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Activists spurred by affirmative action ruling challenge legacy admissions at Harvard


BY COLLIN BINKLEY Published 9:08 AM EDT, July 3, 2023

WASHINGTON (AP) — A civil rights group is challenging legacy admissions at Harvard University, saying the practice discriminates against students of color by giving an unfair boost to the mostly white children of alumni.


The practice of giving priority to the children of alumni has faced growing pushback in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court’s decision ending affirmative action in higher education. The NAACP added its weight behind the effort on Monday, asking more than 1,500 colleges and universities to even the playing field in admissions, including by ending legacy admissions.

The civil rights complaint was filed Monday by Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit based in Boston, on behalf of Black and Latino community groups in New England, alleging that Harvard’s admissions system violates the Civil Rights Act.


The civil rights complaint was filed Monday by Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit based in Boston, on behalf of Black and Latino community groups in New England, alleging that Harvard’s admissions system violates the Civil Rights Act.


“Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations?” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the group’s executive director. “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.”


Opponents say the practice is no longer defensible without affirmative action providing a counterbalance. The court’s ruling says colleges must ignore the race of applicants, activists point out, but schools can still give a boost to the children of alumni and donors.


The complaint, submitted with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, draws on Harvard data that came to light amid the affirmative action case that landed before the Supreme Court. The records revealed that 70% of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white, and being a legacy student makes an applicant roughly six times more likely to be admitted.


It draws attention to other colleges that have abandoned the practice amid questions about its fairness, including Amherst College and Johns Hopkins University. The complaint alleges that Harvard’s legacy preference has nothing to do with merit and takes away slots from qualified students of color. It asks the U.S. Education Department to declare the practice illegal and force Harvard to abandon it as long as the university receives federal funding.

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