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What Statistics Can't Tell Us in the Fight Over Affirmative Action at Harvard (bostonreview.net)
39 points by huihuiilly 82 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments



University applications should not contain any data such as race, name, gender, or place of origin that would allow the university to discriminate for or against the applicant based on their genetics.

We've decided as a nation to outlaw discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin. We should fucking act like it. If the Asian kid down the street who spent five hours a night studying gets into Harvard and I don't, that's the way it should be.


When this is tried, it does not output ideologically-pleasing student demographics. Presumably because all objective tests of merit are hopelessly biased.

Caltech is such a school. And its population is largely largely Asian and Jewish, both demographics Harvard has a history of discriminating against.

I am sure Caltech’s administration is considered hopelessly reactionary, but their graduates have the highest number of Nobel prizes per capita. But again, what sort of merit does a Nobel prize prove? Look at the demographics of the winners.


Caltech seems to be considerably less Jewish than Harvard. Caltech is about 3x as Jewish as the general 18-21 population. Harvard is around 14x as Jewish as the general 18-21 population.

I'm getting this from a chart about halfway down the the following very long article [1]. (Note: I have not read that article. I just searched for info on Jewish enrollment at colleges, and found that chart).

[1] https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of...


Harvard does not discriminate against Jews today. They have historically. Now they do the same to Asians. This, one supposes, must be an example of moral progress.


Oh, I overlooked that you were talking about historical discrimination, not present discrimination.


Caltech is an unusually focused school. If your only goal is to churn out future STEM PhDs, admitting based on an objective math test is probably not a bad approach.

Harvard's goal, traditionally, has been to [re]produce the ruling class of America, and their admissions criteria are geared accordingly.


Over the coming decades, my bet would be on

- Stanford to produce the ruling class of America, and for

- Harvard to produce the ruling class of Mad Men season 1

(just based on the criteria in the article)


as a math grad myself i wish the ruling class consisted of Caltech and similar math/physics/other "real" sciences graduates :)


See Singapore for such a country.


Perhaps college admissions should switch to a two-phase process:

* application score (without race, name, gender, place of origin, etc)

* justice curve (weight score by race, name, gender, place of origin, etc)

The application scoring and justice curves should be carried out by separate impartial groups, with the justice curve preferably applied by a government entity to prevent corruption.

If we truly believe that a student's financial and demographic background have nothing to do with his or her score, then we'd see no statistical evidence of it in achievement tests.

But of course we do. So I think that while your heart is in the right place with respect to fairness, you have overlooked how justice factors in.


This point comes up in discussion from time to time. Affirmative action is legal in some domains.[0]

Ultimately, we all come from somewhere, and the interactive, dynamic impact of past will impact an individual's future potential.

It's nice to optimize for a static objective problem, like whom to hire or whom to admit. But people are made up from the cumulative and dynamic series of events that began happening long, long before being born. It behooves a stable society to ensure marginalized groups aren't forever left in the cold. This is often expressed with sayings like "losing privilege feels like discrimination."

Think of it this way: in introductory game theory we learn about the Prisoner's Dilemma, where both players are offered a strictly dominating choice -- and so the outcome is entirely predictable. However, what happens when the game framework is repeated indefinitely, without end? The sum of immediate payoffs can be balanced with future payoffs, and different equilibria ("good policy") can be considered (e.g. tit-for-tat). This is not even accounting for further ex-game interaction, which can open more equilibria options.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_action_in_the_Unit...


What about in the essays? If I write about overcoming hardship growing up as a black kid with no father in a mostly white neighborhood, should they censor that?


Would your attitude change if, say, until 11th grade nobody had told you that college prep begins in middle school (or maybe kindergarten, depending on who you ask)? It may shock you but that is actually the situation a lot of students and their parents find themselves in: they find out too late that they were supposed to be preparing for college admissions for the past few years.

