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Anti-affirmative action activist targets Asians

Julianne Hing | 5/8/2014, 12:23 p.m.
The homepage for UNCnotfair.org is one of three similar websites that are seeking to find student applicants that feel they were not accepted to college based on race.

“It’s important for Asian-Americans to understand that there is very colorable evidence that Harvard, Columbia and other Ivy League schools have for the last 15 years consciously, purposefully limited by quota the number of Asians they will accept,” Blum says.

The Supreme Court explicitly outlawed the use of racial quotas in 1978. Harvard has maintained that it doesn’t have a quota system, and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights did not complete a 2012 probe into alleged discrimination against Asian applicants at Harvard and Princeton after the student withdrew their complaint.

Foes of affirmative action frequently cite a prominent 2009 study by Princeton professor Thomas Espenshade and researcher Alexandra Radford which found that black applicants with SAT scores of 1150 (of a possible 1600) had a roughly equal shot of being accepted to top private schools in 1997 as white applicants who scored in the 1460s and Asian-American applicants who scored a maximum 1600.

Foes of affirmative action frequently cite the Espenshade and Radford study as proof that affirmative action is tantamount to discrimination. But Espenshade himself has always noted that his findings are not a smoking gun proving that top-tier universities discriminate against Asian applicants. He did not have access to other factors like personal essays, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, community service or personal backgrounds.

In short, while there’s plenty of rumor and some circumstantial evidence, there’s no concrete proof yet that Ivy Leagues discriminate against Asian applicants.

By simultaneously launching similar websites and linking the admissions policies of Harvard with public universities like University of Wisconsin and University of North Carolina, Blum blurs the line between publics and privates, and takes advantage of the widespread misunderstandings of how admissions policies work, says Lee.

“Private universities are not bound in the same way public universities are. Harvard doesn’t have the same responsibility to educate people in Massachusetts the way University of Wisconsin does the people of Wisconsin,” Lee says.

For disgruntled white and Asian students who’ve been denied admission to their chosen college it’s easy to attribute that to race because it’s the most salient part of a person’s identity. But admissions at selective universities is much more complex. At University of Wisconsin, for example, after grades and ACT or SAT scores, the university considers other factors including life experiences, work background, leadership qualities, “motivation,” community service, “special talents,” their status as a non-traditional or returning adult student, U.S. military or veteran status and socioeconomic background. The last factor is whether the applicant is a member of a historically underrepresented racial minority.

Indeed, in its response to Abigail Fisher’s affirmative action lawsuit, The University of Texas pointed out that even if the university did away with any consideration of race, Fisher wouldn’t have been admitted.

The Asian-American reality

There’s nothing new about Blum’s strategic positioning of Asian-Americans, says Nakagawa, and all too often, Asian-Americans have been party to the myth-making. Not only are Asians used as a wedge to break up anti-racist coalitions, they’re also useful as “a shield against being accused of racism when you do something like attack affirmative action,” Nakagawa says.