A recent lawsuit making national headlines involves a group of students at Harvard University who claim the admissions process was designed to discriminate against Asian-American applicants.
Harvard defended its policies and GW aligned itself with the Ivy League school this summer. The topic of affirmative action in higher education has always been a hot topic, but this lawsuit could have far reaching consequences in college admissions. Regardless of the outcome of the case, GW and other universities should use this news event to spark a review of their own admissions policies to ensure they are transparent and inclusive.
The University offers a non-descriptive statement stating that its admission decision-making process is holistic. For a school that received more than 25,000 applications in 2016 for the fall semester alone, a truly holistic review of each candidate is not possible. While most colleges are content with saying they have an overarching review process, that should no longer be the standard and universities should be transparent about what procedures they actually employ.
The lawsuit against Harvard shows practices that are likely used for efficiency, like assigning students a number ranking based on various factors. It is not unlikely that similar practices are used at other schools. While universities should make every effort to be as holistic as possible in their review, they are bound to use shortcuts and must ensure they are not at the expense of inclusivity.
No admissions process is perfect and it is impossible to perfect an inherently subjective system, but universities can strive toward a more perfect system that treats applicants fairly through transparency.
The heart of the lawsuit highlights the struggle that universities encounter when addressing diversity. Universities are quick to advertise inclusivity and strive to attract students from different backgrounds, but they are often less open when it comes to revealing how they recruit diverse classes of students.
Some Asian students fear that the lawsuit isn’t just about preventing discrimination, it’s about stopping the practice of affirmative action. But, affirmative action is not the problem and scrapping it altogether is not the answer.
Opponents of affirmative action often say race plays a role in disadvantaging students, but if the system worked effectively, race would be used to the advantage of minorities that have been disadvantaged their entire lives, and not make it harder for a particular group of students.
The Harvard case brought to light questionable practices and showed how discrimination can occur under the guise of affirmative action. The secret nature of universities’ admissions practices creates a situation in which we would never know about these flawed processes. While this case revealed some troubling practices, its larger implication is that universities must provide transparency in the measures and processes they use when evaluating candidates.
To enact meaningful change in light of this lawsuit, students need to call on universities to be transparent about their policies. While it is unlikely that universities will begin revealing the specifics of how they make their admissions decisions, we should push for transparency because it is the only way to know if discrimination is occurring.
This case also presents an opportunity for GW and other universities to reflect on their own admissions policies. With Harvard’s situation in mind, the University should consider how it weighs race in its admissions decisions and possibly update its practices to pursue a diverse student body in an appropriate manner.
Universities can support minority students without discriminating against Asian students. Affirmative action is about creating a more equal system, but equality shouldn’t be achieved by taking from others.
As the lawsuit against Harvard continues to unfold, GW should take this time to re-evaluate its admissions process to ensure it prevents discrimination while fostering diversity.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Margot Dynes.
This article appeared in the October 29, 2018 issue of the Hatchet.