(I am not claiming that you have to believe that this justifies affirmative action, but you should know that the situation is not as simple as the media talking points would have us believe.)


Then instead of admitting students who didn't prepare for reasons of ignorance and lack of guidance, you give better guidance.

Would you award me a fields medal, just because I didn't achieve anything since I wasn't taught and guided well regarding mathematics?


I was replying to a comment that said that if Asian students are spending hours every day preparing for college admissions, then they should be admitted. My point was only that the situation is not as simple as "some people work harder than others," not that affirmative action is necessarily the right answer to the problem. Maybe sending out an army of people to work with elementary and middle schools in Black and Latino neighborhoods to explain to students, parents, and teachers what they should be doing to prepare for college is a better approach. Either way we should not pretend that this is a simple problem with a simple answer.


My attitude for that would be that the entire point of holistic criteria is that college prep shouldn't have to begin in kindergarden! The adult success rate of kids that wake up for the first time in college and Tiger Children (TM) isn't all that different, so we don't want to end up in a situation where, for any race, the only way to go to Harvard is to be a Tiger Child (TM). Making it easier for one race to get in to Harvard might help solve the problem for them, but that doesn't help all the other races.


If these asian kids didn’t work hard what other opportunities are there? Do you think any serious admission committee is gonna look at your avg asian kid and give him the benefit of the doubt for being “holistic and well rounded” when there are 20x more white kids that could take that same spot?


Sure, but my point was not that Harvard's admissions process is the best approach; it was that the situation is not as simple as "Asian kids work harder so they deserve admission to the best schools," which was what the person I was replying to had said.


I will pass by all of the obvious things that could be said to arrive at the following hot take: whether or not Harvard is using them as cover to discriminate, "holistic qualities" do actually exist. There is definitely an aspect to human value that goes beyond lists of achievements, I have known some terrible people that were extremely accomplished and some great people that had coasted through highschool mostly paling around. In fact, the best people I have known consistently focus on the aspects of life that aren't measurable: to pick one random example, the quality of their relationship with their parents. Someone who sacrifices all of those things could ruin themselves in the pursuit of greatness, and we don't want to make that a necessary precondition for admission to a good school. The fact that objective "facts of record" are harder to abuse than just about anything else should not trick us in to eliminating everything but numbers from our society out of fear of abuse.


And of course it's just a coincidence that these "holistic qualities" happen to be found more frequently in some races than others?


Asians at Harvard undergrad are represented at roughly 4x their proportion of the general US population. Assuming that Harvard undergrad values “holistic qualities” (I think it does), then the answer to that may be yes.

Is this the argument that the folks in the lawsuit are making? I don’t think so. The argument to me sounds more like “why can’t Harvard make admissions just based just on a test?”

Short answer: There isn’t a standardized test that does a good job of selecting for the “holistic qualities” that certain schools want. Hence the admissions system that most elite schools use.


If these "holistic qualities" can't be detailed or measured, they may become merely a reflection of the interviewer's personal bias.

> On average, alumni give white and Asian American applicants similar ratings, but Harvard staff give whites substantially better reviews than they give Asian Americans.


Actually, no, it is not a coincidence that holistic qualities are not uniformly distributed across every social group. For example, a member of a historically privileged group is less likely to be the first member of their family to attend college than a member of a historically disadvantaged group.


Maybe not even a coincidence!

Maybe extremely high SAT and grades are correlated with poor 'holistic' qualities such as social skills, communication, leadership, creativity, 'round character' (i.e. athleticism, disposition, generosity, musicianship).

I'm not saying they are - I'm saying it wouldn't really surprise me if they were, and then we have to think about it a little bit!

It's a tricky subject no doubt.


> Maybe extremely high SAT and grades are correlated with poor 'holistic' qualities such as social skills, communication, leadership, creativity, 'round character' (i.e. athleticism, disposition, generosity, musicianship).

If that were so, it would affect members of all ethnicities who had the same high SAT scores and grades equally.


