The California congresswoman recently introduced an act which would curb the use of “personality traits” in admissions, a practice critics say leads to racial discrimination.
Congresswoman Michelle Steel (R – CA 48th District) has introduced a bill designed to increase transparency in college admissions, with the aim of ending discrimination against Asian-American applicants.
The so-called HARVARD (Helping Applicants Receive Valid and Reasonable Decisions) Act addresses the contentious issue of “personality traits” as an admissions factor. The consideration of these traits, which include qualities such as “likability,” “positive personality,” and being “widely respected,” have long been accused of providing a back door to anti-Asian discrimination in college admissions.
In fact, the use of personality traits is the subject of a lawsuit which the Supreme Court has agreed to consider in its upcoming term this fall. The case, Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, alleges that Harvard University engages in illegal racial discrimination against Asian-Americans, in part because admissions officers rated Asian students lower on subjective personality factors.
The case against Harvard was initially supported by the Department of Justice under President Trump, although the DOJ has reversed course under the Biden administration and now opposes the lawsuit.
Steel’s legislation would shine a spotlight on universities’ use of personality traits as an admission factor. If a college chooses to use such criteria, it would be required to disclose it publicly online and in application materials for prospective students. It would also be required to provide an explanation for the use of those factors, as well as the standards by which personality traits are measured.
Steel has argued that the use of personality traits is unfair, not only because they are impossible to quantify or measure objectively, but also because in most cases the students in question are not even interviewed in person. Steel says that universities should instead base their decisions on objective measures of student success, including grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities.
Every student should have the opportunity to succeed and build their own American Dream on their own merit,” said Steel. “The use of personality traits, or discriminatory racial preferences, in admissions practices is just wrong. I’ve worked for decades to bring fairness in our education system, and this is another important step towards ensuring a level playing field for ALL students.”