When testifying in federal court this week, Harvard University Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons got it wrong when asked why Harvard recruits only people within ‘sparse country’ (e.g., states like Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, etc.) who are labeled as white, other, or unknown in the admissions process. In fact, Dean Fitzsimmons was asked point blank if the school — which of course, like any other highly selective college, offers advantages in admission to students applying from less-represented states — included Asian Americans on the list from ‘sparse country.’ Dean Fitzsimmons said no. But not only was Dean Fitzsimmons wrong on this particular point, the true answer would have buttressed Harvard’s case.
Harvard’s ‘Sparse Country’ Applicants
As Anemona Hartocollis reports on the testimony for “The New York Times” in a piece entitled “Harvard Admissions Dean Testifies as Affirmative Action Trial Begins,” “‘People invited to apply from sparse country are ‘unknown,’ ‘other’ and ‘white,’ correct?’ John Hughes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, asked Mr. Fitzsimmons. ‘Yes,’ said the dean, who has been in charge of Harvard admissions since 1986. ‘Asians are not included in that list?’ Mr. Hughes asked. ‘Not in that particular list,’ Mr. Fitzsimmons replied.”
But the facts here are all twisted. Maybe Dean Fitzsimmons was stressed, defending his life’s work under penalty of perjury in federal court. Or maybe the plaintiff’s counsel just got him to misstate the facts. Who knows. But what Dean Fitzsimmons’ statement implies is that Harvard isn’t interested in Asian American students — or any non-white students — from states that aren’t particularly well-represented at highly selective colleges, like Montana. And that simply isn’t true.
If Harvard had a ton of Asian American — or African American or Latino applicants — applying from these ‘sparse country’ states, you bet they’d be included on these lists. There just aren’t large numbers of these students, including (we repeat) Asian American applicants, applying from these states. So that’s why they’re not represented in big numbers on ‘that particular list.’ The vast majority of Asian American applicants to highly selective colleges tend not to live in states like Montana; they tend to live in states with major cities, states like New York, New Jersey, and California. States that are over-represented at highly selective colleges.
See the difference? Maybe had Dean Fitzsimmons been under a little less pressure, he’d have gotten it right because the truth in this particular instance is in Harvard’s favor. The Asian American applicants we at Ivy Coach have worked with over the years who have earned admission to Harvard University from underrepresented states are a testament to this very assertion.
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