Admissions Practices Discriminate against Asians

Alexandra Reinecke, Editor-in-Chief

Martin Luther King Jr. looked forward to a nation in which American citizens would be judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Sadly, that is not the nation in which we live today.

According to The New York Times, the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, and U.S. News, respectively, we live in a nation where Asian American students experience university admissions discrimination for being part of “the model minority,” where the typical Latino household has a median income that is a meagre 8% of the average white household median income, and where 90% of white citizens who take the Implicit Association Test show an inherent racial bias for white people versus black people.

We live in a nation where white supremacists feel not only justified but unafraid to crowd American streets with angrily-wielded tiki-torches and xenophobic statements like “Jews will not replace us.” Most alarmingly, the nation’s leadership condones this kind of behavior.

“There’s blame on both sides,” President Donald Trump responded, in an interview at Trump Tower, to Charlottesville’s protest-turned-attack on August 12. His response did not condemn the racism evidenced in the attack. His response was a blanket statement of condemnation–for the actions of the right’s white supremacists and the left’s ANTIFA demonstrators alike.

According to what NPR calls “a coalition of more than 60 organizations,” the same racism evidenced in Charlottesville has reared its head in the realm of college admissions. This group of 60, composed of Asian and Asian-American applicants, has called forth a legal argument against Harvard University on grounds of racial discrimination.

In what The New Yorker reports is “a federal lawsuit filed in Massachusetts in 2014,” the coalition representing these Asian students alleges that “Harvard effectively employs quotas on the number of Asians admitted and holds them to a higher standard than whites.”

According to The New Yorker, while the percentage of Asians in America has more than doubled since the 1990s, the number of Asians matriculating as Harvard students has remained at a steady 16-19 percent per class. According to a 2004 study by Princeton University, Asians applying to the university suffer odds of admission that are “nearly 30 percent lower than those of their white counterparts.”

A 2009 study, also by Princeton, showed that Asian applicants, on average, suffer a subtraction of 140 SAT points on a 1600 scale, meaning that they must score higher than otherwise equally qualified students of other races to have the same chance for admission.

Affirmative Action has been proven discriminatory towards Asians. This is unfortunate for liberal advocates of the policy, who argue almost unanimously in favor of the policy on grounds of moral responsibility to correct past and present injustices towards minority groups. “Liberals can’t absorb the Asian factor,” CNN explains. “It doesn’t fit the whites vs. people of color setup.”

Doing away with Affirmative Action, CNN predicts, will usher into most American universities the trend seen at the race-blind California Institute of Technology (CalTech). In 1992, Asian enrollment at CalTech was 25% of the matriculating class. In 2013, in a natural response to the expanding Asian-American population, that enrollment grew to 43%.

While the so-called “Asian factor” disrupts the classic liberal argument for Affirmative Action, the argument itself remains both intact and valid. As a country built on the backs of slaves, on the labor of Hispanics, and as a country which still sees both minorities disadvantaged, the moral obligation to redress grievances extends beyond the Asian community.

Asian students shouldn’t have to suffer for black and Hispanic students. But black, Hispanic, and Asian students shouldn’t suffer for each other, or for anyone else, period. In a country founded upon their labor, they’ve done enough of it already.

According to The New York Times, “The Trump Administration plans to allocate Justice Department civil rights resources to “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

While The New York Times’ reporters guessed that the Trump Administration’s motive for these investigations are to increase admit-rates for white students, it doesn’t have to be. Asian students shouldn’t see their achievements denigrated, as they are today, by point deductions at schools like Harvard.

Current Affirmative Action policy gives private schools like Harvard the autonomy to consider race in admissions as long as they avoid overt racial quotas. The effort a white student must make to achieve is doubled for the minority student who faces both discrimination and a fraction of the opportunities the white student does in pursuit of that goal.

The “Asian factor” doesn’t change our moral obligation to minorities. It highlights the route, however different than the classic liberal argument for Affirmative Action, that we must take to actionize that obligation.

Punishing Asian-Americans for their race’s pattern of achievement, or for being a “model minority” is akin to punishing them for being, in our best understanding of the word, American. 

Asians do not subtract but add to our nation. Selective school’s admissions policies should reflect that contribution with a minority score addition, or, at the very least, a score neutrality that would place Asian students on equal footing with their more historically and presently advantaged white peers.

We do not live in the post-racial world that Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned. We do, however, live in one where the Executive Branch has the power to correct racial inequity.

Recently, CNN chastised The New York Times for what they call an unfounded report that the Administration’s aim is to tear down policies “deemed to discriminate against white applicants.”

While CNN is right in highlighting the Times‘ bias, I too had similar knee-jerk assumptions about the Administration’s new focus. But here’s hoping the Trump Administration does prove the reporter biased. Here’s hoping the Trump Administration defies my and the rest of our country’s assumptions.

They’ve certainly exercised the necessary capriciousness to do as much.