Emil Guillermo: The legacy of affirmative action

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If you think I mention Harvard a lot, please forgive me.

I did wait until the sixth word in this piece.

This restraint may not be much compared to those (mostly white) who incessantly debate, “When do I drop the H-bomb?” as a social calculation so as not to alarm people they are in the presence of an arrogant a—hole.

Forgive them their false humility.

But I don’t use the H-bomb to brag. I use it as it was intended. To level the playing field.

If the infamous Jeffrey Epstein and I were in a lineup--and he was wearing a Harvard T-Shirt as he was wont to do--who would you pick out as the Harvard alum?

Not me.

Epstein went to Cooper Union before he taught at Dalton, and before he went to prison.

He met Bill Gates on Epstein Island. I was just a Filipino in Bill Gates’ Harvard class.

And now I mention this because I am in a unique position in the never-ending Harvard affirmative action debate.

I am the progenitor of bona fide Asian American Harvard legacies.

That’s a fancy way of saying my kids were born with legacy tickets in hand.

If only Harvard had let them in.

Finally, the legal focus is being placed on the only real indefensible affirmative action that ever existed—the advantage given to legacies.

These are the sons and daughters of alumni primarily. As a group they represent 5 percent of the applicants to Harvard each year, according to the New York Times. But they are around 30 percent of those admitted. Over-represented? Slightly.

67.8 percent of them are also white, according to court records.

That’s why it’s fair to call it affirmative action for whites.

It’s the privileged push.

Now that the Supreme Court has banned the use of race in college admissions for BIPOC applicants, shouldn’t the next step be to go after any admissions policy that shows a profound preference for one race in particular?

The court has paved the way for colorblind, but white legacy policy leaves admissions officers snow-blind.

All they see is white.

We have the lawyers from the Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England, and the Greater Boston Latino Network to thank for this new focus.

They have asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate Harvard under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s an investigation that could lead to a legal battle equal to the one that ended affirmative action for Blacks, Latinos and Asians.

Or it could simply force Harvard to do the right thing--make legacy admissions fairer and more diverse.

In the recent Harvard case, it was the only bit of common ground between the Students for Fair Admissions–the mostly Chinese American students led by white conservative activist Ed Blum to fight affirmative action–and their counterparts, the pro-affirmative action Asians who allied themselves with the historical fight for civil rights.

Both the AAAA (anti-affirmative action Asians) and the PAAA (the pro-affirmative action Asians) could agree on that one thing.

What about all those legacies, the majority of whom happened to be white and wealthy, they asked?

When it came up at trial, Harvard wouldn’t budge. It defended legacy admits as being highly qualified. But it was unclear if it meant by grades or bank accounts.

After the SCOTUS decision, SFFA’s Blum was asked about legacy at a news conference. He said he wasn’t a lawyer, then as an aside said that no one sued over legacies because of an issue of standing.

Maybe he was just being coy. Far be it for the white man using Asians to end affirmative action to advocate for an end to legacy admissions that primarily benefit rich whites.

Can legacy/white affirmative action policy even be seen as defensible?

Given the school’s endowment, which stands at more than $50 billion, Harvard can solve all this simply, starting by installing a colorblind legacy process. They can afford it. Why were white wealthy legacies advantaged over poor ones like me in the first place?

And I don’t mean to insult the poor. I live a comfortable and normal middle-class life. There are 4 million Filipinos out of 400 million Americans. That’s the only 1 percent to which I am a part.

So put my kind of legacies into the lottery mix. Allow people to “qualify” for the chance at a truly random shot at admissions. What can be more fair? Under those circumstances, you’re likely to get a better shot at a diverse class after 40 years of affirmative action.

As Harvard legacies, my children were all more qualified than me, considering grades and test scores. One had overcome a severe case of dyslexia, only to graduate from an International Baccalaureate program with honors. He was told in third grade he’d never be able to read.

My legacies are also the picture of diversity: Half-Filipino and half-white.

They had all the qualifications except a rich father. When donations matter, college is pay to play. Ask Jared Kushner’s father, an NYU grad who gave millions to Harvard to let Jared in.

My Harvard reject was accepted at UC Berkeley. My other kids were too independent to want to be test cases.

But I’m certain Harvard could have warded off most of the problems of the last 10 years of litigation if it had only lived up to the belief that for qualified students from diverse backgrounds, there was a way to level the playing field.

So now the choice is Harvard's. Get rid of legacy admissions altogether or admit a greater number of children of alums who are not so white and wealthy,. That would call for a wholehearted embrace of the legacy of affirmative action.


NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on