Democrats Have a Plan – Rolling Stone

harvard university white privilege admissions

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina were unconstitutional. Rep. Jamal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a former public school teacher and principal, calls the decision, “infuriating, exhausting, and another body blow to our continued fight for justice and equality in America.”

“The Supreme Court just upheld white supremacy,” Bowman says. 

The ruling was 6-3, with every Republican-appointed justice voting to reject affirmative action. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote separate dissents, with the former writing “the devastating impact of this decision cannot be overstated.”

Without affirmative action policies in place, the number of Black and brown students admitted to elite universities like Harvard is expected to decrease. Meanwhile legacy admission policies — alternatively known as affirmative action for privileged white kids — remain stubbornly in place. 

Admission data made public during the course of litigation in the case, Students for Fair Admissions v. The President and Fellows of Harvard University, illustrated the massive advantage that a certain subset of predominantly-white applicants have when it comes to college admissions, a group that includes the relatives of Harvard graduates (also known as legacy students), children of the university’s faculty and staff, recruited athletes and individuals whose names appear on the dean’s interest list — often because of a close relationship with a top donor. 

Joshua Kinsler is an associate professor of economics at the University of Georgia. He is the co-author, with Duke professor Peter Arcidiacono and Tyler Ransom of the University of Oklahoma, of a number of research papers that analyzed Harvard admissions data released during the case. (Arcidiacono has acted as an expert witness on behalf of SFFA and Kinsler was at one point employed as a consultant by the organization; they say the organization did not fund their research.) 

Among other findings, Kinsler and his associates showed that, of white applicants admitted to Harvard during the period examined, nearly half, 43 percent, were legacies, athletes, children of faculty and staff or dean’s list — a group they call ALDC for short. The researchers found that “roughly three quarters of white ALDC admits would have been rejected” if they were not given special consideration because of their status. If the university stopped giving preferential treatment to those students in the admissions process, they also found, the share of white students admitted to Harvard would drop significantly, while the admissions rates of all other groups would either go up or remain unchanged. (Among admits who were Black, Asian or Hispanic, data showed less than 16 percent of each were ALDC.)

“The ‘preferences’ for these groups are enormous,” Kinsler tells Rolling Stone. “If you took two students who looked identical in every other dimension, except one was a legacy and one wasn’t, the legacy has a vastly higher likelihood of being admitted than the non-legacy.” 

And the advantage those students enjoy is only growing: As the number of total applicants to Harvard has dramatically increased in the last several decades, the share of those applicants characterized as ALDC has shrunk, but, the same team of researchers showed in a separate paper, the percentage of ALDC admitted has remained the same — meaning it has actually gotten easier to be admitted to Harvard in recent years if you’re a legacy student. “The only way that you can maintain that is if you continue to give bigger and bigger and bigger preferences over time to these special categories [of applicants] — which is precisely what we see,” Kinsler explains.

Ending affirmative action, Bowman says, “is going to have a devastating impact on equity, equality, diversity, and all of the things that matter in a healthy, thriving democracy…If you want to end something, end legacy admissions.” 

Last year, the congressman from New York partnered with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Wash.) to introduce the Fair College Admissions for Students Act, in an effort to end legacy and donor admissions at schools that receive federal funding. (In 2021, Colorado became the first state to ban the practice at public universities.)


Bowman says legacy admission policies allow “big donors, the wealthy elite, and those who were able to attend certain higher education institutions” to secure admission spots for their family members, while simultaneously shutting “poor people and people of color out of the most prestigious institutions. … That is un-American. That is undemocratic. And that is unacceptable,” Bowman says. Merkley, for his part, tells Rolling Stone he was “not surprised” by the decision, “but profoundly disturbed.”

In a statement, Merkley says he and Bowman plan to re-introduce their plan before the August recess.

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