The Justice Department will take on affirmative action, according to a report in the New York Times.
Affirmative action is just one piece of a large puzzle that includes personal qualities, legacy and athlete status, and a hunt for ‘distinguishing excellence.’
Students of color cannot help but feel personally attacked by the Justice Department’s imminent investigation into affirmative action in college admissions. This shameless pander to President Trump’s base sends a clear message to all of us — especially those at the most selective colleges: We do not deserve the acceptance letters we worked so hard to achieve.
The affirmative action debate is by no means new, yet it continues to focus almost entirely on quantifiable metrics that constitute just one piece of a large puzzle. As a student worker in Harvard College admissions — the likely target of this investigation — I have sat through countless information sessions and watched dozens of admissions officers explain Harvard’s admissions philosophy. There are no quotas to fill or boxes to check. If they wanted to fill their class with valedictorians and perfect SAT scores, they could, multiple times over.
But that is not the kind of class Harvard is looking for. Personal qualities can, and often do, make or break candidates for admission.
One admissions officer refers to “distinguishing excellence” when discussing what she looks for in applicants. It’s hard to define, she claims, but when she sees it, she knows it. And that distinguishing excellence doesn’t always come in a perfectly packaged SAT score. While one high school student is attending SAT prep courses or launching her start-up, another is watching his siblings or working a part-time job after school. Because of our flawed society, the latter student is more likely to be black or Hispanic. But Harvard admissions officers may identify a distinguishing excellence in either one of them.
We must also remember that affirmative action is by no means the only admissions policy designed to benefit just a portion of the student body. Legacy, athlete status and pay-to-play deals — all of which…