Harvard is facing a civil rights complaint over the school’s legacy admissions after the Supreme Court ruled against race-conscious admissions practices.

“Each year, Harvard College grants special preference in its admissions process to hundreds of mostly white students — not because of anything they have accomplished, but rather solely because of who their relatives are,” according to the complaint filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) on behalf of Black and Latino groups based in New England.

The groups argue that legacy admissions, a process that gives priority in the college applications process to children of alumni or applicants related to wealthy donors, boosts white students over students of color.  

“The students who receive this preferential treatment — based solely on familial ties — are overwhelmingly white. Nearly 70% of donor-related applicants are white, and nearly 70% of legacy applicants are also white,” the complaint reads. 

The new complaint comes after the Supreme Court last week decided to effectively end affirmative action, ruling 6-3 against race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and restricting the use of race as a factor in college admissions.

The decision drew starkly different reactions from Republicans and Democrats, with many on the left decrying it as a blow to diversity in the college admissions process.

In remarks after the court’s decision, President Biden said he was directingthe Department of Education “to analyze what practices help build a more inclusive and diverse student bodies and what practices hold that back, practices like legacy admissions and other systems that expand privilege instead of opportunity.”

The civil rights complaint against Harvard further argues that preferential treatment to donor and legacy relatives is “conferred without regard to the applicant’s credentials or merits” and is therefore “not justified by any educational necessity.” 

Harvard senior and Philadelphia native Richard Jenkins poses for a portrait, ahead of his anticipated May graduation, at Harvard University’s Harvard Yard in Cambridge, MA on Saturday April 2, 2022.

The complaint, dated Monday, was filed by LCR — on behalf of the Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England, and the Greater Boston Latino Network — before the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.  

The executive Director of LCR, Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, said in a release that “there’s no birthright to Harvard” and noted the Supreme Court’s recent opinion that “eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.”

“There should be no way to identify who your parents are in the college application process. Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations? Your family’s last name and the size of your bank account are not a measure of merit, and should have no bearing on the college admissions process,” Espinoza-Madrigal said.

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