Good point, but those 'other qualities' may not be distributed very evenly among the remaining applicants. This is an ugly problem to have. I don't envy anyone in this situation.


Many of those "poor 'holistic' qualities" can be code words for discrimination. "Social skills" for neurotypical, "leadership" for attractive, "athleticism" for not disabled, "disposition" for obedient.

Even if you're right and extremely high SAT and grades are correlated with neurodiversity, physical problems, or rebelliousness, are those qualities colleges should be discriminating against?


Or maybe 'leadership' actually means 'leadership'?

And 'athletic' means 'athletic'?

They are unless you have a heap of evidence to suggest they are not.

And yes, Universities should definitely be considering all of those qualities, most of them do to the extent they can.


There's certainly a heap of evidence of discrimination against neurodiversity, physical problems, and rebelliousness. It's certainly been talked about enough. If you're not aware of it that's only because you've chosen to ignore it.


I don't think it's a tricky subject in the way that fluid dynamics is tricky. I do think it is difficult to communicate openly about because systemic favor and disfavor lie so close to individual identity that those favored have a hard time acknowledging it and those disfavored have a hard time being listened to. The ego is super enmeshed.


It's all a joke. Legacy students make up 30%[0] of the Harvard student body. The best way to get into Harvard will always be money, everybody else is just fighting over the scraps.

Edit: This number is incorrect. Legacy student acceptance rate is 30%, 5 times the alternative. The number of legacy students PRESENT at Harvard is closer to 15%


“Today, according to Harvard, legacy students make up around 14 percent of the undergraduate population.”

https://www.npr.org/2018/11/04/663629750/legacy-admissions-o...


Which is 14 percent more than they should make up, at least if we are going to pretend that Harvard is interested in any reasonable standard of admissions. I understand the arguments for diversity in the student body; legacy admissions work against that goal. I understand the arguments for a strictly objective standard; legacy admissions work against that goal too.


Given that IQ seems to be >50% hereditary, wouldn’t we expect legacies to be over-represented in any meritocracy that partially selects for such a trait? I don’t think Harvard is a pure meritocracy, it’s more of a theoretical question.


> Given that IQ seems to be >50% hereditary,

You're kidding right? That is such a painfully incorrect statement. Intelligence is an incredibly complex hugely conserved trait. Bloodlines and power/intellect passed down through the generations is a great fantasy novel setting, but not so much for reality.


You are just wrong:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability_of_IQ

I know it is ideologically uncomfortable but this is a fact you will have to get used to. Cognitive genomics is coming. The undeniable is becoming laughable to deny.


Have you considered the possibility that confounding variables exist? I have no doubt that coming from a family where your parents have received a good education makes it much more likely for you to personally also go on to get the same education for example. But these are different than the pure genetics by themselves. The Wikipedia article you link to yourself highlights the importance of how it defines the meaning of "heritability" that I think you should take a closer look at.

I'm sure at some point in the future, we will be able to genetically engineer our children to be smarter. Yet this is still a completely different idea compared to the paired mating of people which has currently been proposed. Intelligence is something that is incredibly complex, and humans are likely very close if not already at its peak within some local maxima.


>Have you considered the possibility that confounding variables exist? I have no doubt that coming from a family where your parents have received a good education makes it much more likely for you to personally also go on to get the same education for example.

Yes.

If you read the citations you will see this is based on twin adoption studies, which control for confounding variables almost perfectly.

I assure you, ever single objection you can think of off the top of your head has been raised and overcome.

The heritability of IQ is not a conclusion psychologists wanted to affirm. It is fact the field was forced to come to from the data, despite the ideological drifts of the last 50 years yearning (or in the case of Stephen Jay Gould outright falsifying data) for the opposite conclusion.


Psychology is a field notorious for being derided against as a soft science particularly because of how little data exists with poor sample sizes and ideology / purposeful tampering coming into the way like you've said.

