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A Week Before Harvard Admissions Lawsuit Trial, Activists Host Panel Defending Diversity

Emerson Hall.
Emerson Hall. By Michael Shao
By Iris M. Lewis, Crimson Staff Writer

Around 60 people packed an Emerson Hall lecture room to hear a panel of affirmative action advocates discuss race-conscious admissions in universities Tuesday — six days before Harvard's own affirmative action policy will face a challenge in court.

Harvard College Democrats and the Task Force on Asian and Pacific American Studies co-hosted the panel as part of a Week of Action leading up to the Harvard admissions trial on Oct. 15. The University is facing a legal challenge from anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, which alleges that the College discriminates against Asian-American applicants. The suit could have national implications for the future of affirmative action.

The panelists at Tuesday's event included Carolyn W. Chou ’13, the Executive Director of Boston’s Asian American Resource Workshop, Andres Castro Samayoa ’10, a professor at the Boston College School of Education, and Jennifer A. Holmes, assistant council at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as well as Caroline Zheng '19, an undergraduate who filed a written statement in court in Harvard's favor.

The moderator of the panel, Genevieve Bonadies Torres ’08, serves on the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Bonadies Torres kicked offthe evening with a presentation on the history of affirmative action.

Following the historical context, panelists engaged in a discussion that spanned topics includingwhite supremacy, Harvard’s elitism, and how to protect Asian-American applicants to universities without pitting them against other minority groups.

“The model minority myth is a creation of white supremacy,” Chou said during the panel. “I think today about how this case is what’s in the news, but there are Asian American workers who are leading the hotel strikes right now in Boston, in Chicago, in Honolulu. That’s the other story of our communities. It’s not just Harvard students.”

Zheng, the student panelist, said she was “frustrated” with the use of Asian-Americans in the affirmative action debate.

“I’m done with Asian Americans being used as a model minority, as this wedge to drive other minorities apart.” she said.

Some Harvard students who will testify in support of the Collegeattended the panel — including event organizer Sally Chen ’19 and Thang Q. Diep ’19, who has made his admissions file public as part of the lawsuit.

The Emerson Hall room was packed beyond capacity, and latecomers lined the walls once the chairs were taken.

Chen said she was pleased with the turnout.

“We’ve been coordinating with all of the organizations involved here leading up to this big Week of Action,” she said. “I think that the attendance was really good, and that we had a lot of engagement.”

One audience member, Mariana L. De Leon Dominguez ’21, said that she “strongly” supported Harvard’s current policy.

“Going to a college with a diverse student body and a diverse set of classmates benefits us all,” she said.

Tuesday’s panel was part of a weeklong series of events from #DefendDiversity, which will culminate in a rally in Harvard Square on October 14th. Later this week, there will be a poster making session for the rally and a “teach-in” about affirmative action. All events are detailed at

Correction: Oct. 11, 2018

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Caroline Zheng '19 will testify on behalf of Harvard in the upcoming admissions trial. In fact, though Zheng filed a written statement in court arguing for the College's race-conscious admissions policies, she most likely will not testify during the trial.

—Staff writer Iris M. Lewis can be reached

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