#AAPI groups & writing in support of affirmative action | #IAmNotYourWedge #BlockBlum


With Monday’s news of two lawsuits filed by a conservative anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum hoping to challenge affirmative action policies by framing the debate around purported anti-Asian bias in selective universities’ admissions policies, the AAPI community has been once again thrust into the spotlight in the national affirmative action debate. Opponents of affirmative action suggest that these latest legal efforts are on behalf of the AAPI community. They suggest that most AAPIs are against race-conscious affirmative action, yet several studies reveal that more than 65% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders support affirmative action, both in professional and academic settings.

It’s important that we accurately represent the political opinions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by rendering our support for affirmative action visible.

Earlier this year, I aggregated a list of AAPI groups and writing in support of affirmative action in relation to the SCA5 debate in California. I have replicated and modified that list in this post, and will update it over the next several months with additional writing from around the internet.

Please feel free to link to this post as a resource regarding the attitudes of AAPI on affirmative action in the upcoming national debate on this issue. The abundance of this writing demonstrate clearly that while affirmative action is a polarizing topic within the AAPI community, there is strong and vocal support for race-conscious affirmative action in our community that deserves visibility.


Last updated: Jan 21, 2015

Non-Profit Organizations and Advocacy Groups

Blog Posts, Op-Eds & Other Writing

[M]ost Asian American civil rights and community service organizations maintain that affirmative action is an important way to ensure equity and diversity in higher education, including among disadvantaged Pacific Islanders and Asian groups such as Cambodians and Laotians.

SCA 5 would make a small difference to highly represented student populations like Chinese Americans, but it would make a big difference to improve college access for other highly qualified but underrepresented students such as Hmong, Cambodians, Laotian, Samoans, African Americans, and Latinos among others. Not only would underrepresented Asian American and Pacific Islander students directly benefit from SCA 5, all Asian American students benefit from more diverse campus learning environments.

The benefit of broad public investment on communities of color will be magnified by affirmative action, and should therefore not be won at it’s expense.

SCA5 is an attempt to rectify the negative effect that prop 209 had on minority enrollment in California’s public colleges and universities by allowing race to be considered as one of many factors in admissions decisions. Such admissions policies are in place in many states across the country, and do not involve the imposition of quotas which were determined to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Regents of University of California v. Bakke decision of 1978.

[U]ntil I see Asians rallying with equal fervency against the unfairness of impoverished schools, the many Latino and black kids in underperforming school districts, living in areas of violence, drugs, broken families, and hardship, which, unsurprisingly, leads to it being much more difficult to do well in school (especially if you may be the first kid in your family to go to college), I am going to vote Yes on SCA5.

Affirmative action is more than desirable — it is essential to efforts to combat social inequality. It is a positive and proscriptive, if only partial, solution to toxic social inequalities that would otherwise continue to ossify. It’s time that California put itself back on a path toward social equity.

Ironically, many of the Asian Americans against SCA 5 are in the scientific community, where they see discrimination based on race or accent every day at their labs. For them, the remedy has been simple. They have always relied on working hard, scoring the highest in exams, and displaying their credentials to prove their worth and become successful.

It’s what they know, and it can make sense in some contexts. In a true meritocracy, maybe it should.

But even they know, it doesn’t always work in fighting the racism that people of color still face in America.

For true equity and fairness, SCA 5 and the repeal of Prop. 209 makes sense for all.

The debate over affirmative action raises unique considerations for Asian Americans.  While research has shown that a substantial majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action, some vocal opponents of SCA5 have claimed the bill would have dramatic negative consequences for Asian Americans applicants.  These claims are unfounded.  Speaking both as a law professor who has taught in the UC school system and as a proud Asian American, I believe that Asian Americans should support SCA5 in the California legislature and affirmative action in higher education nationwide. Here are ten reasons:

While I don’t agree with the protests against SCA 5, I do appreciate the fact that so many Asian parents are getting involved politically, signing petitions and voicing their opinions to their elected officials. Your pressure on Asian American State Senators caused them to withdraw their support of the bill, effectively preventing SCA 5 from going to the ballot this November. Perhaps your taste of participatory democracy will help you see that Asian America doesn’t just need engineers and doctors, but also elected leaders, journalists, and organizers. Take some time to learn about the history of Asian America and the leaders who have paved the way for us. Do your research, especially when it comes to matters of law and government. And most importantly, accept your children’s God-given talents and encourage them to flourish in their areas of interest.

