An Irony of Legacy Admission
There’s a powerful editorial today in The Harvard Crimson by a current Harvard student, Jasmine M. Green, who writes a beautiful letter to her future, imaginary child, letting him or her know why even though legacy admission has helped generations of white applicants earn admission to Harvard, she supports its elimination — in spite of the fact that it could eventually help her Black child. The piece, entitled “To My Black Legacy Child,” is a reflection of how so many underrepresented current students and recent alumni would of course love for their children to benefit from a system that disadvantaged them, but — as so many believe — it’s simply not worth the cost.
As Ms. Green so eloquently writes, “Even in our new millennium — which those before us had hoped would bring newfound security and peace — Black Harvard students are still battling for the respect of our university. We are disproportionately targeted by campus police, routinely denied the creation of a safe space where we may love and protect each other, and told we are undeserving of our places at elite institutions by our own instructors. And, on top of all this, less than five percent of Black students at Harvard — compared to one out of five white students — have legacy status. So it is under these circumstances, my child, that I owe it to us both to be honest. More than anything, I want to give you what my ancestors were denied. I want you to have security and prosperity, success, and unimaginable joy. I want to provide for you what many of my white classmates have had for generations — a future paid for in advance. You will be far ahead of the curve, and make other kids of less-privileged backgrounds feel like they could never catch up. You would become the very applicant who once disadvantaged students like me. I cannot let this happen. I can’t advocate for a system that was designed to keep us out. Therefore, I must let go of this infinite and poisoned gift. I’m sorry, my child. I promise, I am always thinking of you.”
For generations, as Ms. Green touches upon, the practice of legacy admission has favored white, privileged applicants. Yet in recent years, the legacy pool has, invariably, reflected a broader diversity of America since our nation’s elite universities have been growing more and more diverse over the last generation. And this pool will only become more diverse in the years to come if legacy admission remains. Thus these universities would be eliminating legacy admission just as the progeny of these alumni come of college age and can finally benefit from a practice that for so long hurt their ancestors. So, yes, as we’ve been articulating for years, there is an irony in eliminating legacy admission just as the practice becomes a bit more egalitarian.
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