Harriet Alexander, Daily Mail, September 16, 2023
Harvard’s student newspaper has claimed that a new admissions test is racist and discriminatory, because the 200-word limit for the essays do not give applicant from ‘non-traditional backgrounds’ enough space to explain themselves.
The Crimson this week, run by Cara Chang, published an op-ed written by its editorial board slamming the famed Ivy League college’s response to the end of affirmative action.
They argued that replacing the previous one optional open-ended essay and two optional short essays with five compulsory 200-word segments was discriminatory.
‘Shortening the essays has a disparate impact that falls heaviest on those from marginalized backgrounds,’ the board writes.
‘Learning to package yourself within a shorter amount of space is a product of advanced education; longer essays more equitably allow applicants to discuss their experiences in full, particularly if they are from non-traditional backgrounds and require more space to elaborate on nuanced qualifications.’
By contrast, the authors argue, ‘longer essays more equitably allow applicants to discuss their experiences in full, particularly if they are from non-traditional backgrounds and require more space to elaborate on nuanced qualifications.’
They argue that ‘trauma dumping’ is acceptable, describing it as ‘explaining how past life experiences have shaped who you are’.
‘Those who have undergone traumatic experiences should not have to fear that writing about the experiences that shaped them looks like a beg for admission,’ they state.
The board adds that some of the questions are also flawed.
The authors point to the question: ‘Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you.’
They write: ‘This question seemingly privileges applicants from well-resourced backgrounds for whom additional academic opportunities were plentiful in high school.’
Two members of the Harvard editorial board, Ruby J.J. Huang and Joshua Ochieng, disagreed with their colleagues and co-wrote a dissenting op-ed.
Huang and Ochieng argue that the new five short essays actually make Harvard more accessible.
‘The new five prompts ask applicants to talk about different aspects of themselves, from their intellectual interests, extracurriculars, and family responsibilities to their life experiences,’ they write.
‘These prompts give clear guidance on what Harvard wants to know about its applicants.
‘For a student with limited experience in writing an application, the prompts assuage the burden of trying to determine the aspects of their life that are of interest to Harvard.’
And they argue that it is an over-simplification to say that shorter essays are harder to craft.
‘Writing is an idiosyncratic process that, dependent on a myriad of factors, will require different skills from different people,’ they state.
‘For some, brevity may be necessary to get the point across, while for others, a little elaboration may drive the point home.’
The discussion came following the June decision by the Supreme Court to end affirmative action in college applications – seen by supporters as one of the key achievements of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
As a result, universities can no longer consider applicants’ race or ethnicity as they seek to correct long-standing inequalities resulting from America’s segregationist past, with the aim of boosting black, Hispanic and Native American enrollment.
Universities are now wrestling with how to make their student body more diverse, within the law.