CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Two freshman friends sat across from each other in a common room, comparing notes on how exactly they got into Harvard. In some ways, their situations were opposites: One was a “double legacy,” with two parents who had themselves received Harvard degrees. The other was the son of a police officer and was on full financial aid.
The legacy student, Iman Lavery, remembered feeling self-conscious during a conversation when she first arrived at school: A classmate had contrasted people who were “super qualified to be here” with legacies. For her friend on financial aid, Joseph Felkers, it had been the frequent questions from new acquaintances of “What’s your thing?” — why did you get in? — that set him on edge, making him wonder if his “thing” was his passion for poetry, or simply that he was poor.
身为校友子女的伊曼·莱弗里(Iman Lavery)记得她刚来学校时，有一次跟人谈话时感到难为情的事情：一位同学把那些“超级有资格来这里”的人和校友子女拿来做了一番对比。对她靠助学金来哈佛的朋友约瑟夫·费尔克(Joseph Felkers)来说，新认识的人总是会问自己“你的优势是什么？”——你怎么进来的？——这会让他感到坐立不安，开始问自己他的“优势”是对诗歌的热爱，还是只是因为他是穷人。
For many freshmen at Harvard, who have started school as a lawsuit challenging the university’s use of affirmative action in admissions plays out in court, the case has been personal. It has sharpened the usual freshman-year doubts about how they ended up among the less than five percent of applicants chosen from a pool of 42,749. And it has forced uncomfortable questions about what circumstances beyond their control — like race, wealth, or legacy status — got them or their classmates here.
Both Ms. Lavery and Mr. Felkers said that the case wasn’t talked about much among freshmen, though they said they had discussed it here and there, at dinner or between classes. Mr. Felkers described it as “kind of an elephant in the room.”
But late on a recent weeknight, the two sat down with Ms. Lavery’s three roommates — Nadine Lee, Lauren Marshall, and Charlotte Ruhl — to talk about the case and how it had made them reflect on their admission to Harvard and their experience of Harvard so far.
但近期一个工作日的深夜，两人和莱弗里的三名室友—— 娜丁·李(Nadine Lee)、劳伦·马歇尔(Lauren Marshall)和夏洛特·吕林(Charlotte Ruhl)——坐了下来，探讨这个案子、它是如何让他们开始反思自己被哈佛录取过程的，以及他们迄今为止在哈佛的感受。
The room was decorated with botanical prints and a poster of a landscape by the Japanese artist Hiroshige. Mr. Felkers, who wore wire-rimmed glasses and his hair in an undercut, perched on a white couch next to Ms. Marshall and Ms. Ruhl, who tucked their bare feet under them. Ms. Lavery and Ms. Lee, both in leggings and sneakers, sat across from them on a chair and a storage bench. As they talked, the students, all 18 years old, passed around a package of “Double Stuf” Oreos that Ms. Ruhl’s mother had sent.
The plaintiffs in the case have accused Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans by holding them to a higher standard than any other racial group. Defending itself, Harvard has been forced to reveal aspects of its admissions process that it kept closely held in the past, and some elements, like special treatment given to students whose relatives made major gifts to the university, have been jarring.
Two of Ms. Lavery’s roommates — Ms. Lee, who is Korean-American, and Ms. Marshall, who has a Chinese mother and a British father — said they thought that Harvard’s admissions process was biased against Asian-Americans.
Ms. Lee, who grew up in Englewood, N.J. Seoul and Marin County, Calif., said she had long assumed that she would face discrimination in applying to college, partly because she had watched Asian friends with excellent grades and scores be rejected by their desired schools. She said that she had thought a lot about how to stand out from other Asian-American applicants. Ultimately, she applied to join the United States Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. In her applications she emphasized her enthusiasm for the military and her ambition to be a trauma surgeon.
在新泽西州恩格尔伍德、首尔和加利福尼亚州马林县长大的李表示，她一直认为自己在申请大学时会遭到歧视，部分原因是因为她看到一些成绩优异的亚裔朋友被他们理想中的学校拒绝。她说，她考虑过如何从其他亚裔申请人中脱颖而出。最终，她申请加入美国空军预备役军官训练团(United States Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps)。在申请中，她强调自己对军队的热情以及成为创伤外科医生的雄心。
“I knew that I didn’t — whatever this means — I didn’t want to be the typical Asian,” she said.
