It's happening again -- affirmative action cases hit the headlines last week, one higher education institution seemingly being targeted in particular: Harvard.
The battlefield of affirmative action is an old one. Too many Asian-American students with stellar extra-curricular activities and high GPAs think that they should have had a better chance at top universities like Harvard. They're now the subject of a case clearly aimed for the Supreme Court accusing Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions decisions for the sake of keeping their campuses diverse, or, in other words, making race-conscious decisions to give preference to other minorities. A Princeton study even found that Asian students need to have SAT scores around 140 points higher than whites to have a similar chance at private colleges, a difference that has been dubbed “the Asian tax.”
Harvard's student body was 18% Asian in 2013, a number very consistent throughout the Ivy League schools. On the other hand, some schools in California like UCLA, Berkeley, and Caltech respectively report student bodies that are 34.8%, 32.4%, and 42.5% Asian. It's noteworthy that California banned racial preferences by popular referendum in 1996, even though California does have a large number of Asian-American residents in the first place. It's a tricky topic, since Harvard has long been proud of its diverse student body.
However, the issue becomes a little odd upon a closer look. Edward Blum is the president of Students for Fair Admissions, the organization that is suing Harvard. He stated on the issue, "It falls afoul of our most basic civil rights principles, and those principles are that your race and your ethnicity should not be something to be used to harm you in life nor help you in life." Students for Fair Admissions is a conservative-leaning nonprofit based in Virginia, and the organization has filed similar lawsuits against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin. Their complaint? White students being at a disadvantage because of racially conscious admissions policies.
So the question boils down to this: is this lawsuit for Asian-Americans who believe they were deferred a fair shot, or whites like Abigail Fisher, who sued the University of Texas in 2016, who see affirmative action as disadvantageous for them? And might the Justice Department be preparing to battle against affirmative action admissions policies that supposedly discriminate against white applicants, but with the veneer of fighting for Asian-Americans? As seen in a recent New York Times article, The Trump administration does seem to be looking for lawyers for a new project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
A previous ML-SAAF blog post discussed the disturbing issue about how the 'model minority' myth might be driving a wedge between minority groups, downplaying the intricacies of racism as a whole and painting minorities with too broad a brush. Are Asian-Americans becoming playing the role of cannon fodder in this affirmative action debate? What happens when the argument takes a turn from whites being discriminated against, an idea that is frequently and quickly shot down, to Asians, a minority group that has been subjected to historic discrimination? What happens then? And more importantly, are Asian-Americans even able to control their role in this battle?