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Will Harvard’s legacy admissions soon be a thing of the past?



If activists have their way, Harvard College’s practice of admitting students who have family ties to its alumni will soon come to an end.

On Monday, Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights against Harvard College’s legacy admissions tradition. The legal complaint, which argues that the program violates equal protection laws under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, comes in response to the Supreme Court rolling back the use of affirmative action in the college admissions process.

Harvard University campus TheGrio
Harvard University campus. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

Michael Kippins, a litigation fellow with the Lawyers for Civil Rights who led the complaint, told theGrio that the use of legacy admissions grants white Americans “unearned and unfair” advantages when applying to Harvard.  

“We feel that the practice is discriminatory and has a disproportionate impact on kids of color, and it unjustly harms their chances of being admitted,” said Kippins. “[Those] who are admitted through these donor and legacy preferences – nearly 70% of them are white.”

Kippins continued, “Even within a group that has donor and legacy preferences, white applicants are still admitted more favorably than applicants of color.”

Dennis Parker, executive director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, told theGrio that legacy admissions are unfair because they benefit white Americans and place Black and brown students at a disadvantage.  

“There are fewer extremely wealthy people in the Black community who can donate to the schools and for whom the schools rely on for revenue…due to the wealth disparity,” noted Parker.

The Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the complaint on behalf of three organizations: The Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England and the Greater Boston Latino Network. The plaintiffs in the case are demanding the federal government step in and end what they argue is an unfair practice.

“With last week’s Supreme Court decision, it became all the more imperative and all the more urgent to ensure that barriers to equitable education and access were undone,” Kippins told theGrio.

United States Supreme Court (front row L-R) Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, Associate Justice Samuel Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan, (back row L-R) Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pose for their official portrait at the East Conference Room of the Supreme Court building on October 7, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

He said it’s also important that students of color applying to schools like Harvard are “able to have an equal playing field.”

The legal complaint comes just days after Chief Justice John Roberts penned a conservative-majority opinion that overturned the use of race as a core factor in the college admissions process. Roberts said the use of affirmative action was unfair to white and Asian students, as theGrio previously reported.  

On the contrary, liberal Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan voted against the majority. The justices argued that affirmative action is a needed practice within the educational system as a major driver for diversity on college campuses.

An excerpt from the dissent read, “[Affirmative action is] still needed — for the general public good — because after centuries of state-sanctioned (and enacted) race discrimination, the aforementioned intergenerational race-based gaps in health, wealth, and well-being stubbornly persist.”

Kippins told theGrio that he hopes this complaint goes beyond the halls of Harvard. He said the legal group is confident that federal authorities will “launch an investigation” based on their complaint.

He continued: “[Federal authorities] will take a closer look at how the donor and legacy admissions process work, and that will confirm…there are disparities along racial lines in terms of how the policies are implemented and how they are used.”

Since the Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the complaint earlier this week, Kippins said the  group received calls from current and prospective students who “have been clamoring for exactly this type of reform.”

“We have full confidence that the complaint will be taken seriously by federal authorities,” he added. “There is no reason why an applicant should be able to trade on their own last name as opposed to their personal achievement.” 

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