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The Dartmouth
May 29, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Farr: Preserving Tradition While Advancing Equity Through Legacy Admissions

It is unjust and counterproductive to end the consideration of legacy within college admissions now, as colleges are more diverse than ever.

In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled to end race-conscious admissions within higher education, another admissions policy is currently under fire. Legacy admissions have come under scrutiny due to their historical tendency to favor affluent, white students disproportionately and often at the expense of Black, Asian, Native American and Hispanic students, which is a valid argument. A considerable number of Dartmouth’s peer institutions decided to sunset legacy admissions prior to the ruling. These institutions include, but are not limited to, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Amherst College, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan. Each institution made the decision independently, but at the core of their decisions lies a shared belief that legacy admissions constitute a discriminatory policy.

Some argue the long-standing practice of granting preferential treatment to descendants and family members is merely affirmative action for the wealthy. Just weeks after the ruling, Wesleyan University ended legacy considerations. In an interview, Wesleyan President Michael Roth said that he“ wanted to focus the conversation on improving diversity ... and students from rural areas.” While this may be true, it begs the question: Why are institutions doing away with this policy now at a time when colleges and universities are more diverse than ever before?

For the first time in the history of American colleges and universities, people of color are attending prestigious universities, such as Dartmouth, in significant numbers. Nearly one in two students in Dartmouth’s Class of 2026 identifies as a student of color. Dartmouth’s website includes a statement that underscores the College’s commitment to tradition: “When a school is imbued with such a profound sense of place and such a powerful sense of community, it stands to reason that after two and a half centuries, it will have built a number of beloved traditions.” 

When Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, was asked his opinion regarding legacy admissions on his podcast The Admissions Beat, his response was that “it’s a relationship between graduates and the campus that continues beyond the undergraduate moment.” Schools like Dartmouth that have such a strong emphasis on tradition must realize that legacy and diversity are not competing but instead have a symbiotic relationship.  

Even beyond Dartmouth’s emphasis on tradition and its close-knit alumni network, legacy admissions should not be terminated. All Dartmouth students, past and present, contribute to Dartmouth’s culture through their academics, talent and character. As an institution, we should be mindful of this reality during a time when an increasing number of our peer institutions are reevaluating their legacy admissions policies.  

It is both unjust and counterproductive to end the consideration of legacy within college admissions now. Institutions that claim to be ending these policies to make room for diversity are not acknowledging that, for decades, they have given a considerable leg-up to white applicants and are only now ending this practice after people of color have their foot in the door.

The next generation of applicants to Dartmouth and other similar schools will be more diverse than ever. Discontinuing legacy admissions at this point would simply be unfair to coming generations of students. Dartmouth and its peer institutions should not ban legacy admissions outright, as this decision would have potential consequences for diversity and inclusion, as well as for our evolution as a hallowed institution of learning. 

Considering the fullest sense of the word “legacy,” eliminating legacy admissions would eliminate a great part of our university’s history. If Dartmouth’s goal is diversity and demonstrative fairness in admissions, let us hope it continues its legacy admissions policies, rather than succumbing to outside pressure and following peer institutions in abolishing these practices. 

Grace Farr is a member of the Class of 2024. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.

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