Harvard hit with civil rights complaint targeting legacy admissions

Cambridge, Massachusetts - Harvard is facing a civil rights challenge over its legacy admissions in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down race-conscious affirmative action.

Harvard is facing a civil rights challenge over its legacy admissions as students continue to protest the Supreme Court's decision to gut race-conscious admissions policies.
Harvard is facing a civil rights challenge over its legacy admissions as students continue to protest the Supreme Court's decision to gut race-conscious admissions policies.  © SCOTT EISEN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

"Each year, Harvard College grants special preference in its admissions process to hundreds of mostly white students – not because of anything they have accomplished, but rather solely because of who their relatives are," states the complaint.

The filing, submitted by Lawyers for Civil Rights on behalf of the Chica Project, African Community Economic Development of New England, and Greater Boston Latino Network, accuses Harvard of violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in any program that receives federal funds.

The groups argue that legacy admissions favoring relatives of alumni and donors disproportionately benefit white applicants over prospective students of color.

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"Nearly 70% of donor-related applicants are white, and nearly 70% of legacy applicants are also white," the complaint points out.

Supreme Court guts race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard

Proponents of affirmative action hold signs during a protest at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Proponents of affirmative action hold signs during a protest at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  © Joseph Prezioso / AFP

The filing before the US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights comes just days after the conservative-majority Supreme Court struck down affirmative action at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The court's decision severely limited how race may be considered in admissions.

Following the decision, President Joe Biden directed the Education Department to "analyze what practices help build a more inclusive and diverse student bodies [sic] and what practices hold that back, practices like legacy admissions and other systems that expand privilege instead of opportunity."

"Colleges and universities should continue their commitment to support, retain, and graduate diverse students and classes," the president added.

Cover photo: Joseph Prezioso / AFP

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