Any meaningful evidence for a conclusion requires a much better understanding of the brain both biologically and also as a function of general cognition. This will require many more breakthroughs within the fields of biology and computer science. We're definitely getting closer and closer everyday on that front, but as of right now, the tools that we have access to are far too crude in my honest opinion.

Psychology in that respect is akin to the alchemy that was a precursor to chemistry. I'm not saying no real science was done by the alchemists of course, just that it was far and away from what the field of chemistry would ultimately become.


I sense this is a lost cause, but we can already predict ~10 percent of the variance in educational attainment with the genome alone.

Once we get data sets with millions of genomes tagged with their donors IQ, this number will rise. If we can predict, say, 60% of the variance in IQ (based on the genome alone) will you change you mind?

That is, what sort of data would change your mind?

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41588-018-0147-3


Again, I'm not trying to dispute the fact that genes are the blueprints to our bodies.

The point I'm making is in regards to the OP's comment about how people coming from legacy will be much higher due to the fact that smart people reproducing with other smart people greatly increases the chances of producing a resultant smart baby. Random variation has much greater effect in determining the end result of that baby's genome is what I'm saying. You could have paired the person with almost any other human being, and the resultant IQ outcome would be no less likely to occur.

Only through concerted effort to discover and understand how the brain is constructed genetically in addition to developing methodologies for testing changes to those key markers will it be possible to meaningfully alter the statistics of intelligence. Anything else will be lost in the noise primarily because of, again, what I stated above. Intelligence of humans is likely already very close to some local maxima and it is also a highly conserved trait.


I used to believe everything you’ve stated until I dove into the twin studies, and more recently the GWAS data from Europe. Read the literature yourself with an open mind and you may be surprised. Ironically, as society has become more environmentally equal, ie the decline of lead, pollution, and clinical malnourishment, Nature has pulled even further ahead of Nurture, because it’s much easier to remove IQ points than to add them.


Let's assume for the sake of argument that intelligence is hereditary (not nearly as clear cut as you suggest). If Harvard's historical admissions policy was based on an applicant's intelligence, then they could use legacy as a proxy for intelligence in subsequent generations. Of course, if intelligence is only partially hereditary (as you suggested) then Harvard would do better to just apply some uniform standard of intelligence measurements to all applicants, assuming that the goal is to admit the most intellectually gifted students.

Of course it is well known that Harvard's historical admission policy was overtly antisemitic and generally racist, had nothing whatsoever to do with intelligence, and going back far enough was tied to the European Aristocracy. As a result the effect of legacy admissions is actually to perpetuate the effects of those historical policies. Rather than acting as a proxy for intelligence, legacy admissions act as a proxy for membership in a historically privileged class, and basically extends that privilege to the current generation.


>Of course, if intelligence is only partially hereditary (as you suggested) then Harvard would do better to just apply some uniform standard of intelligence measurements to all applicants, assuming that the goal is to admit the most intellectually gifted students.

Isn’t this the role of the SAT?

I’d be interested to see the data for legacy versus non-legacy SAT scores for applicants, admits, and matriculants.

I’m not defending Harvard’s current admissions policies nor their historical admissions policies, which seem indefensible by modern standards. My interest stems more from the theoretical implications of assortive mating for traits that are both very heriditary and very valued by society (or very deterministic of “success”.)


The SAT is not an intelligence test; it is a test of a student's educational background and the degree to which they engaged in college prep in the years leading up to the test. The fact that the 2/3 of the test is devoted to some measure of literacy should tell you that (literacy is an absurdly poor proxy for intelligence -- especially when it is confined to a specific language). Even the math section is in part a test of a student's educational background, as you must at least be familiar with the specific field of math and particular notation that the test uses.

There is a reason parents enroll their children in SAT prep as early as middle school and even elementary school. Again, let's assume intelligence is hereditary; then an ideal intelligence measurement would be impossible to prepare for, because it should measure something that a person cannot change about themselves (their genes). The fact that SAT prep measurably improves SAT scores says at least one of two things must be true: the SAT is not measuring an innate property, or that intelligence is not simply inherited.