While the student body need not be an exact mirror of the state’s population, as a state, we need to do a better job of educating students from underrepresented communities while ensuring that all communities feel heard and respected. Even within the Asian Pacific Islander American community, we need to be doing a better job of providing representation for Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asians in higher education. At UC Berkeley, the rate of admission of Pacific Islanders is even lower than the rate for underrepresented ethnicities as a whole.7

…Some might say that I am arguing against my own self-interest.  But I–an Asian American of Chinese and Korean descent and a son of the great state of California–am actually a beneficiary of the type of community that can be built by measures like SCA5. I am one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately, thanks to the California assembly, students at our public universities can’t say the same.

But this “hardworking immigrants” narrative is only a small part of the story. The opportunities my parents and I had were only possible because of the long fight for civil rights and political recognition led by black Americans. The university doors that I so easily walked through in 1995 were opened by civil rights activists who demanded access for all Americans, not just their own group. Yet many of the anti-affirmative action activists in the Asian-American community seem to have forgotten this important history.

There is a more important reason that Asian-Americans should support affirmative action: basic justice. In surveys, blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans report the same levels of expectation for graduating from college. Blacks and Latinos also invest as much in and value education at the same levels as Asian-Americans, once one controls for differential resources, such as income.

[R]acial diversity is necessary in higher education to create a healthy educational environment for ALL students. Affirmative Action IS NOT a quota system, and it will NOT let in more “underqualified” students. That’s crap. No school will admit any student that is not qualified for that specific school.

Affirmative Action will bring opportunity to the many that are just as qualified to have a rightful place in the UC system. Under-representation is the cold truth of the UC system right now, for blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and yes, even for South Asians and Southeast Asians.

To all the AAPI against SCA5: The nature of the discourse is disappointing. SCA5 will NOT limit the success of Asian Americans in higher education, and it will NOT set a “quota” on AAPI admissions. Equal opportunity for all races in higher education is just and fair.

The white dominated reality of 21st century America requires people of color, including Asian Americans, to stand up for each other. I have been heartened by the many conversations and activists across the country that I’ve met over Twitter on these divisive issues, and the strength they show to stand in solidarity with one another.

Now, this solidarity needs to expand. Asian America can no longer afford to be quiet, and as recent developments have shown, we do have the force to invoke change when we stand up. We just need to stand up for the right reasons now to be on the right side of history.

This Article argues that although there are many real issues that result from the dramatically changing demographics of the country, the dilemma of Asian Americans and affirmative action should be understood as an issue which has been manufactured for political

If you couldn’t already tell from my last name, I’m Asian-American. During the admissions process, I didn’t exactly feel that my race helped me gain my acceptance letters. But do I think that abandoning affirmative action — that “forgetting” about race in the application process — is the route colleges ought to take? In short, no.

The model minority myth, perpetuated by this lawsuit, is among the latest weapons being deployed against Black and Latina/o students.

So how to address the problem – certainly not by throwing rocks at each other, perhaps in frustration over the misdirection of Fisher, but by coming together to discuss the issues, mediate our differences, and go forward on a critical issue for aspiring Asian American and indeed all students in the nation.

What [Edward Blum’s] lawsuit is really is just the latest attempt to derail an apparatus that has given hundreds of thousands of blacks, Hispanics and, yes, Asians a means to climb out of circumstances defined by our society’s historical racism.

