Amici File Briefs in Support of Harvard

January 9, 2019
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Groups emphasize the importance of diversity created by current admissions policies.

Organizations supporting Harvard and its admissions policies in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (SFFA) v. Harvard filed briefs on January 9 in U.S. District Court responding to Harvard’s and SFFA’s Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. Below are highlighted excerpts from those Amici briefs, which review testimony and evidence presented at trial proving Harvard’s admissions process does not discriminate against Asian American applicants. The evidence shows that Harvard’s admissions process is an individualized, lawful process dedicated to strengthening diversity and expanding opportunity.

HARVARD STUDENT AND ALUMNI ORGANIZATIONS
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed a brief on behalf of twenty-five Harvard student and alumni organizations representing “thousands of Asian American, Black, Latinx, Native American, and white students and alumni— that contribute to, and benefit from, the educational benefits of diversity as a direct result of Harvard’s limited consideration of race in its holistic admissions process.”

Asserting that “Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy is lawful under Supreme Court precedent and should be allowed to continue to foster the crucially important educational benefits of diversity for the entire Harvard community,” amici focus on the importance of diversity to the educational and lived experience of Harvard students.

Further, they review testimony and evidence demonstrating the threat of race-blind admissions policies on diversity.

Throughout this brief, amici emphasize the testimony and declarations of current students and alumni.

“The real-life experiences of Harvard students and applicants cannot be accurately captured by focusing solely on socioeconomic status in lieu of race in admissions. Recent Harvard alumna Itzel Libertad Vasquez-Rodriguez described her race and ethnicity as ‘visibly salient,’ but her low socioeconomic class is not…As a result, she does not feel judged because of her class, but does feel discrimination based on her race and ethnicity…Without considering those aspects of her identity, Harvard would be unable to understand her full life experience.”

“All of the student and alumni witnesses testified that a dramatic decline in the number of Black and Latinx students on campus resulting from a race-blind admissions process would prevent Harvard students from obtaining the educational benefits of diversity because there would be fewer opportunities for meaningful interactions and dialogue with racially diverse students.”

“…for Harvard to fully evaluate his application, senior Thang Diep believed it was ‘crucial’ for him to share his ethnic identity and experiences with racial prejudice ‘in order to portray [his] growth authentically and really show . . . the admission officer who [he] really [was.]’ Although Harvard noted that his ‘SAT score [wa]s on the lower end of the Harvard average,’ his compelling discussion about his Vietnamese identity and his experiences overcoming the adversity he encountered as an immigrant stood out to admissions officers.”

“For recent graduate Sarah Cole, ‘[t]o try to not see my race is to try to not see me simply because there is no part of my experience, no part of my journey, no part of my life that has been untouched by my race.’ As a result, ‘it would be nearly impossible for me to try to explain my academic journey, to try to explain my triumphs without implicating my race.’”

“Race-Neutral Alternatives Would Not Foster a Level of Diversity Sufficient to Achieve the Educational Benefits of Diversity.”

THE ASIAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND (AALDEF)
AALDEF filed an amicus brief on behalf of itself and other Asian American education and youth-serving organizations and higher education faculty.

The brief argues in support of Harvard’s admissions policies and challenges SFFA’s claims about the impact of these policies on Asian American students.

AALDEF argues that Harvard’s policies benefit Asian American applicants and admitted students. AALDEF also notes that the relief sought by SFFA, an end to any consideration of race in admissions, would dramatically reduce the number of Black and Latino students on campus.

“Through litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF protects the rights of Asian Americans and supports educational equity in higher education. AALDEF has an interest in this litigation because its work with community-based youth advocates across the country demonstrates that Asian American students benefit from individualized race-conscious admissions policies as well as from diverse educational settings. AALDEF opposes any cap, quota, or negative action against Asian Americans.”

“…individualized admissions policies that consider race as one factor among many are uniquely equipped to take into account the vast diversity within the Asian community, specifically the sharp differences in socioeconomic and education attainment among different ethnic subgroups. Individualized consideration also prevents the perpetuation of the harmful ‘model minority’ myth.”