(Spoiler alert: both of those are true.)


Of course you’re correct that test prep can skew the results, but SAT scores are still one of the best measures available at scale, hence why they are so widely used despite the obvious flaws. Other than a DNA test for IQ, you can prep for any known test, whether it’s the SAT, the WPPSI, the WISC-IV, a Rorschach, or the New York Times crossword. As user wycs hinted at elsewhere, a polygenetic spit test for raw IQ potential - the Gattica scenario - is likely not as far off as we believe; when that hits, it’s a whole new world (from pre-conception.)


Again, SAT scores are an extremely poor measurement of intelligence, because at best they only apply to people who (1) speak American English with complete fluency, (2) have literacy in English, and (3) have been taught the syntax, symbols, and particular fields of math tested in math section. Beyond that, since the modern SAT includes a writing section, there is a large subjective component of the score that further reduces its usefulness as a measure of intelligence. The SAT I took had no essay, but even the old test would have done a poor job of measuring the intelligence of someone who did not receive a high school education.

The actual purpose of the SAT is to screen students for a minimum educational background needed to complete a four-year degree at an American college. It only applies to a typical American education, and only to certain specific aspects of that education (there is no section on music, art, history, etc.).


They removed the writing section from the modern SAT, it's back to 1600 points.

I take it you're saying the SAT math section is a good measure of intelligence for all the kids that went to high school.


SAT is great at measuring who spent the most money / who goes to the best grade/high school but not a whole lot more than that.


You’re assuming that no children of Harvard alum would be qualified to get in even without legacy status. This is a woefully incorrect assumption.

Also note that a full 70% of legacies are denied admission. Being a legacy is hardly a golden ticket.


It is not that no legacy students would get in purely on their academic achievements or that being a legacy is a golden ticket. The legacy admission process seems to serve no reasonable purpose and to be in direct conflict with Harvard's other goals with its admissions process. It would be better to fill that 14 percent with randomly selected applicants -- at least that would given Harvard a control group to measure the impact of their admissions criteria against.


Is it not reasonable for Harvard to try to grow their endowment? If an alumnus wants to donate a new library or a new scholarship to Harvard, what's wrong with letting their kid attend, assuming she has the grades? The library or scholarship could benefit far more than what we lose by not admitting the one kid for the place the legacy took.


No, it is corrupt for Harvard to try to solicit donations by tipping the scale in favor of admitting the children of their alumni. "Assuming she has the grades" is exactly the problem here -- legacy admissions are not held to the same standard as everyone else and have an easier time gaining admission.

We are also not talking about "one kid," we are talking about 14 percent of their student body. Harvard does not get a new library or big donation for every one of the hundreds of legacies it admits each year. What is the cost/benefit analysis of having having such a large fraction of the incoming class held to a lower standard?


Harvard wouldn't have nearly the prestige that it does without legacy and purchased admissions.


Money is an effective tool to further almost any mission.

I'm not sure exactly what Harvard's mission statement is, but if the money that comes with a legacy student is enough, then taking on the student is almost certainly a good way to advance the mission.


LMFTFY: Harvard's admission process is corrupt and people can buy a spot for their children regardless of academic qualifications.

(Not claiming this is shocking news.)


You’re missing the notion of cultural continuity - legacy admissions support that effort.


It will be wholly unsurprising to me when fifty years from now we will talk about the overt discrimination against Asian people in America. I’d expect to read “Despite being highly educated, Asian Americans only held X positions of note...”, “A pervasive culture of emasculation and fetishization of Asian Americans was hidden by the fact that many of them were highly paid”, “Explicit discrimination against Asian Americans on the grounds that subtle factors revealed they were unfit for college admission was hidden under a notion of ‘holistic’ admission”.

