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Diversity, equity official to leave GW in July
By Jenna Lee, Assistant News Editor • June 8, 2024

Asian Americans must defend affirmative action in college admissions

I always dreaded filling out one element of my college application. It wasn’t my SAT score, my GPA or my personal essays – it was the fact that I was going to need to check the boxes “Asian” and “White” on the Common Application.

I grew up in California with one of the most competitive university systems in the country. My teachers, advisers and peers always told me that if I was Asian and White, I would have to score higher on everything because of the high grades and test scores of the other Asian Americans applying with me. I never thought it was fair, and I always felt like there was something wrong with the admissions process. But I never thought the solution to the issue was to eliminate a system designed to give everyone a chance at higher education.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decided to back Harvard University’s admissions process, saying there is “no error” in the school’s limited consideration of race in admitting applicants. That decision comes on the heels of a lawsuit in 2018 that alleged discrimination against Asian Americans in using affirmative action in the school’s admissions process, and now the issue may be on its way to the Supreme Court. While I’m glad about the court’s decision, the case brings up the necessary conversation about considering race in admissions decisions. Affirmative action policies must stay in place for years to come.

While I do believe there is discrimination in admissions processes, like when it was revealed that admissions officers were rating Asian American applicants on traits like personality and likability, universities can’t stem the issue by eliminating affirmative action. The policy has actually helped disadvantaged communities access college, even though it’s viewed in a negative light. Asian Americans should stand with the policy and “race-conscious” admissions practices to ensure more people get a fair shot at higher education.

Let’s first look at the players behind the lawsuit. The Harvard lawsuit has been brought forward by Students for Fair Admissions, whose public face has become Edward Blum, a conservative legal strategist. Blum believes race should be taken out of admissions completely by striking down affirmative action. So while the individual case against Harvard is simply about Harvard’s practices, it is about the larger issue of affirmative action in college admissions.

We next need to understand the rationale behind affirmative action. The policy was created by former President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to ensure everybody was treated equally no matter their race, creed, color or national origin. For college admissions, this has translated into considering an applicant’s background and whether they come from an underrepresented community in what many universities call a “race-conscious” admissions process. Race-conscious admissions is a net positive for all applicants – while it does not create quotas and diversity requirements, it ensures all applicants’ backgrounds, whether it be racial, ethnic or economic, is taken into account to give a clear and complete image of who an applicant is.

We must take a step back and consider the serious implications of what eliminating “race-conscious” admissions would do. There is educational and socioeconomic inequity in the United States, much of which is tied to race and background. School districts across the country are racially concentrated and tend to be funded by the property taxes of those living in the district – making it more likely that if you live in a poorer neighborhood, you will receive an inadequate education. As it just so happens, most of the poorer neighborhoods across the country are those populated by minority communities. So while technically everyone has legal access to equal educational opportunities, in practice this isn’t so.

Racially-conscious admissions processes were designed to keep that inequality in mind, ensuring that everybody, no matter what level of privilege they had access to, would have the opportunity to reach higher. The court’s decision allow for people of all backgrounds to be given the opportunity to attend one of the best universities in the country, and the decision to uphold their choices impacts everyone in higher education.

Yes, there needs to be conversations around why Harvard’s admissions officers deemed the majority of their Asian American applicants to be low in personality and personal conviction, but that conversation does not need to be had in tandem with affirmative action. This is about more than the Asian American community and our struggles, this is about the countless other Americans who benefit from having access to higher education no matter their background.

Hannah Thacker, a junior majoring in political communication, is the opinions editor.

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