As Asian-identified students attending UNC, we believe this lawsuit is misguided and ignores the importance of addressing racial inequalities and histories of discrimination in the United States, especially in the South. Although the current system isn’t perfect, education cannot remain a tool to continue elite and privileged white domination.

As a public institution, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a duty to reflect education toward state demographics — especially within a campus where Asian-Americans are over-represented at 15 percent of the class of 2018. We cannot ignore almost one-third of the state’s population who identifies as African-American or Latina/o. 

Though the lawsuit seems to fight affirmative action, it entirely lacks reasoning in the first place. Harvard University is a private educational institute that does not take public money as major funding source. Getting into Harvard requires applicants to meet some commonly agreed upon criteria, but they should realize that meeting those criteria, such as test scores and perfect GPAs, does not guarantee admission. Many colleges specify a variety of admission requirements but none of them openly says applicants will be admitted if they meet some or all of the requirements. The right of admission should be entirely reserved to colleges themselves, especially private colleges.

…I do not intend to take any stand on affirmative action, nor do I lecture colleges to conduct some specific admission requirements. I defend the rights reserved to colleges in terms of determining their own admission criteria and preferences.

[I]t’s far from clear whether the success of [Edward Blum’s] lawsuit would benefit Asian Americans. We have always been typecast as interchangeable, blank-faced robots, a stereotype that in my view will only get worse if we don’t strive to compete on the “holistic” scale. What is clear is that the legal challenge doesn’t reflect the wishes of the Asian American community.

A sizable number of Asian Americans feel that affirmative action, in college admissions or elsewhere, has hurt them personally. Still, as Asian American columnist and Harvard alum Jeff Yang points out in a recent column, a supermajority of Asian Americans, 69 percent, support affirmative action. So on whose behalf is the lawsuit being filed? Not the vast proportion of Asian Americans.

Despite the stories of disgruntled Asian Americans documented in the Harvard lawsuit, polling dataindicate that the majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action. Numerous studies also document that Asian American college students benefit from engaging with racial diversity during the college years, which prepares Asian American — and all — college students to compete in a global economy. These stories are heard less in the affirmative action battle, but they are no less important.

[T]he public has a very narrow view of what counts as an “excellent” college, often dictated by various national rankings, which artificially inflates the reputation of and rejection rates for a small set of institutions. By being among the most enthusiastic contributors to such market driven demands, as Asian Americans are already overrepresented at elite  institutions, we help sustain an educational industry that thrives on exclusion.

After all, approximately 1,800 Asian Americans are enrolled in undergraduate studies at Harvard whereas over 200,000 Asian Americans are enrolled in community colleges in California alone. Even if we doubled the enrollment of Asian Americans on each of the eight Ivy League campuses, they would still only serve a small fraction of Asian American students compared to community colleges that serve approximately 40 percent of all Asian American undergraduates enrolled in US higher education. In the long run, addressing issues such as high school drop-out, access to financial aid, community college transfer, or remedial education — which directly affect a greater number of Asian American families — will have a more positive and lasting societal impact.

I wouldn’t be an English professor today were it not for affirmative action… Far from being racist, the rationale for affirmative action is, in fact, antiracist. According to law professor Cheryl Harris, affirmative action has been the only institutional intervention against the entitlements historically derived from white identity.

Community Leaders

  • Henry Der, former Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction and former Chair of the California Postsecondary Education Commission – reported here
  • Judy Ki, Commissioner, California Commission on Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs – reported here

Is this post missing anything? Please leave a comment with more links, and I will update this post!

Act Now: Please sign 18MillionRising’s petition here: Edward Blum, We Won’t Be Used For Your Racist Agenda!

