Sixteen years from now, when my son applies to college, odds are that he won’t be asked about his race or where his parents went to college. He’ll confront a starkly different admissions landscape than I did in the early 2000s, when many universities took race into account to build diverse student bodies. When I applied to Harvard, my identity as a black woman was probably a mark in my favor. At the same time, my lack of any familial connection to the school surely did me no favors at a university that admits legacy applicants at more than five times the rate of non-legacies.
That may be changing. Affirmative action policies are in greater danger than ever thanks to an all-but-secure conservative Supreme Court majority, the Trump administration’s reversal of the Obama administration’s policies on the issue and a legal challenge that claims Harvard’s admissions process discriminates against Asian students. As commentators have considered the potential fallout of outlawing affirmative action, many have trained their sights on legacy admissions as a system that perpetuates the kind of inequality for which affirmative action seeks to correct. The increased scrutiny of legacy admissions is entirely appropriate — those who deride the practice as a back-door affirmative action program for privileged white students aren’t wrong. But in 2018, white college applicants aren’t the only ones who benefit from admissions preferences for the children of alumni.