Last year, California was poised to return affirmative action to the state’s institutions of higher education via a state constitutional amendment that would have reversed the devastating impact of the referendum, Proposition 209, which ended affirmative action in the state in the mid-1990’s and which had a devastating impact on underrepresented minority enrollment in California’s public university system for over a decade afterwards. The amendment to restore affirmative action in California would have passed with broad Black, Latino, and Asian American support if not for sudden, torrential political backlash emerging from within the state’s Chinese American community that in effect halted the amendment in its tracks.
This reaction was confounding in part because numerous surveys have now demonstrated that in general, more than two-thirds of the Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community supports affirmative action in higher education and professional sectors. This support occurs largely for two reasons: 1) many within the AANHPI community are still underrepresented on this nation’s college campuses, and 2) most AANHPI recognize the positive benefits that campus diversity efforts have historically provided and continue to provide for all students.
Yet, conservative lobbyists lost no time last year to infiltrate the vocal minority of Asian Americans who still oppose affirmative action, and those lobbyists have organized a series of new legal efforts to end affirmative action: late last year, Edward Blum — the mastermind behind Abigail Fisher’s Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of affirmative action — found some willing Asian American faces to launch a new series of lawsuits. This Friday, a group of over 50 Asian American organizations (which in particular still remains unknown) will hold a press conference at The National Press Club to announce their intention to file an administrative complaint to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice alleging that Harvard University’s admission policies discriminates against Asian Americans.
In their press release, this group claims that their scheduled complaint filing is “the largest action taken by Asian Americans for equal college admission rights in 20 years, joined by more than 50 Chinese, Indian, Korean and Pakistani organizations all over the nation”. This quote is disconcerting for a few reasons. First of all, it suggests that this group of Asian American anti-affirmative action activists presumes to speak for the entire Asian American community despite our demonstrated popular support for (not against) affirmative action; and second that it presumes to do so while failing to represent the voices of Southeast Asian Americans or our Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander allies.
In the last 48 hours, over 120 (and counting) groups (update: now 135+) that serve the AANHPI community around the nation have come together — along with hundreds of impassioned individuals — in a massive coalition to pen an open letter supporting affirmative action in higher education. Representing a broad cross-section of AANHPI civil rights leaders, this group reflects the AANHPI’s dedication to higher education access for all, and the important role that affirmative action programs play in educational justice.