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.
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.
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.
The Supreme Court handed down their long-anticipated decision on Fisher v University of Texas II yesterday, eight years after Abigail Fisher (who is White) first filed suit challenging holistic review at the University of Texas. Fisher alleged that the University’s holistic admissions process, which includes race-conscious affirmative action, denied her admission to the school. The Court had previously heard Fisher’s case, and essentially punted it back to the lower courts asking them to take a second look. When the Fifth Circuit again ruled in favour of the University of Texas, the Supreme Court was once again challenged to weigh in.
There was a lot at stake with this decision in the case now known as Fisher II: a decision against the University of Texas’ admissions program could effectively dismantle affirmative action programs across the country.
But, in a 4-3 vote, the Supreme Court elected to reaffirm the Court’s earlier perspectives on affirmative action as outlined in the landmark Grutter case which first explicitly established the “compelling interest” of colleges and universities to address issues of campus diversity through the limited and narrow use of racial information.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice), the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) applaud the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion released today in Fisher v. University of Texas.
The Court ruled in favor of the consideration of race as part of a holistic review of an applicant in university admissions processes.
“Today the Supreme Court affirmed the important role race-conscious admissions policies have in ensuring diversity in our nation’s colleges and universities,” said NAPABA president Jin Y. Hwang. “As lawyers of color, we see the beneficial impacts of these policies every day in the legal workforce, and we recognize that diversity in higher education is critical to ensuring we have a pipeline of talented lawyers and judges able to serve their communities.”
The case centers on the claim by Abigail Fisher, a white student denied admission to the University of Texas, that she was discriminated against by virtue of her race. Advancing Justice, AALDEF and NAPABA filed three separate amicus briefs in support of the University’s use of race as a factor among many factors taken into consideration as part of a holistic review of an application for admission. Together, the briefs represented more than 160 Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations in support of affirmative action in higher education.
“We are gratified the Supreme Court has recognized the ongoing relevance of race as one of several factors in the college admissions process and the importance of a highly-qualified and diverse student body,” commented Margaret Fung, executive director of AALDEF. “We are glad that Justice Kennedy recognized that the consideration of race may be beneficial to any UT-Austin applicant, including Asian American applicants and, citing AALDEF’s amicus brief, noted that Fisher’s assertion that the university discriminates against Asian Americans is “entirely unsupported by evidence in the record or empirical data.” Ms. Fung continued, “UT’s individualized review of applicants will continue to benefit Asian Americans and avoid harmful stereotypes based on the ‘model minority’ myth.”
Contrary to popular and damaging beliefs that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are universally successful in academics and enjoy easy access to universities, many AAPIs, including Southeast Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, face serious barriers to higher education. Race-conscious admissions programs open the doors of higher education and continue to benefit many AAPI students today. No evidence in the record from Fisher supports the erroneous claim that AAPIs are harmed by the university’s use of holistic admissions. In fact, the opposite is true.
“We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledges the continued need for affirmative action policies that make it possible for students of all backgrounds, including many historically disadvantaged Asian American and Pacific Islanders, to access higher education and create a stronger country through their contributions to a diverse society,” said Mee Moua, President and Executive Director of Advancing Justice-AAJC.
Today’s ruling is a victory for all Americans. Affirmative action policies have been used as an effective tool to promote equality, ensure qualified students from all backgrounds get a fair chance at higher education, and acknowledge that race is relevant context in considering an individual’s application. With today’s decision, the most vulnerable AAPI students, along with other students of color, will continue to have equal opportunity to enter the institutions that shape tomorrow’s leaders, and we continue to affirm that race, as distinct from class, matters.
“In a world where people of color are killed at alarmingly disproportionate rates, students of color are taking much needed action to improve the racial climate on school campuses, and public discourse about race has rightfully taken center stage on a national level, we need race conscious policies now more than ever,” says Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director of Advancing Justice-LA.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice is a national affiliation of five leading organizations advocating for the civil and human rights of Asian Americans and other underserved communities to promote a fair and equitable society for all. The affiliation’s members are: Advancing Justice-AAJC (Washington, D.C.), Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco), Advancing Justice-Chicago, and Advancing Justice-Los Angeles.
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.
The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is the national association of Asian Pacific American attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students. NAPABA represents the interests of over 50,000 attorneys and over 75 national, state, and local bar associations. Its members include solo practitioners, large firm lawyers, corporate counsel, legal services and non-profit attorneys, and lawyers serving at all levels of government. NAPABA engages in legislative and policy advocacy, promotes Asian Pacific American political leadership and political appointments, and builds coalitions within the legal profession and the community at large. NAPABA also serves as a resource for government agencies, members of Congress, and public service organizations about Asian Pacific Americans in the legal profession, civil rights, and diversity in the courts.