Asian-Amer­i­cans put at cen­ter of Har­vard suit

Boston Herald - - NEWS - — TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Har­ri­son Chen and Thang Diep grad­u­ated No. 1 from pub­lic high schools. Both ex­celled in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and scored high on their col­lege ad­mis­sions tests. And both are Asian-Amer­i­can.

But the sim­i­lar­i­ties stop there.

Chen, who was raised by mid­dle-class Chi­nese im­mi­grants out­side Raleigh, N.C., was re­jected by Har­vard. Diep, a Viet­namese im­mi­grant who grew up in a work­ing-class fam­ily in Reseda, Calif., got in.

Their ex­pe­ri­ences have left them with dis­tinct feel­ings about af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion and a fed­eral law­suit against Har­vard that puts Asian-Amer­i­cans at the cen­ter of one of the most con­tentious is­sues in higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Chen op­poses the con­sid­er­a­tion of race in col­lege ad­mis­sions and plans to join like-minded Asian-Amer­i­cans at a rally in Bos­ton to­day, a day be­fore Har­vard is sched­uled to go on trial.

“Peo­ple should be judged on char­ac­ter and merit,” said Chen, an 18-year-old fresh­man at his backup choice, Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­sity in Nashville, Tenn. “What does the color of your skin have to do with ad­mis­sions?”

Diep, who fa­vors af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, plans to at­tend a rally a few miles away in Har­vard Square in sup­port of the uni­ver­sity and its poli­cies.

“Re­mov­ing race won’t ad­vance us to be a more just and equal so­ci­ety,” said Diep, a 21-year-old se­nior at Har­vard. “Rather, it would limit ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties to peo­ple from higher classes and a white back­ground.”

The pri­mary fight against af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion has long been waged by whites who ar­gue that giv­ing spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion to racial mi­nori­ties has un­fairly de­nied them spots at U.S. col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

But in the Har­vard case, Asian-Amer­i­cans ar­gue that racial con­sid­er­a­tions have made them a vic­tim of their own aca­demic suc­cess. They tend to get bet­ter grades and score higher on stan­dard­ized tests than other races but claim they are fre­quently re­jected as a re­sult of “racial bal­anc­ing,” which is akin to racial quo­tas and has been ruled un­con­sti­tu­tional.

They com­pare them­selves to Jewish stu­dents who faced ad­mis­sions quo­tas at elite schools in the early 20th cen­tury.

“Be­ing Asian-Amer­i­can ac­tu­ally de­creases the chances of ad­mis­sions,” the law­suit said. Cit­ing a Duke Uni­ver­sity econ­o­mist’s anal­y­sis of six years of Har­vard ad­mis­sions data, it claimed that AsianAmer­i­can ap­pli­cants who have a 25 per­cent chance of get­ting in would have a 35 per­cent chance if they were white, and dra­mat­i­cally bet­ter odds than that if they were black or Latino.

It also cited an in­ter­nal 2013 Har­vard re­port that sug­gested that ad­mis­sions of Asian-Amer­i­cans would shoot up sub­stan­tially if they were eval­u­ated based on aca­demics alone.

As it stands, Asian Amer­i­cans make up 6 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion and 22 per­cent of Har­vard’s cur­rent fresh­man class. The lat­ter num­ber has been ris­ing since 2010.

HER­ALD FILE PHOTO

EQUAL­ITY IS­SUE: Har­vard Uni­ver­sity has been hit with a fed­eral law­suit that ques­tions the fair­ness of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion in col­lege ad­mis­sions.

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