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Legacy Admissions Next Step in Fallout from End of Affirmative Action

The U.S. Supreme Court ended the consideration of race in college admissions, deciding it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court asserted, “[e]liminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.” (Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Propelled by this decision, groups representing individuals of color filed a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England, and the Greater Boston Latino Network allege that Harvard’s practice of giving preferential treatment to legacy admissions results in systemic discrimination against students of color. Harvard College admittedly grants preference to legacy admissions (as noted by the Supreme Court). This process predominantly benefits white students. According to the Complaint, "Applicants whose relatives are wealthy donors to Harvard, or whose parents are Harvard alumni are flagged at the outset" of the admission process, receiving "special solicitude" and "extra tips" throughout the process. Harvard is more likely to admit these individuals, and they constitute up to 15% of entering classes. These students are generally 70% white.

The groups allege Harvard’s legacy practice disparately harms qualified students of color and is not justified by any educational necessity. They argue the practice violates Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance. The Complaint uses facts, statistics, and legal analysis from the Students for Fair Admission case. They want the OCR to declare Harvard’s legacy and donor practices unlawful and order the institution to stop using them. OCR must evaluate the claim to determine whether it warrants an investigation.