“SFFA’s attempt to equate benefits for Black and Latino students with discrimination against Asian Americans is wrong as a matter of law and reveals SFFA’s true objective: not to vindicate Asian American rights, but to dismantle race-conscious admissions, regardless of the impact on Asian Americans or other communities of color.”

“AALDEF has not identified any direct or circumstantial evidence sufficient to prove that Harvard intentionally discriminates against Asian Americans, either in the summary judgment record or at trial. In fact, SFFA based its claim at trial on an entirely new theory, specifically that implicit bias infects Harvard’s admission decisions. Yet even this late change in strategy fails to cure the deficiencies in SFFA’s proof. “

“AALDEF believes that SFFA’s broad-based attack will harm all minorities, including Asian Americans and especially those from ethnic subgroups struggling with low educational attainment and low socioeconomic status.”

“…students of all races including Asian Americans benefit from a diverse student body, which provides a range of cognitive and social benefits. Moreover, individualized admissions policies like Harvard’s directly benefit Asian American applicants by taking into account the vast diversity within the Asian community.”

“Negative action and race-conscious admissions are two distinct concepts. Discrimination against a particular group (negative action) is fundamentally different from a race-conscious admissions policy that recognizes the importance of diversity.”

“According to Harvard’s expert, eliminating all considerations of race increases white students’ share of the admitted class by 8 percentage points, from 40 percent to 48 percent…By contrast, Asian American students’ share increases by only 3 percentage points, from 24 to 27…This has a minimal impact on the likelihood of admission for Asian applicants, raising the admissions rate less than one percentage point, from 5.1 percent to 5.8 percent…Conversely, the number of Black and Latino students would, according to SFFA’s own expert, fall precipitously, by over 1,000 students over four years of classes.”

STUDENTS
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA) filed on behalf of several Harvard students and recent graduates, including students who testified at trial. Amplifying student voices, this brief also asserts the importance of diversity to Harvard’s mission and the experience of its students, the legality of Harvard’s admissions policies, and flaws in SFFA’s claims.

“Harvard’s right to consider race in admissions is firmly established both by the record and well-settled Supreme Court precedent.”

“SFFA’s statistical models of race-neutral alternatives grossly underestimate the decrease in racial diversity that would ensue if Harvard stopped appreciating the racial background of students in the admissions process. Whenever race-consciousness is supplanted by socioeconomic considerations, both racial and socioeconomic diversity at the most selective universities may decline.”

Harvard student Sally Chen “speculated that if race were eliminated from the admissions process, she would not be at Harvard. ‘I could not see myself being part of an institution that didn’t value me and my experiences when I was fighting so hard to articulate them.’ She testified, ‘I think dismantling the race-conscious admissions policy would really rob students of that critical part of education where you learn from and with people who are different from you and have different experiences with you.’.. She would anticipate an ‘overwhelming pressure to buckle under the weight of assimilation’ and expressed concern that ‘those different experiences would very much be pushed to the margins.’”

“Students’ unrebutted testimony confirms that a flexible consideration of race is necessary to perform a truly individualized, holistic assessment for applicants who ascribe importance to their ethno-racial identity. It also remains necessary to fully appreciate the prior achievements and potential contributions of countless applicants whose lives have been shaped by race, including many Asian Americans.”

“SFFA failed to carry its burden of demonstrating that Harvard’s race-conscious policy is unconstitutional. The criticisms that SFFA raised have already been considered, and dismissed, by the U.S. Supreme Court. By challenging practices that have repeatedly been affirmed by the Supreme Court, SFFA reveals its true complaint is not with Harvard’s policies but with the governing precedent itself.”

Harvard student Itzel Libertad Vasquez-Rodriguez “explained that she chose to write about her ethno-racial identity because it ‘was such a core piece of who I am’ and ‘had impacted every decision I had made, every experience that I had had...I felt like it was something important and something of value that I could bring to a school like Harvard.’… The “colorblind” system that SFFA seeks would systematically undervalue the achievements and contributions of ethno-racial minority applicants.”

“The record is clear that Harvard’s process exemplifies the hallmarks of individualized review as endorsed by the Supreme Court.”