DNA testing and college admission

Inside Higher Ed reports that some parents are having their children take DNA tests to prove they are black (or some other preferred minority) in order to enhance their chances of being admitted to the college of their choice. There’s nothing surprising about this trend. Given the massive advantage they confer on blacks, colleges are hard pressed to take the word of applicants that they are in that category if their appearance suggests otherwise.

In a twist to this phenomenon, an applicant to medical school alleges in a lawsuit that the school’s admissions officer encouraged her to take a DNA test to improve her chances of admission. This may seem like an odd thing to do, and the applicant’s allegations are just that — they have not been proven at this point.

However, an admissions officer might have incentives to encourage applicants with strong but not overwhelming credentials to see if they can benefit from a racial preference. Such applicants, if accepted, may improve the credentials and fitness of students admitted pursuant to racial preferences. Alternatively, or in addition, the admissions officer might simply want to help highly qualified applicants who seem destined to lose out to less qualified applicants because of race.

Below is an excerpt from the opinion of the federal court (per Senior Judge Baylson) before which the med school applicant’s complaint is pending. The excerpt is an edited recitation of the facts alleged by the applicant. Based on these allegations, the court rejected a motion by the med school to dismiss the complaint.

It’s important to emphasize that the court did not find the allegations to be true. It concluded only that if proven they would state a valid claim.

Taking Plaintiff’s allegations as true, the factual background is as follows. Plaintiff is a twenty-two-year-old female who graduated from Princeton University in June 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. . . .

While Plaintiff attended Princeton, she aspired to pursue a career in medicine and majored in Neuroscience in furtherance of that goal. Plaintiff also held various jobs and participated in numerous extracurricular and volunteer activities. For example, Plaintiff served as a Math Teaching Assistant and Tutor, worked as a counselor at Stanford University during a summer vacation, organized an annual fashion show to raise awareness for Autism, volunteered at a local animal shelter, served as Princeton’s Preview Host, and volunteered with United for Sight and PrinceTHON.

Plaintiff also maintained high marks in her Neuroscience major. Plaintiff researched various medical schools and ultimately decided to pursue a career at Defendant’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College (“Jefferson”). Plaintiff scored in the 82nd percentile nationally on the Medical College Admission Test (“MCAT”), which was “well-within the range of those students previously admitted to Jefferson.”

On or about August 10, 2016, Plaintiff learned that Defendant’s Director of Admissions, Dr. Brooks, would be visiting Princeton’s campus on August 11, 2016 to discuss Jefferson with prospective applicants. Plaintiff was excited to discover that she would be the only student attending Dr. Brooks’s presentation, so it would be a one-on-one meeting where she would have the opportunity to express her interest in Jefferson.

On or about August 11, 2016, Plaintiff attended the meeting with Dr. Brooks. Dr. Brooks immediately inquired into Plaintiff’s ethnicity. After informing Dr. Brooks that she was Caucasian, Dr. Brooks asked if Plaintiff was sure and suggested that Plaintiff obtain an expensive genetic test to see if she could qualify as Native American or American Indian to garner better chances of being accepted to Jefferson.

Dr. Brooks informed Plaintiff that she advised a past Caucasian applicant to obtain a genetic test, that the applicant learned that he was partially African American, and that he was accepted into Jefferson on account of his race. Dr. Brooks also informed Plaintiff that she would gain admission to Jefferson in the incoming medical school class if she were African American, rather than Caucasian.

Plaintiff attempted to steer the conversation to a more appropriate subject by asking about Jefferson’s JeffHOPE program. In response, Dr. Brooks informed Plaintiff that she could get information about the program on Jefferson’s website, and then proceeded to ask Plaintiff if she could give her “maternal advice” about how to “take her ‘mess’ and turn it into admission.” Dr. Brooks insinuated that Plaintiff’s “status” as a Caucasian, European, American was a “mess” incapable of admission to Jefferson.

Plaintiff again tried to move the conversation away from her national origin, ancestry, and race, asking about Jefferson’s mentorship programs for first-generation college students. Dr. Brooks responded, “Oh! You are a first generation, that’s why you’re at Princeton,” insinuating that Plaintiff’s high SAT scores and status as Valedictorian of her high school would not warrant admission to Princeton.

When Dr. Brooks continued to assert that Plaintiff should attempt to discover if her family was somehow related to a minority group, Plaintiff again responded that she was a Caucasian, European, American who could not qualify as Native American or a member of any other minority group. . . .

On or about August 15, 2016, Plaintiff emailed Allison Smith, Princeton’s Health Professions Advisor, to express her concern about Dr. Brooks’s “discriminatory commentary.” Plaintiff met with Ms. Smith to recount Dr. Brooks’s remarks on or about August 17, 2016. When Ms. Smith had not taken any steps to address Plaintiff’s concerns, on August 20, 2016, Plaintiff contacted Michele Minter, Vice Provost of Equity at Princeton, to register another complaint.

On or about August 23, 2016, Plaintiff met with Ms. Minter to discuss her meeting with Dr. Brooks. During that meeting, Ms. Minter told Plaintiff that she would not assist her further because Princeton did not want to “burn bridges” with Jefferson. Finally, on or about August 27, 2016, Plaintiff emailed a detailed complaint to Clara Callahan, Jefferson’s Dean of Students and Admissions, articulating the “discriminatory behavior” of Dr. Brooks. On November 28, 2016, Plaintiff received a rejection letter from Jefferson.

(Emphasis added)

The lawsuit is Katchur v. Thomas Jefferson University, CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-3421 (E.D. Pa). It’s worth following.

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