‘Who are Asian Americans?’

U.C. Irvine sociology professor Jennifer Lee was interviewed recently by The Chronicle of Higher Education about the allegations by some organizations against Harvard’s admissions policies. The May 20, 2015, article is subscriber-only, but I wanted to share one part of the Q&A in which writer Peter Schmidt asks Prof. Lee about the divide among Asian Americans on this issue.  Her response:

I think the central question here is: Who are Asian-Americans? Are Asian-Americans only the hyperselected and the highly educated and those who fit this exceptional outcome, or are Asian-Americans willing to recognize the ethnic and class diversities of our communities?

Here I am thinking of Asian ethnic groups like Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong, who have higher high-school-dropout rates than African-Americans and Latinos. They are also Asian-Americans, and they would benefit from raceconscious

The groups who have filed the complaints against Harvard tend to be those who are from the most highly educated segment of Asian-Americans, who are typically immigrants concerned about the educational opportunities of their children. I understand that, of course, but it is a very self-interested view, and fails to recognize the diversity of the Asian-American community.

Here’s the full article, again subscriber-only.

Asian American U.S. Civil Rights Commissioners Issue Statement on Harvard Discrimination Complaint

Today, the two Asian American Commissioners of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Michael Yaki and Karen Narasaki, in their individual capacities, issued the following response to the announcement that an administrative complaint was filed by against Harvard University alleging discriminatory admissions practices against prospective Asian American students.


While we have not reviewed the actual complaint against Harvard University, we hope that this is a sincerely raised issue and not a back door attack on affirmative action that attempts to pit Asian Americans against other minorities, as other efforts have been. Like a majority of Asian Americans, we stand together as long-time supporters of affirmative action. Affirmative action creates opportunities for students disadvantaged by race and circumstances, and a diverse student body ensures that the next generation of Americans is exposed to the variety of life experiences and backgrounds that will help them to build vibrant communities and successfully work in the global economy.

Neither of us believes that any racial or ethnic group should be subjected to quotas. Nor do we believe that test scores alone entitle anyone to admission at Harvard. Students are more than their test scores and grades. Well-constructed and properly implemented admissions programs further our principles of equal opportunity. While we understand that some programs may be imperfect, or even need substantial reform, we do not support any attempt to eliminate affirmative action programs at Harvard or any institution of higher learning.

We will closely review the complaint and the University’s response and closely monitor developments in this situation.

Commissioner Yaki, who is of Chinese and Japanese heritage, was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2005 by Democratic Leader Pelosi. Commissioner Narasaki, who is of Japanese heritage, was appointed to the Commission in 2014 by President Obama. Both are graduates of Ivy-league schools; Narasaki from Yale University and Yaki from the Yale Law School.

Contact: karen@narasakijustice.com or commissioner.yaki@gmail.com