Boy! The sociologists of the future are going to have a field day. I can’t wait. After all, back then college authorities said “most Jews are socially untrained” and “the social characteristics of the Jews are peculiar”, and they did use precisely the same language about outside interests. We’re going to look like complete morons for having bought this bullshit story college authorities are selling.

Anyway, I leave you with an excerpt from Harvard President Lowell’s remarkable letter from the 1920s extolling the virtues of quotas limiting Jewish enrollment

> The anti-Semitic feeling among the students is increasing, and it grows in proportion to the increase in the number of Jews. If their number should become 40 per cent of the student body, the race feeling would become intense. When on the other hand, the number of Jews was small, the race antagonism was small also. . . . If every college in the country would take a limited proportion of Jews, I suspect we should go a long way toward eliminating race feeling among the students, and as these students passed out into the world, eliminating it in the community.


It is because of America’s unwillingness to embrace the Asian Americans that will cause them to lose future conflicts with Asia.

As of today, a large number of the Chinese PhDs are returning back to China to develop technology there because they find the climate (social / political ) too apprehensive and demeaning.


Family connections as a form of merit, interesting!

> non-academic factors, including athletics, character, and family connections

Rural and elite students, but NOT children of engineers?

>Harvard’s open preference for... strong athletes and the children of alumni, faculty, and donors... Harvard may, for example, favor students from rural communities and disfavor the children of engineers.


The Eng. and Rural bit may simply be a matter of trying to spread the field.

Growing up in a rural area, 'Harvard' is just some place you hear about from TV, few think they can get it. In a way it's kind of like economic classism, but from a different angle.

As for 'family' ... Queen's U in Ontario does this because they think there is value to that kind of coherence. I believe this to be true, at least to the point wherein a Uni should be able to do this if they want. Obviously, problems arise when it gets to elitism (!) but at face value there's something to it.

It's a tricky subject no matter what. Admissions at Harvard has to be in some ways one of the worst jobs in the world as I suggest they'll be right in the middle of the culture wars from here on in.


This is true. I’ve seen many college confidential posts with rural admits - it’s an underrated part of the AA discussion that gets ignored in the racial animus.


The article often alludes to how white Harvard is, while also mentioning the historic anti-Semitic admission criteria, which are supposedly no longer in place. But it doesn't say what the current state is - are Jews still discriminated against, and what are the general demographics at Harvard. It turns out, 25% of the student body is Jewish, 22.9% Asian, 22.3% white, 12.3% Latino, 1.9% native American, and 0.4% native Hawaiian.

Sources:

https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/The-most-heavily-Jewish-US-co...

https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/admissions-statistics


Somehow in the late 20th century we became so focused on nurture that we've totally and irrationally come to disregard nature. This fallacious tabla rasa thinking justifies the modern conflation between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity, and leads to penalization of those who are better able to achieve, ostensibly in the name of equality, and so called progress.

But the true outcome of failing to consider half of the achievement equation is a regression toward incompetence, as we effectively hold back those who can in a vain attempt to bring up those who cannot. All of society then suffers in the name of a false, unattainable equality.


> The personal ratings look different depending on who awards them: alumni interviewers or Harvard’s internal admissions staff. On average, alumni give white and Asian American applicants similar ratings, but Harvard staff give whites substantially better reviews than they give Asian Americans. For the alumni-assigned ratings, 50 percent of Asian American applicants and 51 percent of whites were rated as having “very strong” or “outstanding” personal traits. But for personal ratings awarded by Harvard’s internal admissions staff, only 18 percent of Asian Americans were in the top group, compared to 23 percent of whites. White applicants received these top ratings about 30 percent more often than Asian Americans.

What would the response be either in mainstream media or social media or from proponents of Affirmative Action policies, if African-American or Hispanic applicants or other demographic groups (e.g. women) were given measurably lower scores on personality traits Harvard rates like 'likability' or 'integrity' or 'helpfulness'?


