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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