It has become common for any person who has experienced some form of rejection to cry discrimination.
Didn’t get the job or got terminated from your position?
Consider fat-shaming as the cause.
Received a C on a paper when you are certain it was A-material?
Blame your boss’s disapproval of your political views.
Rejected from your first-choice university?
Well, in this case, you might just be Asian-American.
Of course, the first two scenarios are mere representations of the victim complex that has run rampant across American youth, and even seeped into the adults who did such a poor job teaching those adolescent-adults the merit-based rat race that exists in the professional world.
However, the third example– the case of the Asian-American and college admissions– is one of the last examples of true systematic discrimination in America.
Asian-Americans, whether first-generation immigrants or their descendants, have continually defied the notion that America denies upward social mobility and its benefits to its lower classes. Scholars such as Thomas Sowell, a black man who grew up in Harlem, have long studied different races and cultures, and frequently point to Asian-Americans as direct evidence that any group can succeed, and that contrary narratives are false:
“Immigrants from Asia are among a number of groups, including American-born Mormons, whose achievements totally undermine the notion that upward mobility can seldom be realized in America” - Thomas Sowell. (Townhall)
A significant aspect of the success of Asians in America is the expectation that second-generation Asian-Americans, and often the first generation as well, will achieve high marks in primary school, in turn earning opportunities at the nation’s top universities. This mentality of academic achievement at almost any cost has proven a thread throughout most of the Asian-American community.
There are many metrics by which Asian and Asian-American achievement in higher education can be illustrated.
49% of Asian Americans aged 25-plus have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 28% of the U.S. population. Asian immigrants tend to fare even better, with 61% of recent Asian immigrants aged 25 to 64 attaining a college degree.
This achievement has led to an improvement in their financial standing and quality of life, both indicators that their descendants will have even more opportunity than their parents. Only 11.9% of Asian Americans are in poverty, below the national average of 12.8%. Meanwhile, the median household income of Asian Americans is $66,000, while the general public’s median income is $49,800.
It is also noteworthy that 57% of Chinese and Chinese-Americans, the immigrant group enrolling in American universities at the highest rate, say that they are doing ‘much better’ in terms of living standards than their parents were at the same age. (statistics provided by Pew)
Much of this financial success is due to this group- particularly international students, most whom hail from China- enrolling in STEM programs at higher rates than their American, non-Asian counterparts. This has contributed to the stereotype that Asians abound in universities such as MIT and Cal Tech.
The statistics show that these stereotypes are borne of reality:
‘At the private California Institute of Technology…more than 40% of students were Asian-American in 2013, up from 26% in 1993.’ (Wall Street Journal)
In addition, California’s other top state universities have seen Asian enrollment increase steadily, resulting in a rate that is far higher than their percentage of the American population. Keep in mind that, according to the 2010 census, only 5.6% of the American population identifies as Asian or Asian-American. Still, Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, and in California, this has been reflected in an increased enrollment in top universities.
California has proven to be an exception, and there is one primary reason why: ‘a 1990s referendum banned the state’s public universities from considering race as an admissions factor.’ (WSJ)
Removing race as a factor has meant a racially-blind admissions process for California’s public state universities, making it one of the few truly meritocratic college admissions processes in America. As a result, at Cal-Berkeley and UCLA, Asian-Americans account for more than 30% of the respective student populations.
Yet, this increasing percentage of Asians enrolling in California’s first-rate public universities has not been reflected in universities nationwide, most of which notably do consider race in the admissions process. The Ivy League, long a pillar of academic achievement and resulting professional success in America, has come under scrutiny for their stagnant rate of Asian enrollment, even facing a lawsuit alleging discriminatory practices.
Diversity has rivaled merit as a guiding principle of admissions at many schools, and Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are no exception. This is not only a threat to the schools’ collective reputation as home to the best and brightest- it is discrimination in the name of diversity.
Cal Tech’s Asian-American enrollment has increased from 26% in 1993 to over 40% since race-based considerations were removed from the admissions process. Contrarily, Harvard’s 20% Asian-American enrollment in 1993 has gradually declined to about 16.5% over most of the last decade. Other Ivy League schools show trends similar to Harvard’s stagnation.
Make no mistake, Asian-Americans are not applying to Harvard at lesser rates than California’s state schools, even as the Asian population in America has rapidly increased. They are simply being held to higher standards than their non-Asian counterparts, and many more-than-qualified applicants are being rejected as a result.
The Supreme Court has ruled that racially-based quotas in college admissions are unconstitutional, but has continued to essentially uphold these quotas under the thinly-veiled guise of a “holistic” approach to admissions. This decision was again upheld by Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2016’s Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. According to Kennedy, colleges should be given deference due to the “benefits that flow from student body diversity”:
"The decision to pursue ‘the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity’ … is, in substantial measure, an academic judgment to which some, but not complete, judicial deference is proper."- Justice Anthony Kennedy
Through this decision, Kennedy essentially ruled that the benefits of diversity outweigh the benefits of an unencumbered meritocracy. To uphold this tenet of diversity, universities such as Harvard and Princeton have enacted a different admissions standard for different racial groups, punishing Asians and Asian-Americans immensely in the process:
“All else being equal, an Asian-American must score 140 points higher on the SAT than a white counterpart, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student, and 450 points higher than a black applicant, according to 2009 research from Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and co-author Alexandria Walton Radford.” (WSJ)
The debate over whether race should be considered in college admissions processes starts and ends with a simple question: as a nation, do we stand for the wholesale discrimination against a racial group, even in the name of “helping” another?
The answer for those who respect and hope to maintain America’s long-standing principle of upward social mobility through merit is a resounding ‘no.'