Top Five Reasons Why AAPIs Should Support Affirmative Action

Cross-posted from Angry Asian Man. Original post here.

Last week, in partnership with more than 160 Asian American and and Pacific Islander organizations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of University of Texas Austin’s (“UT-Austin”) race conscious admissions policy. So, why did more than 160 AAPI-serving organizations, from large, pan-Asian national organizations and professional associations, to student and grassroots groups serving Arab, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, South Asian, Southeast Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities stand together to tell the nation’s highest court that it should uphold UT-Austin’s race conscious admissions policy for a second time?

Here are the top 5 reasons:

Reason # 1 – We refuse to be used as a racial wedge and break solidarity with other communities of color.

Opponents of affirmative action often use Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) as a racial wedge by selling the myth that affirmative action hurts Asian American students by placing quotas on their admissions into elite colleges in favor of African American and Latino students. Quotas, in fact, have been unconstitutional for decades and AAPIs have historically benefitted, and continue to benefit, from affirmative action policies. Defending affirmative action also means standing in solidarity with other communities of color, as we collectively fight and work against the reality of structural racism in our country.

Reason # 2 – Race still matters in American life.

The idea that race should be eliminated from holistic admissions policies in higher education is ludricous. Race is an integral part of how each of us views the world and is treated by society. The epidemic of black lives lost at the hands of law enforcement, the racist rhetoric of the immigration debate, and the proliferation of English only policies in the workplace are irrefutable evidence that race still matters in American life and colors every person’s experience.

Reason # 3 – There is no such thing as a race-neutral admissions policy.

Opponents of affirmative action would have us believe that eliminating race as a factor from any holistic admissions program makes the policy race-neutral. This is a lie. Test scores play a dominant role in any holistic review program, and test scores are not race-neutral. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that race is the single most determinative factor in SAT scores (even more than socioeconomic status and parental education levels) and that its effect is increasing over time.

Reason # 4 – AAPI groups still need affirmative action.

Contrary to the model minority myth, which presumes that all AAPI students are universally successful, many Southeast Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander subgroups face school segregation, inadequate preparation for college, and other barriers to higher education. A recent report on AAPI access to higher education in California, which is home to the nation’s largest AAPI community, revealed that the admit rates of Filipino, Thai, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students are all significantly lower than the general admit rate, and that relative to their overall population, Filipinos, Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Guamanians or Chamorros, and Fijians are underrepresented in the UC system.

Reason # 5 – Racial diversity on campus benefits all students.

Some AAPI subgroups are underrepresented on college campuses while others are overrepresented, but all students benefit from the increased racial diversity and improved racial climate produced by race-conscious admissions programs. Even AAPI students who belong to subgroups that may be overrepresented on college campuses report racial hostility, pressure to segregate and/or assimilate to the dominant White culture, feeling silenced in academic exchanges, and stereotyped as perpetual foreigners and/or model minorities. Studies also show that campuses that reach the highest levels of diversity have fewer racial incidents.

If this feels like déjà vu, it is — back in 2013 the Supremes reaffirmed that universities may consider race as part of a holistic review program to increase racial diversity on campus, but sent the case back to the 5th Circuit to look more carefully at whether UT Austin tried race-neutral methods of achieving racial diversity (a paradox in itself). The 5th Circuit upheld the program on the basis that the consideration of race is necessary to obtain the diversity within racial groups that it seeks. Abigail Fisher, the white plaintiff in the case, appealed this decision, resulting in a second hearing of the case by the Supremes in December.

Anti-Affirmative Action Group Files Another Complaint — This Time Against Cornell and Columbia

Originally posted on Reappropriate.co

Yesterday, guest writer Felix Huang (@Brkn_Yllw_Lns) wrote an incredible essay for this blog suggesting that in talking to Chinese American opponents of affirmative action, we must reframe the conversation away from self-interest and towards collective morality.

This seems a timely observation since something else also happened yesterday: the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) — which describes itself as “the proven leader in fighting for Asian-American children’s equal education rights” — announced that it has filed a third complaint against Ivy League universities alleging that the schools’ use of holistic review during college admissions discriminates against Asian American applicants.

Describing the complaint lodged with the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Education at the beginning of August, AACE alleged that Cornell University and Columbia University had discriminated against applicant Hubert Zhao when they did not offer him an acceptance to their schools this past spring. The complaint speculates that Zhao was either the victim of racial discrimination, or of political retaliation; Hubert also happens to be the son of AACE president, YuKong Zhao.

Continue reading “Anti-Affirmative Action Group Files Another Complaint — This Time Against Cornell and Columbia”

After Fisher: Affirmative Action and Asian American Students

By Michele S. Moses, University of Colorado; Christina Paguyo, Colorado State University, and Daryl Maeda, University of Colorado

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?

Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which supports colorblind policies, has already called the decision just “a temporary setback.”

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.

Here is what is coming next

Through his organization, the Project on Fair Representation, Abigail Fisher’s advisor, Edward Blum, is currently engaged in a lawsuit challenging Harvard University’s race-conscious admissions policy.

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.

Asian-Americans participate in an Advancing Justice conference.
Advancing Justice Conference, CC BY-NC-SA

“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.

The “Harvard University Not Fair” website greets readers with a photo of an Asian-American student accompanied by the following text:

“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.

Are elite institutions discriminating against Asian-Americans in their admissions process?
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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 Kidder has 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.

Are Asian-American students a monolithic group?
Charlie Nguyen, CC BY

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.”

In addition, by casting plaintiffs as meritorious and deserving of a spot at an elite university, it also conveys the stereotypical received wisdom about Asian-American “model” students who are wronged by race-conscious affirmative action programs.

The Harvard lawsuit comes next

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.The Conversation

Michele S. Moses, Professor of Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice, University of Colorado; Christina Paguyo, Post Doctoral Fellow, Colorado State University, and Daryl Maeda, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of Colorado

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.