> Qualitative grounding of statistical findings is important to avoid misleading conclusions; it is not enough to control for a factor in a statistical analysis without clarifying its role in admissions goals and educational objectives.

This is a crucial point. Contextually framing an analysis, and it's results, is one of the most important parts of a project. In this case, it also forces the question - what does it mean for an admissions process to be biased?


What’s it going to look like if they ruled in favor of Jewish students as a harmed class back in the day and then against Asians this time around? Should Asians all get their skin bleached to not be abused in the elite college admissions process? Should we get Anglo names, avoid Asian extracurriculars and other indications of Asianness, and mark ourselves as White?

> Certain private universities, most notably Harvard, introduced policies which effectively placed a quota on the number of Jews admitted to the university. According to historian David Oshinsky, on writing about Jonas Salk, "Most of the surrounding medical schools (Cornell, Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Yale) had rigid quotas in place. In 1935 Yale accepted 76 applicants from a pool of 501. About 200 of those applicants were Jewish and only five got in." He notes that Dean Milton Winternitz's instructions were remarkably precise: "Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all."[15] As a result, Oshinsky added, "Jonas Salk and hundreds like him" enrolled in New York University instead.[16] Physicist and Nobel laureate Richard P. Feynman was turned away from Columbia College in the 1930s and went to MIT instead. See also Numerus clausus in the United States.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_quota

Trigger warning: as an Asian, I don’t care about helping Black and Latino people if it means hurting me, and especially when society has already chosen not to exert equivalent unfair treatment on another race (and the optics are especially not great when said race can be lumped in as ‘White’).


The argument for affirmative action is not simply that some groups were historically disadvantaged by university admissions bodies. Some groups are still put at a disadvantage long before they begin the college admissions process (which is often compounded by the historical efforts to disadvantage their parents). Some groups may never have been specifically targeted by universities, but because of systematic repression elsewhere in society they are unrepresented in some fields of study. There is also the general benefit of having a diverse student body, so that people from different backgrounds can bring different ideas, experiences, and ways of thinking with them to the university, which benefits all students (regardless of why they were admitted).

You do not have to agree with those points, but you should at least know what it is that you are disagreeing with.

Also, as a Jew, I would rather not see minority groups using the history of antisemitism as a wedge against other minorities. While everyone is arguing about affirmative action, Harvard is admitting "legacy" students simply because their parents happened to attend Harvard, which helps to lengthen the effects of Harvard's discriminatory policies against earlier generations (to the detriment of Jewish, Asian, Black, and Latino applicants).

fmajid 82 days ago [flagged]

Studies show the grandchildren of Vietnam war draftees still suffer an economic hit 2 generations later, so it’s unsurprising slavery casts a pall to this day.

“Diversity” in elite colleges is a scam, essentially rich urban whites throwing poor rural whites under the bus to give themselves a good conscience. Most of the “African-American” candidates have either one white parent of are of Caribbean origin, not the descendants of slaves, and the bonus for them is not means-tested. Don’t expect to find many kids from inner-city ghettoes or the barrio there.

It’s easy to get statistics on racial diversity at US universities but getting numbers on socio-economic diversity is like pulling teeth. SFFA’s suggestion to give a bonus to poor students has a lot of merit, but of course it would upset the elite apple cart at Harvard, which is why they resist it so strenuously.


It should be noted that if admissions were perfectly race blind and did (rightfully) correct for financial means, you would likely still end up with more poor Jews and Asians in the student body than Blacks and Hispanics. And that is why they don’t do it. Because it still wouldn’t give them the pretty superficial picture of diversity they’re looking for. The uncomfortable truth here is that they’re using a coarse-grained and super messed up attribute (race) to correct for a problem that goes much deeper than pure economic disparities.


> ...are of Caribbean origin, not the descendants of slaves

Dude, seriously? Educate yourself, FFS https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_the_British_and_Fre...


> of Caribbean origin

I'm curious, what would be the rationale behind this?


