Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA) held a press conference moments ago to announce that lawyers with the group will represent two prospective Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) high school students, both seeking to present their support of race-conscious affirmative action admission before the Supreme Court if and when the justices hear arguments next year about an anti-affirmative action lawsuit filed against the school by Edward Blum, the architect behind Abigail Fisher’s earlier failed attempts to dismantle affirmative action before the Court.
The two AAPI high school students represented by AAAJ-LA are current applicants to Harvard University, and both believe that race-conscious affirmative action is beneficial; AAAJ-LA filed paperwork yesterday to help the students join an existing group of diverse students who will have “amicus plus” status to present their support for affirmative action in a pending anti-affirmative action case, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc v. President and Fellows of Harvard College.
In the Students for Fair Admissions case, lobbyist Edward Blum specifically recruited disgruntled Asian American students to serve as the next Abigail Fisher, in hopes of weaponizing a stereotyped, Model Minority Myth narrative of Asian Americans against other students of colour. Blum’s lawsuit alleging bias at Harvard was ultimately consolidated around the case of a still-unnamed Chinese American woman.
“Asian Americans are being exploited, and not to the Asian American community’s benefit,” said Jay Chen, a Harvard Alumnus & Mt. San Antonio College Trustee.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) will file a motion on behalf of two Asian American and Pacific Islander Harvard applicants, to participate in the lawsuit challenging race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard University.
The motion seeks permission for Advancing Justice-LA and the students to join a diverse group of students who support Affirmative action and will have special “amicus plus” status before the court.
Tuesday, December 13 at 10:30 a.m.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles
First Floor Community Room
1145 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90017
(Located on the corner of Lucas Ave. and Wilshire Blvd.)
RSVP to Jeff DeGuia at jdeguia@advancingjustice-la. org
Scheduled speakers at the press conference:
Jason Fong, Harvard Applicant and Prospective Student Amici
David Fong, Parent of Prospective Student Amici
Nicole Ochi, Supervising Attorney, Advancing Justice – LA
Jay Chen, Harvard Alumnus & Mt. San Antonio College Trustee (*invited)
Originally filed in 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, alleges that Harvard’s admissions policy intentionally discriminates against Asian American applicants and violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars federally funded entities from discriminating based on race or ethnicity. Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. filed the lawsuit on behalf of an unidentified Chinese American student whose Harvard application was rejected. However, many Chinese and other Asian Americans support race conscious admissions, and the plaintiffs and Advancing Justice-LA are seeking involvement in this case to represent those views.
After eight years, the Abigail Fisher case finally has been put to rest. In a landmark judgment on June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious affirmative action in university admissions.
Abigail Fisher, a white woman, had sued the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) for its race-conscious admissions policy after she was denied admission. She had argued that the university violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Supporters of race-conscious admissions programs are understandably gratified. But has the case resolved the larger moral and political disagreements over affirmative action?
Indeed, over the last 40 years, affirmative action opponents have repeatedly strategized anew after important Supreme Court decisions in favor of affirmative action. They did so after the 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, when the Supreme Court, while allowing race to be one of the factors in choosing a diverse student body, held the use of quotas to be “impermissible.“
And they did so after the 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, when the high court again ruled that race-conscious affirmative action was constitutional.
We are scholars who study affirmative action, race, and diversity in higher education. We believe that the disagreement about affirmative action will not end anytime soon. And it may well center on lawsuits on behalf of Asian-American college applicants.
What is different about the Harvard lawsuit is that the lead plaintiff in the case is not a white student. The plaintiff is an Asian-American student.
“Students for Fair Admissions,” an arm of the Project on Fair Representation, filed a suit against Harvard College on November 17, 2014, on behalf of a Chinese-American applicant who had been rejected from Harvard. The lawsuit charges that Harvard’s admissions policy violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars federally funded entities from discriminating based on race or ethnicity.
“Were you denied admission to Harvard? It may be because you’re the wrong race.”
How it started
This controversy over how Asian-Americans are being treated in selective college admission was jump-started in 2005, when sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Chang Chung published findings from their study on the effects of affirmative action bans on the racial and ethnic composition of student bodies at selective colleges and universities.
