Put on Trial: The PRspective
The what. A group of Harvard students known as Students for Fair Admissions alleged that Harvard engages in illegal racial discrimination in their admissions process, benefiting Black and Latino applicants to the detriment of Asian applicants. The subsequent federal trial publicized many details about Harvard’s applications process that were once well-kept secrets. The revealed details included special consideration (known internally as “tips”) given to athletes, certain racial and ethnic minorities, and the families of prominent donors, alumni, and faculty members.
Related Article: ‘Lopping,’ ‘Tips’ and the ‘Z-List’: Bias Lawsuit Explores Harvard’s Admissions Secrets
The when. October of 2018 – just in time for incoming college freshmen to decide whether to apply to Harvard at all. If we see the effects of this case reflected in Harvard’s student body, it will be in this year’s Harvard Class of 2023.
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The who. Students like to feel that their accomplishments are the result of merit instead of factors outside of their control, so this case may lead incoming freshmen to hold their Harvard acceptance letters as less valuable, possibly picking a different prestigious institution instead. White and Asian applicants may be discouraged in light of the trial and decide not to apply to Harvard at all. Alternatively, students might agree with Harvard and respect their dedication to maintaining an ethnically diverse student body.
This case threatens Harvard’s relationships with their current student body, their alumni, and the professional world. Revealing the intimate details about Harvard’s admissions process damages the prestige of the Harvard brand. Black and Latino Harvard students and alumni may be disparaged or disadvantaged by assumptions that their achievements were not a result of their own merit.
Harvard may have inadvertently damaged their relationships with their donors as well. Simply put, wealthy donors and alumni may not approve of admissions policies that give advantages to applicants unlike themselves. Additionally, the discovery that relatives of donors are given special treatment threatens the idea that donations to Harvard are a purely magnanimous act, which could lead donors to reconsider.
Today, accusations of racism are being taken increasingly seriously, yet at the same time they are becoming increasingly common. These cases get much more publicity and public outrage than they once did, but the constant barrage of similar cases leave publics fatigued. For this reason, it is difficult to say whether Harvard will face any persisting repercussions in terms of this trial’s publicity, or if their case will get lost in the noise among their peers Dove and H&M.
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