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Meet the Harvard Students Rallying to Save Affirmative Action

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For Angie Shin '23, moving from high school to Harvard revealed the necessity of affirmative action.

A first-generation, low-income student, Shin graduated from a public high school with one of the worst academic performance ratings in California, she said.

“Coming to Harvard and experiencing the privileges of a private education, privileges of going to one of the most renowned universities in the world, there was a lot of burden on myself to really digest what that meant for my friends growing up and what that means for communities across the country today not being able to benefit from billion dollar institutions,” Shin said.

Shin is one of roughly 100 Harvard undergraduates headed to Washington, D.C. this weekend to rally in support of affirmative action. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in an affirmative action lawsuit against the University on Oct. 31.

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The suit, brought by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, alleges that Harvard College discriminates against Asian American applicants by considering race in its admissions process.

Shin attributes her “meaningful and fulfilling” college experience to the “community of diversity.”

“When it comes to my personal motivations for organizing for this case, it’s because I really do believe that affirmative action does increase diversity in higher ed,” said Shin, a former president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Women’s Association.

Shin also co-leads the Affirmative Action Coalition, which organizes advocacy events and communicates with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on behalf of student groups the fund represents.

This weekend, undergraduates will travel to Washington, D.C. on a trip organized by AAC to rally in front of the Supreme Court and in Franklin Park.

“There’s going to be a really awesome and diverse group of enthusiastic students and activists who are going down there directly to the Supreme Court outside while the oral argument is happening, and saying diversity does make a difference,” said AAC co-lead and Black Students Association board member David E. Lewis ’24.

Per Shin, the trip received funding from advocacy group Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, the NAACP LDF, and Harvard’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, which provided a $15,000 grant. On Sunday, the Harvard Undergraduate Association approved a $2,700 disbursement for AAC to subsidize meals for student protesters on the trip.

Leading up to the oral arguments, AAC is hosting a campus “Week of Action,” including an open mic event, a poster-making party, and a Friday rally on Massachusetts Avenue.

Kashish Bastola ’26, who helped organize the open mic event Monday, said he hoped the week would make advocacy “more available and accessible to our community.”

“We want to bring in as many people as we can,” Bastola said. “I hope this Week of Action can tap into the various communities that we have on campus that would possibly be interested in engaging with us, but maybe don’t know how or don’t have enough information.”

Like Shin, AAC co-lead Emma H. Lu ’26 emphasized the importance of fighting for a diverse campus.

“Maybe partially because I’m Asian, people have asked me, ‘Oh, affirmative action — are you for or against?’ And I hate that there is that kind of question,” Lu said. “Diversity is ultimately the goal and something that is to be celebrated.”

AAC co-lead and Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association board member Kylan M. Tatum ’25 said he values diversity because of his “multiracial, multiethnic and multinational background.”

“Both Black and Asian myself, I’ve been very interested in trying to combat decentralization and the stereotypes that have really been attacking both sides,” Tatum said. “That’s how I found myself involved in the affirmative action case, and the work has been great so far.”

Muskaan Arshad ’25, who interns for Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, said she has been involved in diversity advocacy at the College even prior to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear SFFA’s case.

“Harvard’s diversity is one of the best things about it,” Arshad said. “I grew up in Arkansas. It was very white, very, very homogenous, and it definitely didn’t feel like a space that I was accepted in. And all of that completely changed when I came to Harvard.”

AAC co-lead and AAA board member Chelsea Wang ’25 encouraged students to continue advocating for affirmative action even after the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Oct. 31.

“It’s going to be a very long movement, no matter how the court rules, because we won’t get the decision until May,” Wang said. “So up until then, we should all be doing as much as possible to continue talking about affirmative action.”

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at vivi.lu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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