In high school, most students are motivated by the same goal: getting into college. High-school students today are forced to push themselves to unbelievable extremes as colleges and universities become more competitive than ever before. Thankfully, admission policies such as affirmative action and holistic application review benefit qualified students who may have been overlooked otherwise. However, certain groups, one being Asians-Americans, have been steeply obstructed from well-deserved opportunities as a result. Although affirmative action certainly combats many aspects of minority discrimination and disadvantages, other individuals are often left out of this equation and are thus held to an even higher standard than the rest of applicants.
Affirmative action refers to policies favoring those who often are denied opportunities because of discrimination. In theory, this would serve to “level out the playing field.” However, in reality, its implementation is very complicated. Asian students make up enough of campus populations to be excluded from the category of “underrepresented minorities,” and are now even considered an “overrepresented minority.” This means that not only does affirmative action not apply to them, but already inequitable expectations are only raised.
It’s necessary to point out that Asians also aren’t exactly the privileged minority people tend to think they are. In fact, the percentage of Asians living under poverty is greater than the national average, and poverty and dropout rates are especially higher than the national average for those of Southeast Asian heritage. Poverty rates in certain ethnic groups are over three times the national average and the dropout rates for Cambodians, Laotians, and Hmongs range from 35 to 40 percent.
Another prominent point often used in favor of affirmative action is the strive for diversity. After all, in the era in which campuses were filled with only those who could afford to attend, minorities faced steep odds to get admission to the nation’s best schools. However, opponents of affirmative action argue that putting ethnicity over merit is a form of tokenism and flagrantly marginalizes deserving students of higher qualifications.
Many studies (including those by educators sympathetic to affirmative action) show large gaps in the ACT and SAT scores of admitted students at top colleges and universities. Thomas J. Espenshade, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, provides one of the most cited studies in the argument of Asian discrimination in admissions. The investigation involved evaluating 9,000 students of ten highly selective colleges and universities around the nation. The results were organized into the following table, representing ACT and SAT “advantages and disadvantages” for various admitted groups. The “advantages” refer to the number of points added or subtracted from a student’s score to have the same chances of being admitted as someone who is white and of a middle-class socioeconomic status. The study shockingly found that an Asian student with an ACT score of 34 has about the same odds of admission to a public institution as a white student with a score of 30.6. In another study conducted by Espenshade to predict acceptance rates of ethnicities if affirmative action in admissions were eliminated at these schools, it was found that Asian applicants would see an increase in admission from approximately 23.7 percent to 31.5 percent. Espenshade does admit that he did not have access to other noteworthy variables, such as recommendations and extracurricular activities.
Although the difference in standards for Asian-American applicants has been a reality since before the 1990s, the issue received relatively little attention until 2016, when the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin was brought to the Supreme Court. Abigail N. Fisher, a white female rejected by the university, claimed that the use of race as a determining factor in admissions at UT was in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The school argued that the referenced aspect of their program was instituted to provide greater diversity on campus. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the university and ruled that universities can consider race among various other factors in their admissions decisions. While Fisher was white, this verdict upset many in defense of Asian students when more studies such as Espenshade’s were being brought to light.
In August of 2017, Asian-American organizations at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who had been sending numerous complaints alleging racial injustice in admissions, filed lawsuits against their respective schools and are currently continuing to litigate them. The plaintiffs claim that the university perpetrates blatant discrimination by strictly limiting the number of Asians it will admit each year. The Fourteenth Amendment is also emphasized in this case, along with several federal civil rights laws.
Without a doubt, affirmative action is a necessary policy for school campuses. With systematic oppression greatly hindering those of certain ethnic backgrounds, this program allows students to receive higher education despite underprivileged circumstances. Nonetheless, adjustments need to be made in its execution. Asians cannot be overlooked in these calculations. The extent of the disadvantages that Asian applicants face presently is excessive and prevents capable students from expanding their education. We need to re-evaluate the current use of affirmative action to make sure that Asian-Americans receive the same opportunities as the rest of the population.