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Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Targets Legacy Admissions at Harvard and Sparks Nationwide Debate

Three Black and Latino organizations have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Harvard University, alleging that the prestigious institution systematically violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by favoring the children of donors and wealthy alumni in its student selection process. The lawsuit emphasizes the racialized nature of legacy admissions, which gives a significant advantage to predominantly white applicants. As the debate surrounding legacy admissions gains momentum, advocates argue for a fairer and more equitable higher education system. 

The lawsuit, filed by Chica Project, African Community Economic Development of New England, and Greater Boston Latino Network, highlights the disparities in Harvard's admissions process. It reveals that between 2014 and 2019, donor-related applicants were nearly seven times more likely to be accepted than other candidates, while students with alumni parents were nearly six times more likely to gain admission. These statistics demonstrate a clear bias in favor of privileged applicants, which the plaintiffs argue violates the Civil Rights Act. 

 The Supreme Court's rulings against the consideration of race in college admissions have been cited in support of legacy admissions. However, the lawsuit challenges this argument by pointing out that nearly 70% of donor-related and legacy admits to Harvard are white. While not explicitly race-conscious, the preferential treatment of these applicants perpetuates racial disparities. Legacy policies and practices, regardless of intent, systematically privilege white applicants, undermining the principles of equality and fairness. 

Historically, legacy admissions were justified based on the assumption that they increased alumni giving. Moreover, the policy fails to benefit individuals from marginalized backgrounds who would benefit most from attending elite institutions. Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, students of color, and those whose parents do not have college degrees are the ones who experience a significant economic boost when attending elite colleges. Legacy preferences only perpetuate social and economic advantages for already privileged individuals. On the other hand, one of the benefits of legacy admissions is the reason an elite education is so valuable is because of the legacy students who have those connections to the upper class.

The movement to end legacy admissions has gained bipartisan support. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have recognized the need to create a more inclusive and equitable educational system. Proposals to ban legacy admissions through state and federal legislation have been put forward, with the Fair College Admissions for Students Act introduced by Congressman Jamaal Bowman and Senator Jeff Merkley. However, the passage of such legislation faces challenges due to resistance from powerful and wealthy individuals who benefit from legacy preferences.

While state and federal legislation would bring about comprehensive change, some colleges have taken voluntary action to end legacy admissions. Institutions like Amherst College in Massachusetts have already discontinued the practice and witnessed a decrease in legacy student admissions. Simultaneously, there has been an increase in the enrollment of first-generation college students, creating a more diverse and inclusive campus environment. Additionally, Colorado stands out as the only state that has banned legacy admissions in its public universities

The lawsuit against Harvard University highlights a broader issue within the higher education system. Legacy admissions perpetuate inequality and hinder social mobility by reinforcing advantages for the privileged few. Efforts to address this issue through legislation face significant obstacles, but the growing awareness and advocacy surrounding legacy admissions indicate a desire for change. By dismantling legacy preferences and promoting merit-based admissions, colleges and universities can create a more just and equitable educational landscape. 


The racial discrimination lawsuit filed against Harvard University challenges the longstanding practice of legacy admissions and calls for a fairer system. The evidence presented demonstrates the racial disparities inherent in legacy preferences, further deepening inequality in higher education. As the debate continues, it is imperative to address these systemic biases and strive for a more inclusive and equitable admissions process that benefits students based on merit rather than inherited privilege.

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Tags: #USA #equality #college #affirmativeaction #discrimation


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