BREAKING: Asian American Students File to Join Harvard Lawsuit and Defend Affirmative Action

Nicole Gon Ochi, Supervising Attorney of Advancing Justice - LA, speaks at a press conference on December 13, 2016. (Photo credit: Facebook / AAAJ-LA)
Nicole Gon Ochi, Supervising Attorney of Advancing Justice – LA, speaks at a press conference on December 13, 2016. (Photo credit: Facebook / AAAJ-LA)

Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA) held a press conference moments ago to announce that lawyers with the group will represent two Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) high school students who wish to present their support of race-conscious affirmative action admission before the Supreme Court if and when the justices hear arguments next year about an anti-affirmative action lawsuit filed against the school by Edward Blum, the architect behind Abigail Fisher’s earlier failed attempts to dismantle affirmative action before the Court.

The two AAPI high school students represented by AAAJ-LA are current applicants to Harvard University, and both believe that race-conscious affirmative action is beneficial; AAAJ-LA filed paperwork yesterday to help the students join an existing group of diverse students who will have “amicus plus” status to present their support for affirmative action in a pending anti-affirmative action case, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc v. President and Fellows of Harvard College.

In the Students for Fair Admissions case, lobbyist Edward Blum specifically recruited disgruntled Asian American students to serve as the next Abigail Fisher, in hopes of weaponizing a stereotyped, Model Minority Myth narrative of Asian Americans against other students of colour. Blum’s lawsuit alleging bias at Harvard was ultimately consolidated around the case of a still-unnamed Chinese American woman.

“Asian Americans are being exploited, and not to the Asian American community’s benefit,” said Jay Chen, a Harvard Alumnus and Mt. San Antonio College Trustee, at today’s press conference.

“We’ve seen increasing efforts by the Right-wing to use Asian Americans as a wedge to dismantle affirmative action,” said Betty Hung, Policy Director of AAAJ-LA, noting Blum’s history of organizing other failed legal assaults on affirmative action policies such as with Fisher. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled against Fisher in her case against the University of Texas. (Disclosure: Last year, this blog joined 160 national Asian American organizations in an amicus brief filed in support of affirmative action in regards to the Fisher case.)

As has been previously outlined in numerous writings on this blog, race-conscious affirmative action refers to several policies to address campus diversity in college admissions, including the narrow and limited consideration of race as a ‘factor of a factor‘. Hung, a Harvard alumnus and a beneficiary of affirmative action, noted that affirmative action has been crucial for increasing classroom diversity and higher education access to the benefit of students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, including for Asian American and Pacific Islander students.

Studies have shown that classroom diversity positively impacts student learning, problem-solving, racial tolerance, and self-esteem. The Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education, and the Department of Education has dismissed separate complaints filed by a coalition of predominantly Chinese American groups against Harvard and other Ivy League schools alleging bias in their affirmative action practices. In contrast to the efforts of those anti-affirmative action activists, surveys of the Asian American community routinely show that more than two-thirds of Asian Americans support race-conscious affirmative action in colleges and universities.

“In the days since the election, there has been an escalation of racism and hate incidents targeting non-whites, including our community,” said Karin Wang, Vice President of Programs and Communications at AAAJ-LA in an interview with Reappropriate. “Asian American churches have been defaced with swatiskas. Asian Americans have been physically assaulted and told to “go back to your country”. Threatening notes have been left on cars or homes. The importance of race and embracing racial diversity has never been more urgent. College campuses are often one of the most racially diverse places that people experience in their lifetimes and our current political reality argues for the need to embrace diversity, not reject it.”

“It’s important for everybody to have diversity in the classroom,” said Nicole Gon Ochi, Supervising Attorney with AAAJ-LA, at today’s press event. She went on to explain that AAAJ-LA filed a motion yesterday to help the two AAPI high school students join a diverse group of fourteen Black, Latinx and Asian American Harvard students who have already received special “amicus plus” status to present evidence before the Court on how affirmative action at Harvard has positively impacted them. If the motion is approved, the two AAPI high school students would join the group of “amicus plus” students as the group’s only AAPIs who are also currently Harvard applicants. Altogether, these brave “amicus plus” students are needed to ensure that the Supreme Court hears the voices of those who are most directly impacted by affirmative action policies at Harvard and other schools — namely, students.

