This seems a timely observation since something else also happened yesterday: the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) — which describes itself as “the proven leader in fighting for Asian-American children’s equal education rights” — announced that it has filed a third complaint against Ivy League universities alleging that the schools’ use of holistic review during college admissions discriminates against Asian American applicants.
Describing the complaint lodged with the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Education at the beginning of August, AACE alleged that Cornell University and Columbia University had discriminated against applicant Hubert Zhao when they did not offer him an acceptance to their schools this past spring. The complaint speculates that Zhao was either the victim of racial discrimination, or of political retaliation; Hubert also happens to be the son of AACE president, YuKong Zhao.
When the matter comes under contest, affirmative action’s Asian American advocates readily point to disparities in higher education access for particular Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. According to a 2015 report on AANHPI higher education in California:
Filipinx, Thai, Laotian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students are admitted into the University of California (UC) system at rates significantly lower than the general admit rate.
Filipinxs, Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Guamanians/Chamorros, and Fijians are, relative to their overall population, underrepresented in the UC system.
Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, Guamanian/Chamorro, Samoan, and Laotian adult individuals (25 years and older) possess bachelor degrees (or higher) at rates lower than the overall state average of 31%.
The importance of noting these disparities cannot be overstated. However, to one particular Asian American audience, this may be thoroughly unconvincing. Persuasive as they might be to a broader audience, the typical pro-affirmative action argument from AANHPI advocacy groups fails to persuade some Asian Americans who oppose affirmative action because they leave an elephant in the room unaddressed.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a “no brainer” for AAPI advocates to support data disaggregation. Previous efforts to disaggregate AAPI demographic data — including, most notably, successful efforts to disaggregate Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in Census data as a separate racial category — have yielded a plethora of valuable data concerning these communities. Activists have subsequently mobilized to develop programs specifically focused on the NH/PI community. For a community long damaged by our invisibility, AAPI must agree: efforts to improve data collection around the AAPI community are a good thing.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito begins his dissenting opinion to Fisher v. University of Texas by pronouncing that “Something strange has happened since our prior decision on this case.” He wonders how the University of Texas (UT) could emerge victorious from its contest with Abigail Fisher over the constitutionality of its race-conscious admissions policy without addressing “the important issues in the case” raised by the Court three years ago (Fisher II 28). Then and now, UT did not meet Justice Alito’s strict scrutiny when explaining why affirmative action is a compelling interest for the government–the only reason allowed under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause for the state to make decisions based on the race and ethnicity of an individual. This time around, however, Justice Alito has a new reason to be skeptical.
Justice Alito devotes significant attention to his point that UT invalidates its compelling interest claim by discriminating against Asian Americans. “How can a diverse student body contribute to the greater good,” he seems to ask, “when Asian American diversity doesn’t count?” This would be a fair question if not for copious evidence refuting the notion that affirmative action discriminates against Asian Americans (see the amici submitted on behalf of UT representing over one-hundred Asian American organizations, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Asian Americans Advancing Justice). In this blog I want to draw attention to another, rather obvious flaw in Justice Alito’s thinking. Abigail Fisher isn’t an Asian American.
The Supreme Court handed down their long-anticipated decision on Fisher v University of Texas II yesterday, eight years after Abigail Fisher (who is White) first filed suit challenging holistic review at the University of Texas. Fisher alleged that the University’s holistic admissions process, which includes race-conscious affirmative action, denied her admission to the school. The Court had previously heard Fisher’s case, and essentially punted it back to the lower courts asking them to take a second look. When the Fifth Circuit again ruled in favour of the University of Texas, the Supreme Court was once again challenged to weigh in.
There was a lot at stake with this decision in the case now known as Fisher II: a decision against the University of Texas’ admissions program could effectively dismantle affirmative action programs across the country.
But, in a 4-3 vote, the Supreme Court elected to reaffirm the Court’s earlier perspectives on affirmative action as outlined in the landmark Grutter case which first explicitly established the “compelling interest” of colleges and universities to address issues of campus diversity through the limited and narrow use of racial information.