By Stacy M. Brown,
NNPA Newswire

After the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to end Affirmative Action in higher education, a civil rights group has launched a challenge to legacy admissions at Harvard University.

Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based nonprofit, filed a complaint, arguing that the practice unfairly favors predominantly White children of alumni and discriminates against students of color.

The challenge against legacy admissions has gained momentum since the conservative justices on the Supreme Court struck down Affirmative Action on July 2. The NAACP has thrown its support behind the effort, calling on more than 1,500 colleges and universities to level the playing field in admissions.

The NAACP’s initiative includes urging institutions to end legacy admissions as part of their commitment to achieving equal student opportunities. The civil rights complaint, filed by Black and Latino community groups in New England, alleges that Harvard’s admissions system violates the Civil Rights Act.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, expressed his concerns about rewarding children for the privileges and advantages inherited from previous generations. Espinoza-Madrigal emphasized that an applicant’s family background and financial status should not determine their merit or influence the college admissions process.
Critics argue that legacy admissions can no longer be justified without affirmative action, which the recent Supreme Court ruling prohibits.

While the court’s decision mandates colleges disregard applicants’ race, it still allows for preferential treatment of legacy and donor-related candidates. The complaint draws on Harvard’s data, which came to light during the affirmative action case before the Supreme Court. The records reveal that 70 percent of Harvard’s legacy and donor-related applicants are White. Furthermore, being a legacy student increases an applicant’s chances of admission by approximately sixfold.

Harvard University has come under fire for their use of legacy admissions. (AP Photo)

The complaint also highlights other institutions, such as Amherst College and Johns Hopkins University, that have abandoned legacy admissions due to concerns about fairness.

The complaint argues that Harvard’s legacy preference is unrelated to merit and takes away opportunities from qualified students of color.

It requests the U.S. Department of Education declare the practice illegal and compels Harvard to eliminate it if the University receives federal funding. The complaint contends that removing legacy and donor preferences would result in a higher admission rate for students of color at Harvard. Harvard University declined to comment on the complaint but reiterated its commitment to diversity and inclusivity in a prepared statement.

The University acknowledged the need to align its practices with the Supreme Court’s ruling while upholding its values. In addition to the legal challenge, the NAACP launched a nationwide campaign to promote diversity on college campuses. The campaign calls on 532 public and 1,134 private colleges and universities to end legacy preferences, eliminate racially biased entrance examinations, foster faculty diversity, and support low-income and first-generation students through scholarships and mentoring. The NAACP initiatives align with another campaign that Ed Mobilizer started, asking alums from 30 prestigious colleges, including Harvard, to withhold donations until these institutions stop offering legacy admissions.

“Let’s be clear, Black America is in a fight for our lives. The NAACP has been at the forefront of this battle for more than a century and we’re not backing down,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO asserted. “It is our hope that our nation’s institutions will stand with us in embracing diversity, no matter what. Regardless, the NAACP will continue to advocate, litigate, and mobilize to ensure that every Black American has access to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.”

The call to action has garnered support from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

While legacy admissions’ exact prevalence and impact remain uncertain, some schools have publicly disclosed their practices. For example, the University of Southern California and Stanford University reported legacy admission rates of 14 percent among admitted students. A previous Associated Press survey of highly selective colleges found that legacy students constituted anywhere from 4 percent to 23 percent of the first-year class, with some schools boasting more legacy students than Black students.

Proponents of the policy argue that legacy admissions foster alumni communities and encourage donations. However, a study conducted at an undisclosed Northeastern college revealed that legacy students were more likely to donate but contributed to a lack of diversity, with most legacy students being White. As the fight against legacy admissions gains traction, President Joe Biden has called on universities to reconsider the practice, emphasizing that it perpetuates privilege instead of promoting equal opportunities.

“The truth is, as we all know it, discrimination still exists in America,” Biden stated. “[The Supreme Court’s decision] does not change that. The President said the Department of Education would seek new avenues in which to promote diversity at colleges and universities.

This article was originally published in NNPA Newswire.