One of the two AAPI students hoping to receive “amicus plus” status in the case is 17-year-old Jason Fong, whose compelling writing on a variety of racial justice topics enjoys a permanent position in my weekly reading list. Last year, Fong started the wildly popular trending hashtag #MyAsianAmericanStory, which curated the experiences of Asian Americans on Twitter to discuss issues of racial justice as they related to the 2016 presidential election.

A high school senior, Fong recently submitted his application to Harvard for the 2018 academic year. When asked about his decision to file a motion for “amicus plus” status in the anti-affirmative action lawsuit against the school, Fong reflected on the lessons he learned while living in California during the height of the SCA-5 debate, when Asian American Californians launched a vehement grassroots campaign to stop a state bill that would have reinstituted race-conscious affirmative action at the state’s public universities. The absence of affirmative action has dramatically reduced racial diversity at UC schools.

“I was shocked by the misinformation about affirmative action in our community during the SCA-5 debate,” said Fong. “Our community needs to reflect upon our shared identity as Asian Americans, especially in light of recent lawsuits by a few disappointed Chinese Americans who blame race-conscious admissions programs for their failure to gain admission to their dream schools.”

While Fong hopes to be accepted to Harvard so that he might hear lectures from the legendary Dr. Cornel West and immerse himself in the campus’ tradition of student activism, Fong says that he is prepared to receive a rejection from the highly elite institution, which currently accepts less than 5% of its applicants. 95% of applicants, Fong noted, are not accepted to the school, including many highly talented student artists, athletes and academics.

Meanwhile, Fong noted that Harvard — like most Ivy League schools — routinely accepts many Asian American students; last year, 22% of admitted freshmen at Harvard were Asian American. Fong argued that to attack policies that help create a positive, diverse, and inclusive learning environment for these and all other Harvard students is counter-productive. After all, Asian Americans have historically benefited from affirmative action programs in higher education. Among those beneficiaries are Fong’s father, David Fong, who came to America as a first-generation low-income immigrant college student and who was also invited to share his experiences at today’s press conference.

“If we really want to confront discrimination, we should be working to promote programs like affirmative action that work for inclusivity,” said Jason Fong.

“None of us are here without help. None of us can say that we are the products of individual effort. We can’t forget that we are all products of history and social activism. We are here because people fought for us to be here. We are here because people took to the streets and forged changes in immigration and social policy. We are here because of programs like affirmative action.”

To view full video of today’s press conference, go here.

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  • MelaninManson

    For people interested in mismatch theory, I recommend the following articles:

    1) “Rodrigo’s Riposte: The Mismatch Theory of Law School Admissions”, by Richard Delgado, Syracuse Law Review, Vol. 57, Issue 3 (2007), pp. 637-656

    2) “Still Hazy After All These Years: The Data and Theory behind Mismatch”, by Wiliam Kidder and Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Texas Law Review, Vol. 92, Issue 4 (March 2014), pp. 895-942

    3) “Mismatched or Counted Out – What’s Missing from Mismatch Theory and Why it Matters”, by Stacy L. Hawkins, University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 17, Issue 3 (February 2015), pp. 855-910

    4) “Open Water: Affirmative Action, Mismatch Theory, and Swarming Predators – A Response to Richard Sander”, by Andre Cummings, Brandeis Law Journal, Vol. 44, Issue 4 (2006), pp. 795-864

  • MelaninManson

    Soul _Survivor, mismatch theory has been repeatedly debunked; to assert otherwise betrays a lack of familiarity with legal scholarship on the subject. I’ve provided some useful articles to start your education; happy reading.

  • pzed

    A person’s ability to excel in many things can be easily quantified:

    I assume you’ve heard of the marshmallow test too, which is about as easy a test as you could think of. Maybe you’d prefer to think people have some agency in their lives, and I’m not saying they don’t have any at all. But you’re living in a world of make believe if you think everyone is a blank slate and everyone can become a Bill Gates if only society treated them fairly.

    And of course Asians are harmed by affirmative action. It’s kind of beyond me how you could argue against this.

