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  • Writer's pictureAshlyn Bi

The Mixed Opinions Asian American Have of Affirmative Action

Protesters outside the media conference holding Harvard admissions trial——CRAIG F. WALKER, THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY IMAGES

By: Ashlyn Bi August 30, 2023


For decades, the question of whether race and ethnicity should be considered in college admissions has lingered in many’s minds. On June 29, 2023, The U.S. Supreme Court gave its answer by striking down affirmative action— race-conscious policies attempting to offer more opportunity to minority groups—in college admissions. The Supreme Court officially decided when both Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had lawsuits filed against them. In both cases, the lawsuits brought up the discrimination held against Asian American applicants and, for UNC, White students as well. The Supreme Court claimed to have overruled these policies for violating the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that no state should be allowed to enforce laws that diminish the privileges of citizens of the United States. The bans on affirmative action have been incredibly devastating for many individuals in the United States as it was a practice that offered minority groups with unequal access to education a chance to go to diverse colleges for almost 60 years. For Asian Americans, the viewpoint has varied, with some hesitant on the benefits of affirmative action as a policy.

The reason some Asian Americans felt threatened or targeted by affirmative action policies is because affirmative action tends to prioritize specific minorities such as Black and Hispanic Americans, causing Asian Americans to be the collateral damage of these processes. In other words, if one racial group received more education opportunities, another group may receive less. Thus, the Supreme Court ruling brings complexity to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Some individuals feel apprehensive, understanding that affirmative action is pivotal for some minority groups’ future in education. Simultaneously, many fear that their community, which has already faced violence and harassment during the Covid-19 pandemic, may become victims of the demise of the policy. On the other hand, some are celebrating it, highlighting the AAPI plaintiffs who believe affirmative action policies caused their rejection from elite universities and see a light in the future of college admissions.

Many Asian families felt benefits from banning these policies because they expect a higher rate of acceptance for their kids solely based on their merits. In Asian cultures, there is a longstanding emphasis on education, which originates from higher expectations and traditions for their kids to attend a well-received college. Specifically, in 2021, the college enrollment rate for Asian students between 18-to-24 years old was 60%, significantly higher than any other racial group. Thus, Asian students make up a large majority of the racial demographics in top colleges. In recent years, many Asian students have expressed distaste towards the college admissions process when they were rejected for being a seemingly perfect student, blaming it on affirmative action. For example, an Asian American student named Jon Wang, 18, expressed to Fox News that he applied to MIT, CalTech, Harvard, Princeton, University of California, Berkeley, and Carnegie-Mellon. But he was rejected by all of them. Although Wang notes that both of his parents are Chinese immigrants, he argues that due to affirmative action, his Asian American heritage was a weakening factor in his application process. Moreover, Jon Wang was one of the plaintiffs that filed a lawsuit against Harvard University on whether they violated the Civil Rights Act by “discriminating against Asian-American applicants.” However, affirmative action cannot easily justify Wang’s rejection from UC Berkeley since a law called Proposition 209 has been in place since 1998 and prohibits the use of racial bias in admissions at public colleges in California. Therefore, affirmative action has been perceived as threatening to some Asian Americans, faithfully believing that it would have made their heritage the fatal flaw of their application.

Although there are Asian Americans who believe affirmative action is discriminatory in the college admissions process, a large percentage devotedly trust these policies. A recent study conducted by Pew Research finds that about 53% of Asian adults who have heard of affirmative action believe it is a good thing, while 19% say the opposite, and another 27% are not sure whether it is good or bad. On top of that, about 76% of Asian adults believe that race and ethnicity should not be contributing factors to college admissions. While these statistics are surprising, Janelle Wong, the director of Asian American studies at the University of Maryland, explained that the wording of a survey significantly affects a respondent's perception of race in admissions, particularly when the phrase “affirmative action” is not used. Thus, there is a widespread lack of understanding among Asian Americans as to what affirmative action means and the message it spreads to people when described as using race as leverage. Specifically, a 2020 Asian American voter survey conducted by AAPI Data found that 70% of Asian Americans support affirmative action when described as policies created to help Black people, women, and other minorities receive better access to higher education. Asian students also made up a large group of protestors outside of Harvard and UNC, rallying and educating others about the importance of student diversity and holding signs that say “Asian Americans for Affirmative Action.” The contrasting data has led many people to believe that a twisted assumption regarding Asian Americans and their relationship to affirmative action ultimately led to its demise. Li Zhou even writes in her article that the Supreme Court used “Asian Americans as a wedge in this case,” allowing Edward Blum, an American conservative who worked to overturn affirmative action, to “pit minority groups against one another while failing to hold institutions accountable for discrimination.” She points out that instead of prioritizing the unequal advantages many elite colleges give to legacy white students, this case depends heavily on the argument that the benefit of other minority groups leads to harm towards Asian Americans. Ultimately, Asian students who fought and marched for affirmative action expressed that they were “pawns” in these cases, used for the benefit of a higher power.

Affirmative action policies have attempted to promote diversity and inclusivity within education systems for over 50 years. Recent cases regarding Harvard University and UNC have resulted in complicated feelings for Asian Americans. Some have found personal benefits, while others wholeheartedly support the aim for diversity the policies bring to minority groups. Regardless of the different ideologies, Edward Blum and other conservatives that advocated for the overruling used one minority's devotion to education to decrease equal chances for another. Instead of utilizing one racial group's challenges to weaken others, we must change the college admissions system altogether. The US education system should not make young teenagers feel that their race, ethnicity, culture, and traditions are discarded from their identity simply because the college they aspire to attend finds it unimportant. Instead, we must value each student’s unique background and learn to support their circumstances.



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