Following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action in higher education admissions, Harvard has instructed alumni interviewers to not take an applicant’s race or ethnicity into account in evaluations, according to updated guidelines obtained by The Crimson.
“To the extent that an applicant’s race, ethnicity, or family’s country of origin seems apparent to an interviewer, the interviewer may not consider that information in the interview process, including evaluation, making recommendations about, or assigning ratings to the student,” state the guidelines, which apply to applicants for the College’s Class of 2028.
After nearly a decade of litigation between anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions and Harvard, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of SFFA in June — declaring race-based affirmative action in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. That day, Harvard said it would abide by the ruling but reaffirmed its commitment to diversity.
The Court’s decision, however, contained a significant exception: Universities may still take into account how an applicant’s identity has shaped their personal growth.
The Court’s majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts ’76, states that nothing in the opinion prohibits universities “from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life.” Still, the opinion holds that universities may not “simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today.”
Harvard’s refreshed guidelines for alumni interviewers include sample evaluations that demonstrate how applicants’ racial identities have shaped their interests.
“Xavier’s most rewarding high school experiences have been his social justice work. He is the president of his school’s Black Student Union and has collaborated with his local NAACP chapter, youth council, and local elementary and middle schools,” one example states. “He shared that there is not a large African American nor Latinx community local to him, so he has found a lot of fulfillment growing this community, connecting with people with similar backgrounds, and making local change.”
The interviewer guidelines for the 2022-23 admissions cycle did not mention race and ethnicity and did not explicitly instruct alumni to exclude race from their evaluations.
In last year’s interviewer handbook, the admissions committee states that some students have the ability to succeed despite hardship in their lives, “whether financial or otherwise.”
“These qualities and experiences are valuable and can add depth and diversity to the undergraduate experience at large,” the handbook continues.
The Class of 2028 interviewer eligibility form for alumni also contains a provision that interviewers may not ask about a student’s racial background or ethnicity. In addition, the interviewer “may not consider that information in the interview process, including evaluation, making recommendations about, or assigning ratings to the students,” according to a screenshot of the form obtained by The Crimson.
A September email to Harvard Club of Washington, D.C., alumni encourages “veteran interviewers” to attend a training session to familiarize themselves with the new admissions landscape.
“There is new guidance from Admissions in light of the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, as well as a new interview report form,” the email reads.
Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on the changes to guidelines for alumni interviewers.
Last month, the College released significant changes to its application on the Common Application portal, eliminating the long-standing optional Harvard supplemental essay and replacing it with five required short-answer questions.
The Common Application opened for students on Aug. 1. The deadline for restrictive early action applications to the Class of 2028 is Nov. 1, marking the beginning of the first admissions cycle after the end of affirmative action. These applicants can expect to hear back by mid-December.