Then came two cases that challenged affirmative action at the University of MI.
SFFA, which is headed by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, claims that Harvard illegally engages in "racial balancing" that artificially limits the number of Asian-American students at the elite school.
Harvard's lawyers depicted the lawsuit as an attack on the school and many others that consider race as a way to admit a diverse mix of students.
A diversity rally near the Harvard University campus.
But schools must first use race-neutral options, like grades and test scores, to meet their diversity goals, said Mike Reilly, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
Whatever the outcome, analysts expect this ultra-sensitive case to wind up before the Supreme Court, where a conservative majority has been solidified with the addition of Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And it continuously points out that Asian-Americans now account for 23 percent of all admitted students, and they make up just 6 percent of the USA population. Black, Latino and Native American students follow at 15 percent, 12 percent and just under 2 percent, in that order. Harvard mails recruitment letters to black and Hispanic high schoolers with middle-range SAT scores, Fitzsimmons acknowledged, yet only sends such letters to Asian Americans if they have scored more than 200 points higher.
After the Trump administration revoked Obama-era guidelines encouraging the use of race in college admissions in July, Northwestern announced it would not change its admissions practices.
Should only merit apply in admissions?
Harvard University faces accusations that it discriminates against Asian-American applicants.
"We've been very careful to make sure that any legal scrutiny brought against us will be something that we can hold our heads up and say we're entirely consistent with the law, so am I anxious about the resolution of those cases?"
Asian Americans "do shockingly. poorly", Mortara said, compared to African Americans.
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Both sides will present their cases to U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs starting Monday.
In August, the federal Department of Justice expressed support for the plaintiffs in court documents. He also contended that Harvard knew of the problem since "red warning flags" were raised internally in 2013 but the university did nothing about it.
The U.S. Justice Department, which launched a related probe of Harvard after Republican President Donald Trump took office previous year, has backed SFFA's case, saying Harvard has not seriously considered alternative, race-neutral approaches to admissions.
He said he went from being mocked for his accent as a child to involving himself in student government and being named one of two class valedictorians.
But what exactly is affirmative action, and how did it become such a controversial issue?
Before the crowd at the Copley Square, leaders and representatives of Asian-American communities across the United States took to the stage and made speeches one by one, arguing that the racial factor should not play a role in selective college admissions.
How did affirmative action begin? . She said many of these immigrants tend to have more conservative values.
Another student, James Matthew said, "race can not be removed effectively from an application just because it is so central to so many people's identity".
"Nobody wants to be judged on their numbers alone", Harvard President Larry Bacow said at a higher education event in September. He said affirmative action wasn't a way to remedy past discrimination.
Race, its lawyer insisted, was just one of many factors considered, and it could only help an applicant's chances of admission, not hurt them. In court, the group will need to prove that Harvard is intentionally rejecting the applicants because they're Asian, due to their race.