My unlikely journey to Harvard sheds light on race lawsuit

I grew up less than 30 minutes away from Harvard, but it might as well have been a world away. My world was ...

Posted: Oct 15, 2018 10:46 PM
Updated: Oct 15, 2018 10:46 PM

I grew up less than 30 minutes away from Harvard, but it might as well have been a world away. My world was small and static. Most of my friends were brown or poor like me, with some version of parents like mine -- blue-collar, hardworking immigrants. We went to the same after-school programs for "at-risk youth" and started looking for part-time jobs as soon as we turned 15 and a half.

But there were two glaring differences between me and the majority of my community. First, I always loved school, even when I had to pretend publicly that I didn't. Second, I always believed that I was destined for a world beyond the one I was born into, even when life told me otherwise.

Harvard University

Universities and colleges

Discrimination

Diversity

Education

Education systems and institutions

Higher education

Societal issues

Society

Students and student life

Law and legal system

Lawsuits and claims

Trial and procedure

And, indeed, I ended up at Harvard College as an undergraduate.

Harvard College's mission is to educate its students through the process of "intellectual transformation," achieved in part through an environment where students "come from different walks of life and have evolving identities."

The fulfillment of this mission depends on a diverse student body. But Harvard's diversity is currently being threatened.

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), an organization helmed by affirmative action foe Edward Blum that claims Harvard's admissions process discriminates against Asian-Americans, is suing Harvard University in an effort to stop it from considering race as one of the many factors in a holistic application process. If Harvard is unable to consider race, the university will lose the ability to create a diverse environment that pushes all students to learn and grow immeasurably.

With an SAT score of 1950 out of 2400, I may not have had much to teach my peers about standardized testing. But as the son of poor, hard-working immigrants from Cape Verde off the coast of Africa and the first and only person in my family to attend college, I did have a lot to share with my peers about the inequity in our nation's public education system and the unbelievable luck it takes for a student like me to make it to a school like Harvard.

Only through a process that takes a well-considered look beyond an applicant's test scores and GPA can Harvard achieve the intellectual transformations it was founded to create. Race is a critical aspect of a comprehensive application process because a diverse student body "helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races," as retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has noted.

While I learned about economics and sociology in the classroom, so much of the intellectual transformation I experienced at Harvard came from talking to my peers about their backgrounds and experiences. If Harvard accepted students based only on their perfect GPAs and standardized test scores, would such a student body enhance the potential for collective intellectual transformation at Harvard College? My Harvard experience leads me to believe that the answer is no.

The exclusion of race will also hinder applicants, particularly applicants of color, from conveying the totality of who they are. As a leading institution, this shift in Harvard's admissions process would set a dangerous precedent for colleges across the country that will further encourage discrimination against students of color in the education system.

SFFA and Blum demonstrate their utter lack of understanding of Harvard's mission through their failure to recognize that holistic admissions is about more than any one person's acceptance.

It is impossible for society to make equitable progress without reconciling existing race relations and the democratic values to which we aspire. In a country with such painful and deep racial divides, doing this work requires us to learn from those whose worlds may seem completely different from our own. Diversity has the incredible power to reduce the distance between the disparate worlds of lived experience. In my lifetime, this work has never been more important.

One of my most salient moments from my time as an undergrad was an impromptu dinner that I had with an acquaintance who I'll call Zadie.

When I mentioned that I was hosting an open mic night for the First-Generation Student Union, a new student group I founded that semester, Zadie responded with confusion and surprise.

"Wait, your parents didn't go to college?" she asked.

"My parents didn't graduate from high school, actually," I said, sharing a fact that I had only just recently become comfortable saying aloud. And I'll never forget what she said next.

"My entire life has been set up for me to come to a school like Harvard. I can't imagine how I would have made it to Harvard if it hadn't been."

Like many of my peers, Zadie was the daughter of well-educated, extremely wealthy white parents. Her lived experiences meant that she had no exposure to the small and static world I come from. Consequently, she had a lot to learn about it. And I had a lot to learn about her and the world she comes from. In that moment, Zadie taught me that not every privileged person is apathetic to my world -- many of them are just oblivious to it. This moment was enabled by the process of holistic review, which is probably the only thing that would have brought our worlds together.

There are certainly many parts of American higher education that are broken and require greater public scrutiny and reform. Holistic admissions isn't one of them.

Terre Haute
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 96°
Robinson
Clear
87° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 95°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
89° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 94°
Rockville
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 89°
Casey
Clear
87° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 91°
Brazil
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 96°
Marshall
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 96°
Hot and Humid 4th of July
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 145750

Reported Deaths: 7005
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook917744618
Lake9864421
DuPage9192474
Kane7796274
Will6839320
Winnebago306796
McHenry208897
St. Clair1965137
Kankakee130265
Rock Island99629
Madison99169
Kendall98121
Champaign93012
Boone60221
DeKalb56719
Peoria54628
Sangamon44032
Jackson33519
Randolph2877
Stephenson2755
Ogle2684
McLean26713
Clinton24017
Macon23222
LaSalle22417
Union19319
Whiteside19215
Coles17317
Grundy1695
Iroquois1605
Tazewell1468
Warren1430
Knox1360
Cass1346
Morgan1303
Monroe12913
Williamson1224
Adams1061
Jefferson10617
McDonough10215
Lee982
Henry931
Vermilion772
Pulaski760
Marion680
Perry561
Douglas540
Macoupin543
Livingston502
Jasper477
Jo Daviess461
Montgomery461
Unassigned460
Christian454
Ford371
Jersey351
Woodford342
Bureau292
Franklin270
Menard240
Fayette233
Alexander220
Carroll222
Mason220
Wabash220
Mercer210
Piatt210
Washington210
Johnson200
Hancock191
Moultrie190
Shelby191
Crawford180
Logan160
Clark150
Fulton150
Massac150
Wayne141
Bond131
Effingham131
Schuyler130
Cumberland120
Brown100
Edgar100
De Witt90
Greene90
Marshall90
Saline90
Henderson80
Lawrence70
White60
Hamilton50
Richland40
Stark40
Pike30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Calhoun10
Hardin10
Pope10
Putnam10
Scott10
Out of IL00

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 46915

Reported Deaths: 2681
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11499683
Lake5053242
Elkhart316443
Allen2717128
St. Joseph186366
Cass16369
Hamilton1518100
Hendricks1386100
Johnson1254118
Porter71237
Tippecanoe6778
Madison64864
Clark63844
Bartholomew58244
Howard56057
LaPorte55326
Kosciusko5124
Vanderburgh4806
Jackson4653
LaGrange4657
Noble45728
Hancock43735
Boone43443
Delaware42949
Marshall4273
Shelby42025
Floyd37144
Morgan32531
Montgomery29320
Grant29026
Clinton2852
Monroe26628
Dubois2646
White26010
Decatur24832
Henry24315
Lawrence23624
Vigo2288
Dearborn22723
Harrison21022
Warrick21029
Greene18432
Miami1812
Jennings17111
Putnam1688
Scott1607
DeKalb1594
Daviess14116
Orange13523
Wayne1346
Perry1279
Steuben1262
Franklin1248
Jasper1142
Ripley1147
Carroll1102
Wabash1102
Fayette987
Newton9710
Whitley884
Starke853
Randolph784
Huntington712
Wells711
Jefferson701
Fulton681
Jay680
Washington661
Knox630
Pulaski621
Clay604
Gibson592
Rush563
Adams481
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown381
Blackford372
Posey360
Spencer351
Fountain302
Tipton301
Crawford290
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Warren141
Union130
Vermillion130
Pike90
Unassigned0193