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  • ScottD2k

    Charleston, I don’t see where you think that Asians are such an special group that should jump ahead of everyone for admission to elite universities. Sure, Asians tend to get high test scores for a variety of reasons, some that have to do somewhat with cultural OCD and somewhat many incidents of documented cheating. Asians also present a lot of negatives to admission committees. American culture values independence, creativity, extroversion, ability to think outside of the box, and strong English language skills. Unfortunately many applicants do not exhibit these skills. Often they don’t participate in university activities or demonstrate leadership skills. Also affirmative action is for groups that are currently underrepresented and disadvantaged. In my opinion universities are already filled with unqualified Asian students, who lack soft skills necessary for future success.

  • Kint

    You did not read what I wrote. I absolutely do not “seem to think test scores are everything.” Regardless of how Harvard admits their applicants, they still has to conform to the Constitution and 1964 Civil Rights act.

  • Kint

    “In my opinion universities are already filled with unqualified Asian
    students, who lack soft skills necessary for future success.” Is that why Google is 30% Asian, Facebook is 40% Asian, and there are similar percentages at Twitter, and other tech companies? This is also true in the startup world.

  • ScottD2k

    So sue Harvard. I assure you are are not Harvard quality. NOT even close.

  • ScottD2k

    Right, they will take jobs at Google, but it was not started by Asians.

  • Actually, Kint, you should read this post, which I think is pretty interesting evidence counter to the assertion of a cap quota at Harvard.

    The comparison to Caltech is, increasingly, something I find problematic. For many reasons, Caltech is a school that I think cannot be used as reasonable comparison to admission rates at other schools, particularly schools elsewhere in the country. 1) Caltech is in California, versus on the East Coast, so the admissions pools will be demographically different, 2) Caltech is a highly specialized technical school so comparisons to Harvard are fraught given the very different majors available at the school, 3) and most importantly, Caltech receives an extremely small fraction of applications, and admits less than 3.4% of its applicants. The entire campus is smaller than Harvard’s incoming class. With a population size so small, demographic numbers are highly skewed simply on the basis of differing sample size, when compared to a school at least 5x as large and with an applicant pool roughly 50x as large. Frankly, I’m at the point where I think Caltech makes for an extremely poor model school for concluding much of anything with regard to the affirmative action debate: in scientific terms, it’s basically a sample without a control. It’s certainly disingenuous to attempt to compare Caltech to any of the Ivies.

  • ScottD

    So sue Harvard. I assure you are are not Harvard quality. NOT even close.

    This comment, which is a clear ad hominem attack, is a direct violation of this site’s comment policy and has warranted banning from this site.

  • Kint

    Where do you stand on the fact that some studies have shown that Asian students need to score 140 more points on the SAT than a white applicant? Also, the MIT Asian student body is 30% – that is closer to Cal Tech’s 40% than Harvard’s 20%, so I don’t think it’s entirely disenguous to compare Cal Tech to the Ivies, since MIT ‘caucuses’ with the Ivies and is on the East Coast. But perhaps MIT is a better comparison to Cal Tech, since they are both technical schools.

  • MinnMom

    Yes it most certainly does. For e.g. The average MCAT score and GPA of an Asian rejected from Medical School is higher than the MCAT and GPA of an African American or Hispanic that is admitted. This data is readily available at the AAMC website.

    If we want to help URM’s, let us equalize spending on students from primary to high school, offer free tutoring, etc so that they are all equally prepared. The downside of Affirmative Action is that it offers no relief to the thousands of Hmong, Laotian and Vietnamese students who come from dire circumstances but gives preference to white Cubans that have Hispanic names and the rich children of African dictators.

  • MinnMom

    BTW, I’m opposed to legacy admissions too and those that use wealth/celebrity to buy their way into colleges.

    College admission shoul be pure meritocracy so that every student knows what is expected of him/her.

  • MinnMom

    Approximately 2/3 of black students at Harvard are from foreign countries, mostly from Africa. In what way are they victims of the legacy of slavery?

  • MinnMom

    I found it puzzling as well. As an Asian, I don’t know of anyone in my circle of friends that favored AA.

  • MinnMom

    If AA simply meant that the college chooses the URM between two students that are equally qualifed, then I think most Asian Americans would be supportive. But that is not the reality of how AA is practiced today.

