How committed is Harvard University to ensuring a diverse student body? Not very, according to critics of the school’s decision to rescind its offer of admissions to Michelle Jones. Jones applied to its Ph.D. program in American studies last year and was rewarded with a full scholarship by the department’s admissions committee, but that decision was overruled by the university’s administration after it learned more about her background.
Until last month, Jones, a black woman, was in prison for the murder of her 4-year-old son more than two decades ago. Jones says the child was a product of nonconsensual sex Jones had when she was 14 with a high-school senior and that her mother beat her as a result of the pregnancy. She was subsequently placed in group homes and foster homes. Because of good behavior in prison, which included earning a college degree as well as conducting extensive academic research and publication, Jones didn’t have to serve the remaining 30 years of her sentence.
Though the committee was aware of Jones’ general circumstances, they suggested that she had not been clear about her involvement in the crime “to the point of misrepresentation.” While Jones has acknowledged beating the child and then leaving him alone for days as well as burying the body (which has never been found), her personal statement to the admissions committee said merely that she left him alone and he died. One of the faculty members noted that, as scholars, “honest and full narration is an essential part of our enterprise.”
Regardless, critics of the decision, including the Marshall Project (a nonprofit journalism group that discovered internal memos about Harvard’s decision), have suggested not only that Harvard should be embracing people like Jones who have overcome their past but also that by not doing so, Harvard has once again proved itself a bastion of elitism, not to mention racism.
“Harvard’s commitment to diversity was always a farce,” reads the headline of an article by Crystal Marie Fleming in Vox. Fleming writes, “As a scholar of racial oppression, an African-American Harvard alumna and a past president of the Graduate Student Council at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, I’m unsurprised that regressive forces within and outside of the university attempted to sabotage the career of a black woman scholar. Time and time again, Harvard — despite a superficial commitment to diversity — chooses to turn its back…