    If black graduation rates in general are 1/3 below that of whites then some of those admissions could have been better used for other groups that were more likely to graduate just based on opportunity cost. The fact that you’re denying Asians are harmed in the first place plainly exposes your ideological bias.

  • MelaninManson

    Pzed, among the many problems with your argument, you suggest that some Black college admissions “could have been better used for other groups that were more likely to graduate”. In essence, you believe that previous college graduation metrics should lead college admissions officers to reject new Black student applicants they would otherwise accept, simply on the basis of their race.

    To deny college application acceptance to incoming Black students based on predictions about their likely academic success based on efforts made by other students from previous years, students with no identifiable connection to the applicant outside of racial classification based on skin color is grotesque.

    Pzed, To follow your logic on better use of university admissions is to reject affirmative action in favor of overt racial discrimination. Your argument is unsound, and it illustrates the degree to which anti-affirmative action hysteria corrodes the Asian American community from within. In the roughly forty years since Bakke was argued, we’ve watched Asian American populations at selective colleges and universities balloon exponentially.

    To argue that the limited use of race in college admissions harms Asian American applicants is to argue against this recent history. It is to argue against the present day experiences of those who study and work in higher education today.

    The only argument one can make in favor of your position is that we do not know how Asian American student populations would fare during the last few decades without affirmative action. However, what we do know is that before the Civil Rights Movement pushed the federal government to accept integration as a guiding federal principle, Asian American graduates from selective American colleges and universities were rare.

    When American colleges and universities did not place any emphasis on diversity and inclusion, they largely shunned Asian Americans, Blacks, and most everyone who wasn’t a straight White male from a wealthy family. Asian American affirmative action opponents assume that without affirmative action, America’s best colleges and universities will remain places where enough institutional interest in diversity will exist going forward to preserve their demographic’s inclusion in the academy.

    This assumption is not grounded in history. Any fair judgment of affirmative action’s effect on Asian Americans must regard affirmative action as an overwhelming positive, since federal pressure to diversify student bodies and faculty have convinced our nation’s higher learning centers to embrace cosmopolitanism and champion social diversity.

    In today’s multicultural moment, in a consciously diverse America, Asian Americans matriculate into selective colleges and universities in massive numbers. Before that push, before affirmative action, Asian Americans did not attend those institutions with any regularity.

    Affirmative action proves a clear positive for Asian Americans, Pzed. If you have trouble with this it may indicate your familiarity with recent higher education history.

  • Soul_Survivor

    Readers of this blog – Discrimination against Asian-Americans is NOT acceptable. In a nation that has historically discriminated against Chinese-Americans, we cannot allow for exclusion to continue to happen because someone is of Chinese descent. Just as quotas against Jewish-Americans and anti-semitism in the 20th century were NOT acceptable, quotas against Chinese-Americans are their exclusion from segments of society today is NOT acceptable.

    Just as their predecessors of the 1920s always denied the existence of “Jewish quotas,” top officials at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the other Ivy League schools today strongly deny the existence of “Asian quotas.” But there exists powerful statistical evidence to the contrary.

    Each year, American universities provide their racial enrollment data to the National Center for Education Statistics, which makes this information available online. After the Justice Department closed an investigation in the early 1990s into charges that Harvard University discriminated against Asian-American applicants, Harvard’s reported enrollment of Asian-Americans began gradually declining, falling from 20.6 percent in 1993 to about 16.5 percent over most of the last decade.

    This decline might seem small. But these same years brought a huge increase in America’s college-age Asian population, which roughly doubled between 1992 and 2011, while non-Hispanic white numbers remained almost unchanged. Thus, according to official statistics, the percentage of Asian-Americans enrolled at Harvard fell by more than 50 percent over the last two decades, while the percentage of whites changed little. This decline in relative Asian-American enrollment was actually larger than the impact of Harvard’s 1925 Jewish quota, which reduced Jewish freshmen from 27.6 percent to 15 percent.

    The percentages of college-age Asian-Americans enrolled at most of the other Ivy League schools also fell during this same period, and over the last few years Asian enrollments across these different universities have converged to a very similar level and remained static over time. This raises suspicions of a joint Ivy League policy to restrict Asian-American numbers to a particular percentage.

    Meanwhile, the California Institute of Technology follows a highly selective but strictly race-neutral admissions policy, and its enrollment of Asian-Americans has grown almost exactly in line with the growth of the Asian-American population.

    The last 20 years have brought a huge rise in the number of Asians winning top academic awards in our high schools or being named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. It seems quite suspicious that none of trends have been reflected in their increased enrollment at Harvard and other top Ivy League universities.

    Some individuals have suggested that Asian-Americans no longer apply to the Ivy League in large numbers and this explains their reduced presence. The prestigious University of California system routinely releases the racial totals for its college applicants, which allows the public to examine admission rates by race. During the 1980s, Ivy League colleges sometimes did so as well, but more recently have begun keeping these figures secret. If Harvard and the other Ivy League schools simply released their racial application totals for the last 20 years, we might easily resolve the disturbing suspicion that they have quietly implemented a system of “Asian-American quotas.”

  • albertlin

    Are Cambodians, Hmongs, and Laotians considered a different race for admissions purposes? Are Bangladeshis considered different from Indians?

  • albertlin

    Just looked it up myself. In the Common Application – there’s only a single box for *all* Asians, whether they’re South Asian or East Asian or Southeast Asian.

    As you seem to be aware, Cambodians (as well as Hmongs, Laotians, and Bangladeshis) have very different profiles and they are far from the East / South Asian “model minority” stereotype. Their poverty rates, college education rates, incomes, etc all are worse than that of whites:

    How are they affected by affirmative action policies?

  • Zhou Taylor

    “wealthy, privileged Whites and Chinese may respond to the global economy with a false bravado and unearned elitism.” How presumptuous. You do know that the majority of students in the selective high schools in New York City qualify for free school lunch, right?

  • Zhou Taylor

    Definitions of merit change for Asian Americans

    In a 2013 study, the sociologist Frank L. Samson found that white Californians’ views on meritocracy changed based on demographics. Initially, the majority of those sampled agreed that college admissions should generally be determined by objective measures like standardized
    test scores and GPAs.

    But when half of the group was told that the percentage of Asian American undergraduates at UC schools was more than double the percentage of Asian Americans living in California as a
    whole, the respondents switched to supporting more-subjective “intangibles,” like leadership and community involvement.

    “The results here suggest that the importance of meritocratic criteria for whites varies depending upon certain circumstances,” Samson concluded in the study. “To wit, white Californians do not hold a principled commitment to a fixed standard of merit.”

  • Zhou Taylor

    Former Dean on ‘holistic’ College Admissions

    A “tag” is the proverbial golden ticket for a student applying to an elite institution. A tag identifies a student as a high priority for the institution. Typically students with tags are recruited athletes, children of alumni, children of donors or potential donors, or students who are connected to the well connected. The lack of a tag can hinder an otherwise strong, high-achieving student. Asian American students typically don’t have these tags.

  • juan

    These two are TRAITORS and should be held in such contempt. Asians come from a history of limitation and discrimination, from the Chinese Exclusion Acts, to the Japanese Internment camps, to being paid less on railroads, to lynch mobs telling them to go back to China. This is yet another horrendous race-based attack designed to target the Asian community. Another example that the only reward for hard work is just more bias. The only, I repeat only decent solution: the BEST get into college, regardless of race. NO advantage. NO unfair biases. Just the best. if they happen to be all black, all Asian, all white, all European, African, Indian, Mexican… whatever. The real solution, the REAL solution here is to eliminate the root problem, which is income inequality, school inequality, etc. The solution isn’t to just shove some people with slightly worse grade into college and remove some with slightly better grades to boast about “diversity.” Instead, why not work on making high schools or middle schools more equal and fair instead of denying a hardworking person their spot at a college just because of their race? Seems racist to me (and anyone else with half a brain!)

  • juan

    they are not helped when studies show that African Americans receive a +3.8 and Asians a -3.4 on the ACT when it comes to advantage. So say some Asian works their butt off and gets a 36. Another person of another minority also works hard and earns a 32. Say that person happens to be black. This means that the way colleges look at it, the Asian, though scoring 4 points higher, actually did WORSE.