Asian American groups come together to fight discriminatory policies of Ivy Leagues.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: For admirers of Indian American teen spellers and geography nerds who have made it a given that they sweep the national bee contests annually with consummate ease and Chinese and Korean American science whiz kids who figure predominantly in national science and math talents, here’s a simple question: what is wrong with this fact – for the class of 2019 at Harvard University, of the 1,990 admitted students, 21% identified as Asian American, 13.3% as Latino and 12.1% as African American.
If you have not figured it out, then the anomaly here is that despite all sheer academic prowess which translates to winning relative contests too, it’s a surprise that more Asian American teens are not admitted to Harvard and other elite Ivy League institutions.
It’s this very discrepancy that has led to slow outrage within the Asian American community, and last week, on May 15, a coalition of 64 Asian American organizations gathered in Washington, DC, and jointly filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education, asking for a civil rights violation investigation of Harvard University’s discrimination against Asian American applicants.
The organizations included the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) and the New York-based Pakistani Policy Institute. The others were mostly Chinese and Korean American organizations.
This was the largest joint action by Asian Americans for equal education rights in the past 20 years. The complaint argues that although the total population of Asian and Pacific Islanders has increased in the United States – and in fact they are the fastest growing racial group in the United States; their population is expected to double to more than 47 million by 2060 – the admission rate for Asian Americans at Harvard University has remained at a relatively static rate.
The coalition says over the last two decades not only has the number of Asian American applicants doubled, but also have their overall qualifications improved for admissions to America’s elite universities. However, the share of Asians at Harvard peaked at over 20% in 1993, then immediately declined and thereafter remained roughly constant at a level 3–5 percentage points lower.
The coalition pointed out that many studies have uncovered overwhelming evidence that Harvard and other Ivy League universities has been engaged in systematic and continuous discrimination against Asian-Americans in the college admissions process, including: using racial stereotypes, differentiated standards, and racial quotas.
The coalition requested that the Department of Education and the Department of Justice conduct a thorough investigation on Harvard’s admission process and take immediate actions to require Harvard University and other Ivy League universities to stop their discriminatory practices.
“People from all over the world came to America for equal opportunities. We are trying to bring those principles back to America,” Yukong Zhao, a Chinese American writer, who was one of the organizers of the meet, told CNN. “This isn’t just about discrimination and race. It is about justice for everyone, including people of all races, and social and economic statuses.”
Harvard University was quick to respond to the claims of discrimination.
“We will vigorously defend the right of Harvard, and other universities, to continue to seek the educational benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions,” said Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s general counsel, in a statement. “In fact, within its holistic admissions process, and as part of its effort to build a diverse class, Harvard College has demonstrated a strong record of recruiting and admitting Asian American students.”
Iuliano also pointed to the landmark 1978 decision in Regents of University of California vs. Bakke, which upheld affirmative action and specifically cited Harvard’s admissions plan as a “legally sound approach” to admissions.
Some Asian American groups took umbrage at the coalition’s demands. Two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement, defending affirmative action.
“Neither of us believes that any racial or ethnic group should be subjected to quotas,” Commissioners Michael Yaki and Karen Narasaki said. “Nor do we believe that test scores alone entitle anyone to admission at Harvard. Students are more than their test scores and grades.”
Last year, in July, The American Bazaar had done a story on the racial discrimination faced by Asian American students at Ivy Leagues, and that in the last few years, several cases and probes have come up which involve an Indian American or a Chinese American student filing a complaint against Harvard, Princeton, and Yale for non-admission despite being academically perfect, but overlooked.
That story had pointed out Harvard’s treatment of Asian-American applicants had come under the spotlight as early as 1990, when stereotyping was found to be frequent amongst evaluators, such as this comment about one Asian-American candidate: “He’s quiet and, of course, wants to be a doctor,” according to a report by Bloomberg.
A report then by Kevin Binversie, the Web Editor of Right Wisconsin, had said that the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) may indulge in ‘race-based grading’. The report quoted from an Op-Ed piece written by Lee Hansen, a professor emeritus of economics at UW-M, for the John William Hope Pope Center for Higher Education, a North Carolina-based think tank, about the latest “diversity” plan. “Representational equity” is being applied to levels never before seen, analyzed Binversie.
Hansen’s report calls for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”
That of course, as the Bazaar pointed out, would lead to further discrimination against deserving Asian American and White students who score well above other students in SAT and subject-wise exams, in an effort to gain admission into schools of their choice.
According to Binversie, Hansen’s report means that “professors, instead of just awarding the grade that each student earns, would apparently have to adjust them so that academically weaker, “historically underrepresented racial/ethnic” students perform at the same level and receive the same grades as academically stronger students.”
According to “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal,” a 2009 book co-written by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, Asian-Americans need to score 140 points more than whites, 270 points higher than Hispanics, and 450 points above African-Americans out of a maximum 1600 on the math and reading SAT to have the same chance of admission to a private college.
Read that previous story in The American Bazaar here:
But just as many Asian Americans are brilliant at academics and prove to be champions at contests that test vocabulary, spelling, geography and the sciences, create apps at an early age, there are perhaps just as many students from the community who struggle academically and are in need of help.
Entrepreneur and researcher Vivek Wadhwa, writing in The Washington Post, on Monday, pointed out that the needs of these Asian American and Pacific islanders students who struggle to cope in school. Many attend community colleges, instead of vying for Ivy League spots like some of their more illustrious peers. They are drowned in the perception that “AAPIs, in the aggregate, are also the highest-income and best-educated ethnic groups in the United States. A common perception is that they are the model minority: the doctors, techno wizards, and successful business owners.”
The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) often cites compelling data to make this case: Asian American and African American students have the highest rates of remedial coursework; one out of four Korean Americans go without health insurance; one of every three AAPIs is limited in English proficiency; and only 18 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders over the age of 25 hold a college degree.
“The model minority label makes things worse for large sections of these communities, because their needs are often overlooked or misunderstood and then rarely addressed in government programs and by social-service organizations. Lack of disaggregated data perpetuates this label,” writes Wadhwa.
Wadhwa advocates to correct the dearth of research and data; increase educational opportunities, especially for certain AAPI sub-groups, improve access to health care, boost entrepreneurship and use new technologies to reach them.
Read Wadhwa’s blog here:
It’s important to recognize that brilliant academic-oriented children should not be left out of the equation of selection for being of a particular color and race. Imagine the Olympics having affirmative action – how many African Americans would be allowed to win medals in athletics for the United States?
If affirmative action becomes the detriment to even one child’s future, be the child of Asian or Hispanic or African race, then it’s wrong. It has to end.
Like Wadhwa says, it’s important to recognize too the merits of giving ample opportunities to those children who struggle in school.
That is especially true of children who are come from poor neighborhoods, but in studies are lumped as belonging to a race which has the highest income, with over six figures, true of the Indian American community.
Perhaps, if both those objectives are realized – of ending affirmative action when it comes to selection at Ivy League schools and providing ample opportunities to poor children of all races – it will become more academically competitive, in time, and there won’t be need to mold model students in each community, cutting down the achievements of children from other more fortunate communities.
America would then in time become a model society for the world.
(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar)