Today, a group of between 40 and 50 Asian American organizations will hold two coordinated press conferences in Washington DC and in California to announce the filing of an administrative complaint to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and to the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Justice, alleging that Harvard University’s admission policies discriminates against Asian American applicants.
In response, a coalition of over 135 Asian American, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander organizations — as well as hundreds of concerned AANHPI individuals — issued an open letter expressing support for affirmative action policies in higher education and launched the website AsianAmericanCivilRights.org. That letter reads in part:
Affirmative action policies help to level the playing field and promote diverse university learning environments that are essential in our multiracial and multicultural society. Our democracy benefits from a diverse and educated populace and workforce.
Those who are truly committed to equal educational opportunity should demonstrate real leadership and reinvest in higher education throughout the nation to expand access, affordability, equity, and student success. Decades of disinvestment in higher education across the country have made college less accessible for all students, especially students of color. We call for unity in standing up for the future of our youth and realizing the promise of equal opportunity for all in the United States.
Today, the two U.S. Civil Rights Commissioners on the US Commission on Civil Rights who are Asian American — Michael Yaki and Karen Narasaki — issued their own statement on today’s scheduled announcement of a formal civil rights complaint against Harvard.
STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONERS YAKI AND NARASAKI
While we have not reviewed the actual complaint against Harvard University, we hope that this is a sincerely raised issue and not a back door attack on affirmative action that attempts to pit Asian Americans against other minorities, as other efforts have been. Like a majority of Asian Americans, we stand together as long-time supporters of affirmative action. Affirmative action creates opportunities for students disadvantaged by race and circumstances, and a diverse student body ensures that the next generation of Americans is exposed to the variety of life experiences and backgrounds that will help them to build vibrant communities and successfully work in the global economy.
Neither of us believes that any racial or ethnic group should be subjected to quotas. Nor do we believe that test scores alone entitle anyone to admission at Harvard. Students are more than their test scores and grades. Well-constructed and properly implemented admissions programs further our principles of equal opportunity. While we understand that some programs may be imperfect, or even need substantial reform, we do not support any attempt to eliminate affirmative action programs at Harvard or any institution of higher learning.
We will closely review the complaint and the University’s response and closely monitor developments in this situation.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has previously found the argument that racial disparities in admissions are de facto evidence of discriminatory quotas to be unpersuasive. No new evidence has thus far been presented by anti-affirmative action lobbyists since those findings. Even within that largely mealy-mouthed report (which concluded with a recommendation that law schools warn their minority applicants that they may be less likely to succeed upon graduation than their White or Asian peers), Commissioner Yaki issued a blistering criticism of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ for its equivocation on this issue, and vocalized a powerful defense of affirmative action. Characterizing anti-affirmative action’s Mismatch Theory as “flawed, peer-rejected data”, Yaki wrote in his dissent:
The idea that minority students should be ‘warned’ through mandatory disclosures by law schools that they face a tougher road filled with failure is exactly the type of stereotype threat denounced by serious social science scholars of today. To follow the reasoning fo the majority, we might as well hang a sign saying ‘black and other minorities need not apply’ on the doorways of Yale, Harvard, and other elite schools. If this were the mind-set fifty years ago, we would still have segregated universities, high schools, and elementary schools. To follow the reasoning of the majority to its logical conclusion, separate is not inherently unequal, and so long as black and other minorities find admission and success at some other institution the resegregation of elite universities is not, in itself, unconstitutional.
In the midst of this and other arguments regarding the appropriate nature of race-conscious remedies and programs, there yet remain important areas for the Commission to explore that go unheeded by the majority. And these areas point out the fact, which the majority refuses to admit, that race is still a flashpoint in American society. Race, unfortunately, still matters, the majority’s protestations notwithstanding. And unless we continue to confront the issues of race and point the way to progress forward, we will continue to engage in endless and circular, and ultimately irrelevant, debates over the remedies of the past.
To be frank, this latest anti-affirmative action complaint against Harvard seems like another example of this “endless and circular… debate over the remedies of the past”. So long as some among us continue to want to rehash settled questions — such as whether or not today’s affirmative action policies includes unconstitutional quotas (they do not) — we will never be able to move forward to advance actual racial equality for all.