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A group of civil rights attorneys has filed a federal complaint against legacy admissions at Harvard University. Spurred by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action, advocates say “legacy admissions” mainly benefit white and wealthy students.
Legacy admissions give students whose parents attended Ivy League colleges preferential treatment in the application process. When the Court decided to strike down affirmative action, an equity-centered effort to increase racial diversity on college campuses, many pointed to the hypocrisy of allowing legacy admissions to continue.
Chief Justice John Roberts said ending affirmative action stops Harvard from “picking winners and losers” based on race. Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), the group bringing the complaint against legacy admissions, called the Supreme Court’s bluff.
“As the Supreme Court recently noted, ‘eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it’,” LCR said in a statement. “There is no birth right at Harvard.”
Legacy admissions primarily help white and wealthy applicants, complaint suggests
In the complaint, the group goes on to state that legacy admissions at predominantly white schools discriminates against students of color.
Harvard gives “special preference in its admissions process to hundreds of mostly white students”, LCR argues. “Not because of anything they have accomplished, but rather solely because of who their relatives are”.
According to statistics on Harvard’s website, roughly 15% of the class of 2026 identifies as Black. However, according to Data USA, in 2020 roughly 7% of the entire student body at Harvard identified as Black. In that same year, over 40% of enrolled students identified as white, 14% as Latinx, and another 14% as AAPI. Only 60 students at the school identified as Native American.
According to the complaint, nearly 70% of legacy and donor-related applicants to the school identify as white. The effects of legacy admissions preference, LCR director Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal suggests, are deeply inequitable.
“Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations?” Espinoza-Madrigal asked BBC News. “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.”