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Suit alleging Harvard's admissions bias heads to trial

Harvard Yard, old heart of Harvard University campus.
Harvard Yard. Photo: Getty Images

A lawsuit challenging Harvard University’s admissions practices — claiming discrimination against Asian-American applicants by holding them to a higher standard — will head to trial in a Boston federal court on Monday.

Why it matters: The case could have far-reaching consequences in college admissions at a time when the country’s polarized climate continues to stoke racial and political divisions.

The details: Officials, alumni, and students from the Ivy League school will take the stand to examine the admissions policies. Harvard, one of the most selective universities in the world, had said it does not discriminate but instead uses race as one of many factors to build classes of diverse backgrounds.

  • The case was brought by Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit group known for orchestrating legal challenges to affirmative action practices and voting rights laws in recent years.

What they're saying: Asian-Americans are divided on the case. Some, including groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said they are being used by conservatives as a wedge to abolish affirmative action.

  • Edward Blum, the head of Students for Fair Admissions, told the Washington Post: "The cornerstone mission of [my] organization is to eliminate the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions. Period. We make no bones about that."
  • The case drew support from the Trump Justice Department, which has filed a statement of interest in the challenge, and has also recently opened inquiries into complaints of discrimination against Asian-Americans at Harvard and Yale.

The big picture: This could be a landmark case that might reach the Supreme Court, which upheld a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas at Austin in 2016. In that case, a white student whom Blum recruited to sue the university said she was discriminated against because of her race and UT's affirmative action policies.

Go deeper: The cracks in the college admissions system.

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