I agree that legacy should be done away with. However, the class of people who legacy harms is those whose parents did not attend Harvard. The overwhelming majority of White students fall into that class as well, and are just as harmed by legacy admissions as non-White students.

Also, as a Jew, I would rather not see people act as if anti-Jewish discrimination is so special that we somehow cannot look to that history for lessons on any issue that is not anti-Jewish discrimination. Be happy that (in this country) the overwhelming majority of people have come to accept that anti-semitism is wrong, and lets leverage that to help other groups. There was a lot of suffering to get that recognition for Jews. There was a lot of suffering to get that recognition for Blacks. Maybe we can short circuit some of the suffering this time around for the next group. [0]

[0] Although, frankly, I doubt we will see a turn around in our view of Asians anytime soon. If there is one thing I have learned from American History, it is that anti-Asian sentiments seems to be immune from social pushback for some reason.


As a Jew, would you feel confortable indicating that via a checkbox? Anywhere, for that matter? Let alone having that used against you in college admissions? Of course not.

If this mess with Asians isn’t truly a double standard against non-Whites, then you should be willing to accept the same treatment for the same reasons we supposedly think it’s okay to do it to Asians. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with that, your argument isn’t very useful because you clearly haven’t empathized far enough to understand how we feel.


Actually, as a Jew, I faced something even more frustrating: "Jewish" is not even a box on the admissions forms. I never had the choice to identify myself as a Jew. For the purposes of affirmative action programs Jews are not a race and we are expected to just indicate "White" on the forms (unless you are talking about African Jews, who are expected to indicate "Black," or Asian Jews who presumably are expected to indicate "Asian").

I understand your complaint, I just think you are focusing on the wrong problem and greatly over-simplifying the situation. Harvard's exclusion of Jews took the form of an explicit quota, and was specifically intended to benefit White Christian students (except for Italian Catholics, but back then Italians were not considered to be "White") and to prevent the student body from becoming too diverse (at the time they would not even consider Black applicants). Your complaint is over subjective admissions criteria that are intended to support a diverse student body. I also think it is a mistake to focus on affirmative action when "legacy" admissions comprise 14 percent of the student body -- surely that is even more unfair to people who worked hard for years.


You don’t seem to understand that what you’re saying is tantamount to: “Asian people of merit should be disproportionately harmed versus Jews for having been born in a specific time and place, to correct for a historical imbalance they had equally little to do with.”

I. Don’t. Care. I want fair treatment today. Now. While I’m still alive. Stop using my race against me. It’s wrong. As a society, we DECIDED it’s wrong a long time ago.


Great, maybe we should start by eliminating legacy admissions, which take seats away from all applicants of merit for the benefit of people whose parents went to Harvard. You are upset about how Harvard makes decisions for all the other people who actually have to have outstanding academic achievements to even be considered for admission (people who benefit from affirmative action still have to be outstanding -- everyone else is rejected before admissions officers even consider "holistic" criteria).

You want fair treatment? So do I. The thing is, I never knew my father growing up. Are you going to find someone to be a dad for every child in that situation? My mom worked the night shift at a blue-collar job and was not always there to keep me focused on my homework; are you going to find someone to supervise every child in that situation? Was it fair that I had to compete with people who did not have to deal with those disadvantages growing up?

Meritocracy sounds appealing in theory but falls apart in practice because we live in a society that only nominally respects "merit" and where some teenagers have to deal with racism that other teenagers do not have to deal with. There is no fair definition of "merit" because everyone has a different set of circumstances in their lives, different obstacles to overcome, and different opportunities to shine. It is fine if you object to affirmative action or if you think there is some better system that should be implemented, but don't make the mistake of thinking that there is some way to treat everyone fairly.


I actually agree with you in substance, but the glib 'trigger warning' at the end does yourself no services in convincing others.


Fair enough. Needless to say I have a lot of heavy emotions on this subject.


That's understandable. Being discriminated against sucks.




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