SFFA v. Harvard College: Testimony From The “Diverse”

The Chronicle of Higher Education begins its report from the Boston trial this morning by noting that “Catherine Ho described mochi, a sweet Japanese rice cake.”

Ho, co-president of the Harvard Asian American Women’s Association, explained how the organization recently invited fellow students to make the popular confection at a cultural event it sponsored. “Education,” said Ho, a sophomore, “is not just what you learn in the classroom.”

I am tempted, I confess, to dismiss this sort of arrow in the “diversity” quiver. Sure, much education occurs outside the classroom, but much of it is in books, where bright Harvard students could find a recipe for mochi — or chicken mole or hoppin’ john — even in the absence of Harvard’s elaborate apparatus designed to produce enough blacks and Latinos without too many Asians.

But the judge decided that a trial — even one the plaintiffs argued is not about diversity — would be incomplete without hearing from some of the “diverse.” Thus on Monday, the Chronicle reports, “the court finally heard from a handful of Harvard students and recent graduates, all of whom were minorities.”

The testimony was largely predictable.

One by one, eight witnesses described their personal experiences at a university that they cast as a work in progress, a place where minority students feel welcome in some ways but excluded in others. They described moments of both connection and alienation on the campus. And they explained why they believe an applicant’s race should matter in admissions, just as it matters in the stories of their own lives.

In one respect this diverse group was noticeably un-diverse. As I noted here last month, discussing the filing in which these students asked to testify, [i]n order to conform to the standard defense of ‘diversity,’  these witness wannabes should be accompanied by non-‘diverse’ Harvard students who presumably would assert how their education would have been ruined by not being exposed to these worthy witnesses.” Nor, of course, did the court hear from any Asian students who were rejected but would have been admitted had they not been Asian. Those students were not only denied the benefits of “diversity” at Harvard but of Harvard altogether.

In that post I noted, quoting a Chronicle article on the diverse students’ filing asking to be heard,

Caroline Zheng, a Chinese-American senior, “said she would like to testify that more racial diversity is needed at Harvard to improve the campus climate for all students of color, including Asian-Americans.” The “diverse” students, that is, need more “diversity” in order to feel included. In another odd argument, Sally Chen, another Chinese-American senior, said she would like to testify about “how ethno-racial diversity on Harvard’s campus has benefited her by providing a foundation for her student activism.” That helped her, she claims, in her “effort to secure an ethnic-studies program that includes Asian-American studies.” Thus, it is claimed, one of the benefits of “diversity” is that it enables “diverse” students to demand departments of “diversity.”

The eight students who wanted to (and did) testify argued in effect that Harvard needs more students like, well, themselves. I have called this justification of racial preferences the “C’est moi!” defense (see here, here, here, and here).Typically, that defense goes something like this: “I never would have been admitted to [insert selective college name here] or [insert law, graduate, or professional school here], but I was given an opportunity because of my race and now look how successful I am. Thus, others should also be given opportunities because of their race.” The implicit corollary is that “other students benefitted enormously from the opportunity of being exposed to me.”

In Justification For Preferences? C’est Moi! I discussed the typical argument of Theodore Shaw,  formerly Director-Counsel and President) of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, that without racial preferences he would not have been admitted to Wesleyan University or Columbia Law School:

One can readily understand why Mr. Shaw regards his own success as compelling justification for the racial discrimination against someone else required to achieve it, but there may be some benefit in those of us without his interest examining the argument. Let us begin by assuming, with him, that he would not have been accepted at Wesleyan or Columbia without the racial preference he received, although in fact that may not be true. (In the absence of preferences, after all, some minorites are still admitted into even the most selective schools.) Still, there is no reason to assume that it was Wesleyan and Columbia or nowhere. Since Wesleyan found him “qualified,” he presumably would have been accepted elsewhere, and since it sounds as though he was poor he would have qualifed for financial aid. Indeed, he might have wound up exactly where he is, for even the NAACP LDF doesn’t require graduation from elite colleges and Ivy League law schools of its employees. Nor is there any reason to assume that the white’s, Asian’s, or other non-preferred minority’s place Mr.Shaw took would have led a life of sloth and indulgence, contributing nothing comparable to Mr. Shaw’s contribution to the national well-being. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Shaw when I say that, placing his success and contributions on one side of the scale and the principle of non-discrimination on the other, there seems to be no compelling national interest in sacrificing the latter for the former.

The Asian students defending Harvard have an even steeper hill to climb. They have to face the fact that even though they were given the opportunity to receive whatever benefits “diversity” has to offer — and by their presence (remember mochi!) give it to others — a not insignificant number of Asian applicants were not so fortunate, having been rejected to make room for a corresponding number of white, black, and Latino students who would not have been accepted but for the fact that they were not Asian.

Say What?