Espenshade and Chung found that if affirmative action were to be eliminated, the acceptance rates for black and Latino applicants would likely decrease substantially, while the acceptance rate for white applicants would increase slightly. But more than that, what they noted was that the acceptance rate for Asian-American applicants would increase the most by far.
As the researchers explained, Asian-American students “would occupy four out of every five seats created by accepting fewer African-American and Hispanic students.”
Such research has been cited to support claims of admissions discrimination against Asian-Americans.
In the complaint against Harvard, Espenshade’s research was cited as evidence of discrimination against Asian-Americans. Specifically, the lawsuit cited research from 2009 in which Espenshade, this time with coauthor Alexandria Radford,found that Asian-American applicants accepted at selective colleges had higher standardized test scores, on average, than other accepted students.
These findings, especially that Asian-American applicants seem to need a higher SAT score than white applicants or other applicants of color in order to be admitted to a selective college are being used as proof that elite institutions like Harvard are discriminating against Asian-Americans in their admissions processes.
The picture is more complicated
As we know, selective admissions processes are much more complicated than SAT score data can show. There are many factors that are taken into consideration for college admission.
For example, in the “holistic” admissions processes endorsed by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, standardized text scores are not the only, or even the main, criterion for admission. “Holistic” review takes many relevant factors into account, including academic achievement, of course, but also factors such as a commitment to public service, overcoming difficult life circumstances, achievements in the arts or athletics, or leadership qualities.
So, why would the plaintiff in the Harvard case conclude that the disparities in SAT scores shown by Espenshade and Radford necessarily indicate that Asian-American applicants are being harmed by race-conscious affirmative action?
Legal scholar William Kidderhas shown that the way Espenshade and Radford’s findings have been interpreted by affirmative action opponents is not accurate. The interpretation of this research itself rests on the faulty assumption that affirmative action is to blame if an academically accomplished Asian-American applicant gets rejected from an elite institution.
Based on his analysis, Kidder concluded,
“Exaggerated claims about the benefits for APAs [Asian Pacific Americans] of ending affirmative action foster a divisive public discourse in which APAs are falsely portrayed as natural adversaries of affirmative action and the interests of African American and Latinos in particular.”
In our opinion as well, focusing on simplistic ideas about standardized tests as the primary evidence for who “deserves” to be admitted to elite institutions like Harvard may serve to stir up resentment among accomplished applicants who get rejected.
As the “Harvard Not Fair” website and accompanying lawsuit demonstrate, these findings have been used to fuel a politics of resentment among rejected Asian-American applicants.
When speaking with reporters, Espenshade himself has acknowledged that his data are incomplete – given that colleges take myriad factors into account in admissions decisions – and his findings have been overinterpreted and actually do not prove that colleges discriminate against Asian-American applicants.
Moreover, in using images of Asian-American students to recruit complainants against Harvard and other highly selective institutions of higher education, the Project on Fair Representation relies on the idea that Asian-Americans comprise a monolithic group. In fact, the term “Asian-American” refers to a diversity of Asian ethnicities in the United States, whose educational opportunities and achievements vary widely.
The 2010 census question on race included check boxes for six Asian groups – Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese – along with a box for “Other Asian,” with a prompt for detailed responses such as “Hmong, Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, Cambodian, and so on.”
At this time, Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, is pending.
Now that Fisher has been decided, this case is the next front in the divisive politics surrounding race-conscious affirmative action in higher education admissions.
Relevant to the Harvard case is that a civil rights complaint alleging that Princeton University discriminates against Asian-American applicants was dismissed in 2015 after a long federal Office of Civil Rights investigation.
Although public disagreement about the policy continues, affirmative action is an imperfect, but as yet necessary tool that universities can leverage to cultivate robust and diverse spaces where students learn. June 23’s Fisher ruling underscores that important idea.
Related to the coming public discussions about the Harvard lawsuit, we are of the opinion that race-conscious policies like affirmative action need to be supported. The fact is that “Asian-Americans” have diverse social and educational experiences. And many Asian-Americans benefit from affirmative action policies.