Ms. Marshall, who wore dark eyeliner and had a swirl of bleached hair, is an accomplished composer from just north of London. She said she had not felt as though she was competing against other students of Asian backgrounds to get into Harvard because her strengths were creative rather than strictly academic.
She said that what she had read about the lawsuit, particularly the fact that Asian-American applicants were rated lower on personality traits than applicants of other backgrounds, convinced her that some admissions officers probably were prejudiced against Asian-Americans.
“That’s just racist,” she said of the personal ratings. (Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, William R. Fitzsimmons, suggested in testimony in court that high school teachers and guidance counselors were partly to blame, saying that recommendations for white students were stronger than those for Asian-American students.)
“这就是种族主义，”她说起这个个人评级系统。（哈佛大学的招生和经济援助主任威廉·R·菲茨西蒙斯[William R. Fitzsimmons]在法庭作证时表示，高中教师和辅导员也应承担部分责任，并说白人学生的推荐信要比亚裔学生更有力。）
Still, while she wanted Harvard to address that, she said she also opposed the plaintiffs’ effort to end affirmative action in the school’s admissions.
While the lawsuit directly accuses Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans, it also has shed light on an array of advantages that some applicants receive; legacies, for instance, who are admitted at five times the rate of non-legacy students, recruited athletes, and those whose relatives have made major donations.
From reading online forums where students compared their application profiles and discussed one another’s chance of getting in to different schools, Mr. Felkers had gleaned that his potential “hooks,” or advantages, were that he was from the Midwest, and that his parents were low-income.
Mr. Felkers, who is from outside Grand Rapids, Mich., said he was grateful for any boost to his chances, but that he also felt ashamed. After he was admitted to Harvard, he said he heard that an acquaintance from a rival high school, who had been rejected from some elite colleges, had told a mutual friend, “‘Oh, Joseph got in because he’s on free and reduced lunch.’”
“It’s like a punch to the stomach,” Mr. Felkers said. “Of course it’s going to make you feel insecure.”
At Harvard, he said, his family’s poverty was often on his mind, especially when topics came up like what people’s parents did for a living or where they went to college. He said he frequently found himself internally debating how much to reveal.
“In a situation like this, we’re all just sitting around eating Oreos — I’m comfortable talking about my aid status,” he said.
“But if I’m, you know, on a Friday night, trying to get into a party thrown by, like, the heavyweight rowers, I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m on full aid.’”
For Ms. Lavery, who is from Seattle, the discomfort has lingered since the conversation — during an August pre-orientation program — in which a classmate had casually suggested that most legacies were not qualified to be at Harvard. After that, she said she spent a lot of time thinking about whether to reveal that she was a legacy to friends that she was making in the program, some of whom came from low-income backgrounds.
“I was conscious of, ‘How am I going to tell that to them? Is it going to be a big deal when I tell them that? Is it going to change the way they think of me?’”
“At the same time I almost feel guilty saying that,” she quickly added, “because being a legacy affords me a privilege.”
Ms. Lavery’s maternal grandmother immigrated from Mexico and her maternal grandfather from India, so, she checked three boxes on her application, indicating that she was Hispanic, white and Asian. She said she knew that her racial and ethnic background could have played a role in her admission, as well.
“A lot of my thinking after I got in,” she said, “was like, ‘O.K., well, I know that these were factors, but I know that I’m qualified to go to this school,’ and so it’s kind of a balancing act.”
Ms. Ruhl, who is white and graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City — where efforts to diversify the student body have left some Asian-Americans fearing that they will be excluded — was the one student in the room who said she had no idea what about her had won her admission.
鲁尔是白人，毕业于纽约市史岱文森高中(Stuyvesant High School) ——该校令学生群体多样化的努力让一些亚裔美国人担心自己会被排除在外——在参与这次谈话的学生中，她是唯一一个不清楚自己到底是为什么获得入学资格的人。
Earlier in the week, she put in a request to see her own admissions file. Harvard has officially permitted students to see their admissions files since 2015, after a group of Stanford students successfully used a federal education law to gain access to their records. A Harvard spokeswoman said that the university had received roughly 200 such requests per month this fall.
In a moment when many people here are examining what has won some people admission over others, the chance to see one’s own file — complete with notes from admissions officers — can be tantalizing, though some students have said that they found the records cryptic.
Ms. Ruhl said she was simply curious. “This whole admissions process is such a mystery,” she said.