Nation & World

Students call ensuring diversity on campus vital

Reaction follows Supreme Court decision to rule on University’s policy of considering race as one factor among many in admissions

7 min read
Van Tran, Mykalyster Homberg, Carlie McGrath Tydings, Luis Renteria, Naz Yanik, Natalia Cardenas, Saylor Willauer, Alvin Yao, Frank Berrios.

College students voiced strong support this week for admissions policies that consider the whole person, including their race, and enable colleges and universities to build diverse learning communities. The comments, offered in Harvard Yard as classes began for spring semester, came in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement Monday that it would hear a case challenging race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Lawsuits against the two schools were brought in 2014 by Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded and led by Edward Blum. Both a federal district judge and a federal appeals court previously found in Harvard’s favor, and UNC prevailed in federal district court. The Supreme Court will likely hear opening arguments in October. Interviews were edited for clarity and length.

Van Tran ’25

Morgantown, West Virginia
Canaday Hall
Plans to concentrate in sociology and computer science

“I think that the challenges of being Black in America make their educational prospects just so much harder,” he said. “To be race-blind is to diminish the challenges that marginalized populations have to go through.” Tran said that when people comment that others only achieve certain things because of their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, they are diminishing their accomplishments.

“I grew up in West Virginia, one of the whitest states in America. I was fortunate enough to go to one of the most diverse high schools in the state, and I stay committed to the idea of diversity in education,” Tran said. “When you put yourself in a non-diverse environment, you constrict yourself to only one train of thought. To expose myself to all these different lived experiences has been truly crucial to [the] breadth and depth of education. I think at a place like Harvard, we have to prioritize that.”

Van Tran.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Frank Berrios ’25

Bloomfield, New Jersey
Weld Hall
Plans to concentrate in economics with a secondary in government

“I think it’s really important both in promoting equity on campus and off,” Berrios said. “It’s great for socio-economic diversity. It’s really important for uplifting all members of society, not just the cookie-cutter white rich that America has been uplifting for the last 300 years.”

In high school, Berrios was just one of three Latinx students in his grade. At Harvard, however, he’s been able to find a diverse community of students.

“Being able to get a plethora of views from all different sorts of backgrounds from both my classmates [and] my teachers [has been] important in bringing together a whole multifaceted education, not just in the scholarly sense, but also in how society works as a whole,” he said. “Being able to see not only things that I’ve experienced, but also things that other people have experienced, is really fascinating.”

Frank Berrios.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Alvin Yao ’24

New York
Mather House
Biomedical engineering

Yao believes work needs to be done to improve affirmative action, but said the program is crucial to help students from disadvantaged communities.

“I think the program that was implemented back then to help underrepresented minorities get into college is a little bit outdated,” he said. “But I do think it is kind of necessary to help those who are from less-resourced communities have an opportunity to attend college in the United States. It still serves a purpose in helping people achieve what they want to do in higher education.

“[In] my studies, I do global health, and I know that it’s completely necessary to have people of different backgrounds share their stories and experiences,” he said. “That’s where you find problems and you listen to their stories to find solutions rather than implementing your own views.”

Alvin Yao.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Natalia Cárdenas ’24

Tabasco, Mexico
Adams House

Cárdenas took issue with relying only on test scores for admissions and said it was necessary to take a holistic view on student’s admissions applications.

“I come from Mexico, from a very small city there, and we had never heard about the SATs. My application to Harvard was an introduction to what the American application process is about, including the SATs, hence why my SAT scores were not the greatest,” she said. “I think they’re not reflective of how well I could have done if I had the proper preparation to take them. I was very glad that at the end of the day, my application reflected a lot more than just my scores [but] also my passions, my vision, and what I want to contribute to the campus.”

Natalia Cárdenas.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Luis Renteria ’24

Lemoore, California
Pforzheimer House
Computer science

Renteria agreed with classmate Cárdenas, saying that in order to achieve a more inclusive campus, it was important to consider many factors during the admissions process.

“I come from a low-income community. My SAT scores were definitely far from perfect … but I definitely don’t think I’m in any way inadequate to be here,” Renteria said. “I think it’s more of what you value more: having a diverse campus with people who could bring a lot of things or having a one-way street where only the smartest get in based sometimes on [their] previous opportunities, and not in regard to what [they] bring to the table.”

Luis Renteria.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Carlie McGrath Tydings ’24

Guadalajara, Mexico
Pforzheimer House
Integrative biology

McGrath credited affirmative action for contributing to a more accurate representation of the whole U.S. than other elite schools.

“I’m a big believer in diversity within the research fields and within people in power,” she said. “Solutions to problems that are faced in the real world by a diverse community are better solved when the people solving them are also themselves diverse and have experiences with those issues.”

Carlie McGrath Tydings.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Writer

Naz Yanik ’25

Antalya, Turkey
Greenough Hall
Plans to concentrate in economics

“I’m from Turkey, and I do not have an economically privileged background. I do not have Harvard alumni parents. There is this so-called theory of meritocracy that says that if you work harder, you end up getting into the good places, you end up having more money,” Yanik said. However, she added that those in positions of privilege can often stand in the way of those who work hard despite their circumstances.

“Affirmative action helps students to get into the places and universities like Harvard that they’re not traditionally welcomed into,” Yanik said. “One hundred years ago, probably, as a queer Middle Easterner, [I would not be] welcomed at this school.”

Naz Yanik.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Saylor Willauer ’24

Annapolis, Maryland
Eliot House
Applied mathematics, economics

“I think it’s important for us [to have diversity on campus],” Willauer said. “We’re already in a bubble because we’re here. I think there’s already a lot of privilege. I think it’s important to bring in people from different places, different walks of life, different levels of privilege, [and] different experiences. I think it makes us all learn better because otherwise, we’re just in a bubble.”

Saylor Willauer.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Mykalyster Homberg ’24

Grand Prairie, Texas
Pforzheimer House
Economics with a secondary in Spanish

“If looking solely at test scores, AP exam scores, and things like that result in a student body that is really skewed toward a specific race, then it obviously wouldn’t be the best approach,” Homberg said. “I think it’s important to consider people from different regions, people who look different, and consider their situation and why their test scores might be lower and how that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re less capable of excelling here at the School.”

Homberg noted that when college and university campuses are less diverse, they can skew students’ perspective on off-campus life. “If you come here, and you’re only with a select group, it kind of creates a bubble that maybe makes it more difficult to think of how you’re going to use the skills that you’re picking up here in the real world.”

Mykalyster Homberg.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer