The Affirmative Action Debate Reframed; Students for Fair Admissions makes a Weak Case Against Harvard
James Hu | Guest Writer
When Netflix came out with “Nosedive”, an episode of their popular television series Black Mirror, the premise of personal ratings that affected your ability to access institutions like a quality job or housing seemed merely fictional—a dystopia. For Asian American students, this ‘fiction’ has always been a hidden reality.
Students for Fair Admissions, a group of largely Asian Americans who were denied admission from top colleges, first filed a lawsuit against Harvard for their unfair admissions policies in 2014. The most compelling evidence that has come to light is Harvard’s use of a ‘personal rating scale’, where applicants are given a score from 1-6 on subjective personal qualities. I find the most alarming to be number four on this scale: bland or somewhat negative or immature. Asian Americans were disproportionately given this rating along with comments that indicated they were ‘indistinguishable’ from one another.
People need to realize is that it is largely this that has incited anger from the Asian American community, not broad affirmative action policies. However, this is not the case that Students for Fair Admissions made in front of federal judge Allison Burroughs, the judge hearing the case in Boston. The plaintiffs used evidence of unfair admissions policies to support the claim that Asians were being under admitted and discriminated against despite being more accomplished. Thus, the case was made into a generic affirmative action battle between conservatives and liberals.
Students for Fair Admissions fails to take into account is that under affirmative action, African American students are still admitted at proportionally lower rates than whites and Asians. Furthermore, the majority of Asian Americans still support affirmative action because it corrects for racial injustices and income inequality. The case against Harvard has incited a race war between minorities that only heightens the anti-blackness that is already prevalent in Asian American communities. Claims that African American people are ‘lazy’ and ‘undeserving’ have drowned out productive conversation on the topic.
So what is the real plight of Asian Americans here? It’s simple. We are tired of institutions, like Harvard, boxing us into stereotypes like “booksmart but boring” or “intelligent but bland”. Harvard’s admissions process tells us that while the expectation from our Asian parents is to be academically exceptional, the rest of the country can only see us as the exact opposite—so indistinguishable that we become inadequate. To me, it is almost dehumanizing to essentially be labeled a ‘generic’. Harvard’s personal rating scale proves that this is not merely lip service or rhetoric. How can we tell our Asian American brothers and sisters to strive for Asian excellence when our excellence is seen as mediocrity by America’s most prestigious university. More importantly, how can we allow children to be attacked for their ‘lackluster identity’ when most applicants are still trying to discover theirs.
This in no way is an argument for why Asian Americans are the most ‘oppressed’, that simply isn’t true.
It is to explain what the case really should have been about. The plaintiffs should have argued against Harvard’s specific admission metrics rather than linking evidence to show why affirmative action is bad. The case should have argued for the dissolution of some of these metrics and stopped there. They should have shown how the words of past admission officers have gravely hurt Asian American youth instead of using Asian Americans as a tool in their very own race war.
In a year of Asian representation, with movies like Crazy Rich Asians, many high schoolers are finally learning what it is means to truly be heard. This is the age of representation, and students for Fair Admissions did not represent the genuine voices of Asians in their case.
Student written opinion pieces