Harvard says it may still consider race during the admissions process, citing the Supreme Court's own ruling against affirmative action

woman at protest holding sign that says "protect diversity"
Supporters of affirmative action protest near the U.S. Supreme Court Building on Capitol Hill on June 29, 2023 in Washington, DC.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • Harvard University said it may still consider race in its admissions process.

  • The statement came after the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action in higher education.

  • The court said race could still be considered in some cases.

Harvard University says it may still consider race in its admissions process despite the Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action in higher education, maintaining in a statement that the decision allows schools to consider an applicant's racial background, among other factors, provided that the prospective student explains how it has impacted their life.

In a 6-3 decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court's conservative majority ruled that the long-standing practice of affirmative action was unconstitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that schools had "concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual's identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin."

Harvard, a private university in Massachusetts, said it intends to follow the court's ruling. But it noted that the decision still allows it to consider race, among other factors. As Roberts wrote: "Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise."

In its statement, Harvard argued that a diverse student body provides a superior learning environment. "Because the teaching, learning, research, and creativity that bring progress and change require debate and disagreement, diversity and difference are essential to academic excellence," said the statement, attributed to school leadership.

But the school could still run into legal trouble, The New York Times noted. Although Roberts did allow for race to be discussed during the admissions process, he also wrote that "universities may not simply establish through the application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today."

Harvard's statement did not, however, address its continued reliance on legacy admissions.

In 2021, the editorial board of The Harvard Crimson, a student-run publication, noted that the school's admission rate was just 6 percent for all applicants between 2014 and 2019 — but 33 percent for the children of Harvard alumni, a system that it argued "almost exclusively privileges the wealthy and white."

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