    If you look at the Epsenshade study, you will see that with all things being equal, An Asian American needs 290 points more (1400 point old SAT) than an African American to gain entrance.

  • That’s a misinterpretation and overextension of the Espenshade data.

  • Jerry Manderbilt

    it says a lot that people like you, who preach hard work, instead of being impressed by URM kids who manage to do at least 90% as well as your special snowflakes with access to a fraction of your kid’s resources, instead start howling to the high heavens about how babby’s rightful space at Cal or UCLA or whatever was stolen by some undeserving brown or black-skinned untermensch

  • Jerry Manderbilt

    sorry about your imaginary right to go to Cal or Harvard or wherever, but as an Asian-American this reads to me as entitled rage over not getting in and scrambling to find any culprit but yourself

  • MinnMom

    Feel free to correct my error.

  • MinnMom

    If we want to level the playing field, then lets give free tutoring, etc. in high schools for kids that come from broken homes. Let’s equalize the funding of schools throughout the country. But lowering standards is not the answer. Asians have to perform at a level that is beyond the level of even whites. How is that fair to a Cambodian or Laotian kid that came here on a boat speaking not one word of English?
    Why would you have a problem with what I’ve suggested. Not pushing kids to perform to their maximum potential is of no help to them and is actually detrimental in the long run. One’s brain is like everything else. You lose it if you don’t use it.

  • Espenshade extrapolated an SAT score based on school selectivity (number of admits vs number of applicants) by race. Doing this overemphasizes the influence of SAT on assessing student quality or admissions decisions, when we know both assumptions to be erroneous; Espenshade himself acknowledges that his manipulation a of the data simply ignore all non-quantifiable metrics like student geography, essay and references (all of which contribute to student assessment under holistic review). Further, he did not measure SAT score by race, but tried to back-apply an SAT score to his selectivity findings. To conclude from his study that an Asian Anerican student needs X number of SAT points for admission is an quite simply a misunderstanding of his findings and his data — one that can be debunked by simply looking at average SAT scores at these schools and finding a far smaller spread by race than would be predicted by your own summary of Espenshade’s study.

    Espenshade was looking at selectivity by race. He then presumes selectivity has something to do with student quality (a bad assumption) and tries to express this by SAT score (a bizarre decision leading to frequent misinterpretation). Either way, your assessment of Espenshade — ‘all things being equal, an Asian student needs 290 more points’ — is more egregious a misinterpretation than most since that’s not even close to what Espenshade studied or what he concluded.

  • 1) who says I am against improved k-12 public education?

    2) SAT scores set a baseline above which all students are considered qualified. Holistic review is a secondary process to identify admits within a much larger pool of qualified applicants, intended to acknowledge the limited value of SAT to measure anything beyond a broad cut-off point. Therefore no standards are lowered by admission of students with slightly lower SAT scores on average so long as those scores are above some threshold. Which they typically are.

  • whychooseaside

    Take Affirmative Action with a grain of salt. There are probably lots of Asian applicants who apply to Harvard. We crunch numbers on race than where people live, this makes Asian applicants a majority through the data received by Harvard office of admissions. With that in mind, you are talking about using such to get more Asians into Harvard.

    Maybe the system is already racist to begin with. It will select a quota of applicants regardless if one race has better applicants then another.

  • Dao Lang

    Legal Affirmative Action is never an issue. Don’t let them confuse you. It’s the illegal affirmative action that is hurting Asian Americans, aka low performance white kids with rich parents. These spoiled rats are ruining this country and they think that they are somehow entitled to all the goodies. This should stop.

  • Jennifer Ho

    Long time reader, first time commenter–Not sure if you are updating this post or adding to a new one, but I also wrote an Op-Ed for UNC’s student newspaper about the model minority myth and this deplorable affirmative action challenge: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2014/11/letter-the-model-minority-myth-is-objectionable