How Affirmative Action Policies Hurt Asian-Americans

Michael Wang (pictured) thinks that the current affirmative action policies hurt Asian-American students. (Photo courtesy of Michael Wang.)

In recent years, I’ve become a defacto spokesperson for Asian-Americans who feel they’ve been treated unfairly in the college admissions process. While I am not a part of the Student for Fair Admissions lawsuit against Harvard, I am well acquainted with Edward Blum and his work.

The case has given outsiders a peek into Harvard’s admission office files for the first time. How exactly does America’s most prestigious university choose who gets accepted? The inside information is troubling to many Asian-American teens, including me. Admissions files show that the Harvard ranks Asian-American applicants lower on a “personality” rating.

Many assume that I am anti-affirmative action, which is not the case. I do not want to see affirmative action abolished. I believe that maintaining diversity is still crucial on a college campus. But I believe that the current method of limiting Asian-Americans is not the method to do this.

After receiving my college decision letters in spring of 2013, I was disappointed in the results. I wanted to ask some of the elite colleges that rejected me what I could have done differently. The universities sent back perfunctory answers to my queries, so I pressed further and filed a complaint with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. Although nothing come from my complaint, I went on to write an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News on the California law which ended the use of race in all educational admissions, public hiring, and public contracting. After that, I became connected to the fight against affirmative action because I was one of the few students willing to speak on the issue and share their own story.

In August, the Justice Department threw its support behind the Students for Fair Admission–dealing a big blow to Harvard as the case goes to trial. If the SFFA-Harvard case goes before the Supreme Court, it could potentially bring down race-based admissions in this country.

Originally, when the Justice Department and the Trump administration indicated their interest in abolishing affirmative action, I was not sure whether or not this was a political power move, or if the Trump administration was actually intending to help Asian-Americans. I have doubts about whether the Trump administration has the best interests of Asian-Americans at heart. Are Asian-American teens a tool to bring down affirmative action? Will this lawsuit hurt all minority college applicants in the long run? I still have my doubts to this day, but I am eager to see how the case plays out.

I don’t want to see affirmative action struck down by the Supreme Court. I believe in the goals of affirmative action: to assist individuals from underprivileged backgrounds to have an opportunity to access these prestigious institutions. But Ivy League schools are not rapidly expanding their student bodies, so in order for disadvantaged students to reap these benefits, someone needs to lose. Who are the intended losers? On paper, the losers should be the majority–those who already possess power and privilege. But, in the current situation, Asian-Americans are losing out.

Although some Asian-American students have attained academic achievement and a relatively high economic status within the US, I think the model minority myth is just that–a myth. Asian-Americans are too diverse a group of people to put under one umbrella. Yet, this ethnically and economically diverse group of students are held to the same standard, because we check the same box: Asian-American.

For many Asian-American teens, seeing reports that the Harvard admissions office deducts “personality” points from their applications is a confirmation of their worst fears. Although our relative economic prosperity is questionable, there are some things that are not open to debate. We are the children of immigrants; many of us are immigrants ourselves. We grow up in the US as a racial minority, and as a result, many of us experience discrimination related to our language, appearance, and cultural customs. The list goes on. Understanding that we are on the losing end of affirmative action is another bitter pill that seems to push us even farther away from the American Dream. I don’t want to see affirmative action end. But I would like to see a college admissions landscape that does not disadvantage Asian-Americans in the name of “diversity.”  

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