AN OPEN LETTER: The Harvard University Board of Overseers election is the latest front in the war against Affirmative Action. Here’s why alums should cast their votes for diversity.

Jeff Yang
Jeff Yang
Apr 1, 2016 · 3 min read

Dear fellow Harvard grads of all years and schools:

We’ve nearly arrived at the time when voting for the University’s Board of Overseers will begin — ballots should be arriving in your mailboxes shortly. And just as the presidential election this year is particularly contested and critically important, so is the Board of Overseers election — not least because Harvard has become the front line for a series of continued assaults on a core principle of the university’s culture and academic promise: Diversity.

Diversity of heritage and faith, of nationality and culture, of class and familial background, and yes, of race and ethnicity. Diversity, ultimately, of ideas, traditions and perspectives. To be wholly candid, there are many schools that offer students a more rigorous education than our alma mater — but few that combine a high level of scholarship with the privilege to live and learn from a kaleidoscopic array of individuals, the best and brightest of a world of worlds.

For many of us, Harvard was a first opportunity to meet and make friends across these vast ranges of difference. It is and was the thing I valued most from my Crimson experience.

And for years now we’ve seen legal and political challenges that demand an end to the policies that enable Harvard to create this diverse student body.

Policies that allow Harvard to look beyond raw scores to see the context in which they were earned; to plumb for a deeper, more complete and more complex understanding of applicants than academic achievements alone can ever provide.

The attacks we’ve seen on Affirmative Action at Harvard have been ripe with toxic and inflammatory rhetoric — language that dances to the very edge of racism, and often beyond. And they’ve specifically sought to peel away Asian Americans from other communities of color by dangling in front of us the fruit of self-interest and convincing us to embrace the insidious stereotype of the “model minority.” This year, the attack comes in a slick new form: A spoiler slate of nominees to the Board of Overseers, waving the false flag of “fair and free.”

To those Asian American alumnae who see their platform and see only the opportunity for a tuition-free Harvard, open to all who can “meritocratically” achieve admission, be forewarned: All of them have individually committed to ending Affirmative Action, and collectively they have been organized by conservative activist Ron Unz, who has dedicated his career to causes such as ending bilingual education. (He was the primary driver and funder of the campaign for Proposition 227, which led to “English Only” teaching in California schools, until it was rescinded by a bipartisan coalition of legislators.)

The bottom line is that this slate of candidates is a Trojan horse for a new assault on Harvard diversity — from within. Please support instead the candidates endorsed by, an initiative that seeks to grow the richness of our alma mater’s community and to support the goal of developing leaders for the global future that actually reflect the glorious mosaic of that global future.

These are:

Lindsay Chase-Lansdale AB ’74 magna cum laude

Ketanji Brown Jackson AB ’92 magna cum laude, JD ’96 cum laude

John J. Moon AB ’89 magna cum laude, AM ’93, PhD ‘94

Alejandro Ramírez Magaña AB ’94 cum laude, MBA ‘01

Damian Woetzel MPA ‘07


Jeff Yang, AB ‘89

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