Lawsuit: Harvard Legacy Admissions Practices Disadvantage Students of Color

The lawsuit claims 70% of applicants with ties to wealthy alumni or donors are White and that a portion of those students would not be admitted otherwise.

Lawsuit: Harvard Legacy Admissions Practices Disadvantage Students of Color

Photo: monticellllo, Adobe Stock

BOSTON, Mass. — A lawsuit filed against Harvard University claims prospective students who have familial ties with wealthy donors and alumni are given preferential treatment during the admissions process.

The complaint, filed July 3 by the nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) on behalf of the Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England, and the Greater Boston Latino Network, alleges donor-related applicants are seven times more likely to be admitted than non-donor-related applicants, and legacies are nearly six times more likely to be admitted, reports The New York Post.

The suit also alleges nearly 70% of those applicants are White and that a portion of those students would not be admitted otherwise, decreasing admissions opportunities for applicants of color.

“Qualified and highly deserving applicants of color are harmed as a result, as admissions slots are given instead to the overwhelmingly white applicants who benefit from Harvard’s legacy and donor preferences,” LCR wrote in a news release. “This preferential treatment has nothing to do with an applicant’s merit. Instead, it is an unfair and unearned benefit that is conferred solely based on the family that the applicant is born into. This custom, pattern, and practice is exclusionary and discriminatory.”

The lawsuit was filed less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned affirmative action in college admissions. The complaint cited the Court’s majority, which said, “College admissions are zero-sum, and a benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former at the expense of the latter.” The plaintiffs are calling on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Harvard’s use of donor and legacy preferences and to ensure that applicants “have no way to identify a familial relationship in the admissions process.”

“As the Supreme Court recently noted, ‘eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.’ There should be no way to identify who your parents are in the college application process,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of LCR. “Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations? Your family’s last name and the size of your bank account are not a measure of merit, and should have no bearing on the college admissions process.”

Last week, President Joe Biden said he would ask the department to examine “practices like legacy admissions and other systems that expand privilege instead of opportunity.”

The complaint also pointed to universities that have discontinued their legacy and donor admission preference policies, including Texas A&M, the University of Georgia, and the University of California. It alleges those schools have experienced more campus diversity as a result, according to The Spokesman-Recorder.

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About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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