Written by: Sohini Ashoke
The heated discussion around affirmative action has recently increased due to the Justice Department’s plan to protect white applicants from discrimination during college admissions. Although affirmative action was created for all historically oppressed groups, it has mostly been discussed in terms of race, specifically for African-American and Hispanic students. The implementation of affirmative action started in the early 1960s under the Kennedy administration through Executive Order 10925. The purpose was to give minorities and historically excluded groups government-sanctioned opportunities and programs to rectify their disadvantages. It was an explicit step towards equality by helping those who have faced systemic oppression.
Today, affirmative action is most commonly discussed in the context of university admissions. Unfortunately, discrimination faced by Asian-American students is rarely acknowledged. Considering that 44 percent of Gunn students are Asian-American, how colleges handle affirmative action has a direct impact on Gunn students. Affirmative action is moving away from its original intent–providing equal opportunities to oppressed groups of people. This is shown by the way many colleges handle Asian-American applicants, and how they are held to a significantly higher standard than other races—even ones with more systemic privilege. It is a perfect example of how modern-day affirmative action works counterintuitively to its original purpose by discriminating against high-achieving minorities and disregarding the injustices they face.
The policies on affirmative action in many colleges go against the original purpose of affirmative action and hold statistically high-achieving minorities, like Asian-Americans, at an unfair disadvantage. In fact, a study conducted at Princeton University found that in the United States, the average white college applicant holds a 140 point advantage in the SAT over the average Asian-American student. In other words, the average white applicant can have a standardized testing score 140 points below an Asian-American applicant and still be chosen over the Asian-American. Because Asian-Americans have faced years of systemic oppression, this is a clear violation of the original principle of affirmative action. The evidence of injustice against Asian-Americans dates back to the 1850s, when the first Chinese-Americans immigrated to the United States. The United States has a tainted past in terms of Asian-American discrimination. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned any Chinese immigrants from entering the United States, and the Japanese internment camps in World War II and the “Yellow Peril” prove that xenophobic persecution of Chinese-Americans is not a first in America. Even in 2017, there is research and evidence proving how Asian-Americans continue to face racism and disadvantages. A study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center found that the average Asian-American woman earns 85 cents to a white man’s dollar. A study done by the Administrative Science Journal found that Asian-Americans who “whitened” their names on job resumes had a 10 percent higher callback rate than Asian-Americans who kept their original names. Given the extensive historic and modern-day oppression that Asian-Americans face, the fact that they are held to a higher standard and punished for their merit is truly another form of discrimination. Another flaw of the blanket approach of generalizing all Asians during college admissions is that it doesn’t account for Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laotian and other Asian-American groups who have statistically lower standardized test scores. By applying the 140 point disadvantage to all Asian-Americans, colleges are problematically using a blanket statistic to represent all Asian-Americans. To correct the flawed system of affirmative action, universities need to approach Asian-American students as they are—a discriminated minority that needs to be compensated just like other minorities and not punished for their high work. By ending the forced stereotypes and looking at the history of Asian-Americans in America, colleges can make a significant change in bettering the system.
One of the main reasons why Asian-American applicants are at a disadvantage during college applications is because of the rising policy adopted by colleges to promote diversity on campus. Even with the disadvantages Asian-Americans face on campus,
they still are a significantly high racial percentage of many colleges. For example,
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is 23.5 percent Asian, while the University of
California, Berkeley is 35 percent. In order to create a more diverse environment, colleges have adopted a problematic policy. Their prioritization of non-Asian races during college applications has created the significant and unjustified disadvantage that Asians face during college applications. Creating racial quotas and trying to diversify a campus is most definitely not a step towards equality, and it is not a way to counteract racism. American colleges have now changed their narrative to promote a more diverse environment rather than fight discrimination—evident in their treatment of Asian-American students.
A common argument that supports the notion that Asian-American success is indeed a form of privilege states that the cultural upbringing of many Asian-American students—one that values education and learning—is a form of privilege because it fosters an environment that caters to success. However, being part of a culture that values education is a mere generalization of all the different types of Asian-Americans, and even if it were true for all, is again not a direct form of privilege. Privilege, by definition, is an advantage exclusive to a group of people and one that cannot be controlled. For example, a white American lives with the privileges of being part of the historically dominant race. These are forms of privilege because they are not subjective and can’t be controlled. No matter how a white American lives, all of these things will still be true. However, when it comes to living in an environment that values education, this can not be considered a privilege as it very clearly can vary among all Asian-Americans
and is therefore subjective.
When it comes to striving for equality and erasing the oppression that the United States has forced on minorities, we must look back at the original intent of affirmative action and look at the historical evidence of bigotry against all races in America. It is crucial to stop allowing race to overshadow personal merit or achievement when it comes to determining who the future college students of this country are.
—Sohini Ashoke, a junior, is a News Editor.