Af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion case splits Asian Amer­i­cans

Many applaud Jus­tice Depart­ment ef­fort to in­ves­ti­gate racial bias in col­lege ad­mis­sions.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Jaweed Kaleem jaweed.kaleem@la­times.com

In 2015, when 64 Asian Amer­i­can groups filed a com­plaint with the Jus­tice Depart­ment al­leg­ing that Har­vard Univer­sity il­le­gally dis­crim­i­nated against Asian stu­dents in ad­mis­sions, Joe Zhou had lit­tle hope it would go any­where.

He had made the same al­le­ga­tion against Har­vard in a law­suit on be­half of his son, who had been de­nied ad­mis­sion de­spite near-per­fect ACT and SAT scores, a 4.44 grade-point av­er­age that made him class vale­dic­to­rian, and a re­sume that in­cluded teach­ing English in China and serv­ing as cap­tain of the ten­nis team.

So when the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion announced Wed­nes­day it planned to in­ves­ti­gate racial dis­crim­i­na­tion against Asians in col­lege ad­mis­sions, Zhou was thrilled. “Maybe now peo­ple will fi­nally pay at­ten­tion to some­thing we Asian Amer­i­cans have been talk­ing about for so long,” he said.

His suit is making its way through a Mas­sachusetts fed­eral district court. His son, who is listed as an anony­mous plain­tiff in the suit and did not want his name used in this story, cur­rently at­tends UC Berke­ley.

The Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­nity is di­vided on the is­sue, with sev­eral groups crit­i­ciz­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s an­nounce­ment. “Af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion ben­e­fits every­one, in­clud­ing Asian Amer­i­cans,” said Nicole Gon Ochi, an at­tor­ney for the civil rights group Asian Amer­i­cans Ad­vanc­ing Jus­tice, which has filed ar­gu­ments in the Zhou case back­ing Har­vard’s ad­mis­sion poli­cies. “It es­pe­cially helps tra­di­tion­ally dis­ad­van­taged Asian Amer­i­can stu­dents, like South­east Asian univer­sity stu­dents and low-in­come Asian stu­dents.”

The group helped spon­sor a 2016 poll that found 64% of Asian Amer­i­can vot­ers sup­ported “af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion pro­grams de­signed to help blacks, women and other mi­nori­ties get bet­ter ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion.”

About 25% of Asians sur­veyed op­posed af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion. Among those of In­dian, Chi­nese, Philip­pine, Ja­panese, Korean and Viet­namese de­scent who re­sponded, sup­port was low­est among Chi­nese, at 41%.

Zhou, who is Chi­nese Amer­i­can, said he had fre­quently heard com­plaints about ad­mis­sions pro­ce­dures from friends and fam­i­lies in his com­mu­nity.

“This will not help my son, who will grad­u­ate soon, but it could help Asian Amer­i­cans for the next 200 years,” said Zhou, who is a board mem­ber of Stu­dents for Fair Ad­mis­sions, a con­ser­va­tive group that re­cruits plain­tiffs for law­suits against af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion at univer­si­ties.

It sup­ported a white stu­dent’s case against the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin that was de­cided last year by the Supreme Court, which said race could be con­sid­ered in ad­mis­sions.

In its Wed­nes­day an­nounce­ment, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion did not men­tion Har­vard specif­i­cally but said the Jus­tice Depart­ment would in­ves­ti­gate a com­plaint lodged by 64 Asian groups about dis­crim­i­na­tion at a univer­sity.

The com­plaint also ar­gues that Har­vard’s use of “holis­tic” ad­mis­sions — which take into ac­count a wide range of fac­tors be­yond aca­demic per­for­mance — is re­ally a way “to dis­guise the fact that it holds Asian Amer­i­cans to a far higher stan­dard than other stu­dents and es­sen­tially forces them to com­pete against each other for ad­mis­sion.”

Af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion op­po­nents of­ten cite a 2009 study that found Asian Amer­i­cans had to score 140 points higher on SAT ex­ams in order to be on equal foot­ing with whites in pri­vate univer­sity ad­mis­sions — a dif­fer­ence they some­times call the “Asian tax.”

Sarah Is­gur Flores, a Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman, said it was “com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing all Amer­i­cans from all forms of il­le­gal race-based dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

At Har­vard, which has ar­gued in a Supreme Court brief that not con­sid­er­ing race would hurt its “ex­cel­lence” as a school, the in­com­ing fresh­man class is 22.2% Asian Amer­i­can, 14.6% African Amer­i­can, 11.6% Latino, 2.5% Na­tive Amer­i­can or Pa­cific Is­lan­der, and 49.1% white. By com­par­i­son, the U.S. pop­u­la­tion is 5.7% Asian Amer­i­can, 13.3% African Amer­i­can, 17.8% Latino, 1.3% Na­tive Amer­i­can or Alaska Na­tive, 0.02% Na­tive Hawai­ian or Pa­cific Is­lan­der, and 61.3% white, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau.

Shien Biau Woo, a for­mer lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of Delaware, said per­cep­tions of ad­mis­sion dis­par­i­ties spurred him to start the 80-20 Ini­tia­tive, a get-out-the-Asian vote group, to sign on to the Jus­tice Depart­ment com­plaint. “We didn’t get any­where on this for a while be­cause we were in a Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion, and politi­cians serve their party’s in­ter­est,” said Woo, a po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dent and for­mer Demo­crat.

But groups on the other side of the is­sue say en­roll­ment sta­tis­tics alone don’t tell the full story.

“Most op­po­nents of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion from Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties be­lieve Asians who have higher test scores are miss­ing out on the op­por­tu­nity to go to elite schools,” Ochi said. “But the test score phe­nom­e­non ex­ists re­gard­less of whether the univer­sity con­sid­ers race in its ad­mis­sion. So there is some­thing else hap­pen­ing.”

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