Defending Diversity in Higher Education
Coalition of Harvard Students Submit Bold Legal Resistance
Against Continued Attacks on School’s Affirmative Action Policies
A diverse group of Harvard students and alumni of color (student-amici) dismissed the intentions and likely harmful outcomes of the legal appeal filed by plaintiffs in the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard case today when they submitted an amicus brief with the First Circuit Court of Appeals.The students, who are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Lawyers for Civil Rights and pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter, cite their own successful trial testimony in their brief, reflecting on how all students are positively impacted by Harvard’s diversity admissions plan. They request that the appellate court should affirm Federal District Court Judge Allison Burroughs’s 2019 ruling upholding Harvard’s policies as lawful. Judge Burrough’s ruling also held that Harvard’s policies were consistent with more than 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
In the case, long-time civil rights opponent and antagonist Ed Blum sought to dismantle Harvard’s admissions plan that considers race and ethnicity as part of its whole-person review for all students. Blum, who is not Asian American, is leveling a back-door attack on Harvard’s inclusion, diversity and academic achievements by claiming discrimination against Asian Americans. His case was not successful at the district court level so SFFA appealed the ruling and the Trump Administration filed an amicus supporting SFFA’s call for reversal.
In their brief, the pro-affirmative action student-amici cite testimony submitted at their trial held in 2018 of how Harvard’s interest in opening up the doors of opportunity to an exceptional, well-rounded and diverse student body enriched their experiences and that of their fellow students. As Asian American, Black, Latinx, Native American and Pacific Islander students, they further demonstrate how erasing race from the process would likely cause Harvard to miss out on extraordinary students like themselves whose ethno-racial identities alongside their academic achievements were central to their applications and who might otherwise have been undervalued or overlooked.
“This case presents one of the gravest challenges to race-conscious admissions efforts that we have faced in recent times. As colleges build out their educational communities, they must have the ability to consider all aspects of an applicant’s lived experiences, including race, to identify exceptional students from diverse backgrounds,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The First Circuit must, like the district court, flatly reject Blum’s attempts to turn back the clock on racial diversity in higher education.”
“Every student deserves a fair chance at a college education,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). “Considering a person’s race and ethnicity as part of the admissions process provides a diverse learning environment that benefits our students, our workforce, and the country as a whole. We are proud to represent these students who have been so steadfast in this fight because they have illustrated how race-conscious admissions benefits us all and why we, as Asian Americans, must care about affirmative action.”
“As the amicus brief we filed today compellingly demonstrates, race-conscious admissions allow our schools to create vibrant, inclusive student bodies that bridge racial divides and cultivate greater cross-cultural understanding,” said Oren Sellstrom, litigation director of Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston. “In today’s increasingly global economy, such diversity is critical for innovation and success.”
“Arnold & Porter is pleased to be working with current and former Harvard students and other groups who support programs to ensure diverse student populations are accepted at public and private universities,” said officials from Arnold and Porter, LLC. “Such programs are especially important in our nation’s most selective institutions. We are proud to stand with our clients and to collaborate with our colleagues in the legal community to defend these principles.”
“As an Asian American student, it was important for me to share with Harvard how my ethnicity shaped my experiences,” said Sally Chen, Harvard class of 2019, who identifies as Chinese American. “Additionally, the breadth of perspective I encountered at Harvard, due in part to its race-conscious policy, made me better equipped to lead cross-cultural coalitions to tackle contemporary issues around education and economic security for all communities.”
“This lawsuit is a transparent attempt to ignore and undervalue the experiences of countless students of color like me,” said Sarah Cole, Harvard class of 2016, who identifies as Black American. “There is no part of my experience, no part of my journey, no part of my life that has been untouched by my race. A so-called ‘color-blind’ admissions program is racially discriminatory and harmful to cultivating the type of enriching educational environment which flows from diverse perspectives.”
The brief is available here:Students-Amicus-Brief-SFFA-v-Harvard