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Harvard Instructs Alumni Interviewers To Discount Race & Ethnicity From Applicant Evaluations

A landmark supreme court decision ruled against affirmative action, now Harvard is instructing alumni involved in admissions not to consider applicants' race and ethnicity for the class of 2028

Wed Sep 27 2023

In the wake of the US Supreme Court's recent ruling against affirmative action in higher education, Harvard University has issued instructions to alumni involved in admissions stating they will not be able to consider an applicant's race or ethnicity in their evaluation.

These new directions, found in Harvard’s updated University guidelines, will apply to applicants for the Class of 2028.

The guidelines state: “To the extent that an applicant’s race, ethnicity, or family’s country of origin seems apparent to an interviewer, the interviewer may not consider that information in the interview process, including evaluation, making recommendations about, or assigning ratings to the student.”

The Supreme Court’s decision ruled that race can no longer be considered as a factor in the admissions process, causing a blow to champions of diversity initiatives on US higher education campuses.

The ruling came after a decade-long battle between the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFA) and Harvard. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of SFA, stating affirmative action violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment guarantees all individuals within its jurisdiction are entitled to equal protection under the law.

While race can no longer be considered as a factor in the application, the Supreme Court’s decision contained an important exception that stated applicants can still cite their race and discuss how it has affected their lives “be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

On the day of the ruling, Harvard said it would abide by the ruling but emphasized its belief and commitment in a diverse student body. 

Harvard's updated guidelines for alumni interviewers include examples of how applicants can cite their racial identities as part of their individual experiences without violating the ruling. This includes sample evaluations that demonstrate how applicants’ racial identities have shaped their interests.

“Xavier’s most rewarding high school experiences have been his social justice work. He is the president of his school’s Black Student Union and has collaborated with his local NAACP chapter, youth council, and local elementary and middle schools,” one example states. 

The Class of 2028 interviewer eligibility form for alumni says interviewers cannot ask about a student’s racial background or ethnicity. The interviewer “may not consider that information in the interview process, including evaluation, making recommendations about, or assigning ratings to the students,” according to a screenshot of the form obtained by The Harvard Crimson.

These examples show how Harvard can comply with new laws while diversifying its student body. Interviewers must shift their perspective from considering race alone as a factor in applications to considering race and ethnicity as a part of a candidate’s individual experience. 

Another change to Harvard’s admissions process following the Supreme Court ruling is the elimination of the Harvard supplement optional essay—the longer-form response that allowed applicants to write on virtually any topic of their choosing. The school will replace the essay with required short answer questions.

In an email referencing this overhaul of the application process, Joshua S. Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program at The Aspen Institute, wrote: “The changes Harvard made to its application are clearly designed to help admissions do what the Supreme Court said is okay—namely, to consider race as part of an applicant’s ‘experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.”