It is no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of the current President of the United States and his administration. However, I finally received at least one piece of news on a politically contentious issue that isn’t causing me to go haywire over Trump. The Justice Department is planning to investigate colleges for anti-Asian bias.
I do not say this lightly, but I believe (with some caveats) that this is good news.
I strongly support having a diverse student body on college campuses — racial, socioeconomic, or in other terms — so long as the students are academically qualified and admitted under a fair system. On the other hand, I get disappointed when I read studies showing that Asians have to earn higher test scores compared to members of other races. As another data point, the proportion of Asian students at the University of California system, where racial preferences have been banned since the 1996 California Proposition 209, remains far higher than other comparable universities. A look at UC Berkeley’s enrollment statistics (data updated to 2020) shows that Asians comprise at least 43% of newly enrolled freshman, and this does not appear to count the roughly 13% of international students, of which Asian countries China and India are likely the two main sources of such students.
This seems at odds with a policy that is designed to ensure fairness to racial minorities in this country. As most of us know, Asians were often the victims of Whites in this country, as pointedly shown by the flat-out racist Internment of Japanese Americans in World War II. The treatment of Asians also reminds me of how Jews once had to be held to a higher standard than non-Jews in the college admissions process.
I advocate for clarity on how colleges should consider Asian applicants. In addition, I also request that we have a discussion about multiracials who are an increasingly visible presence in society.
I concede that racial preferences (or the lack of it) is not the most important blemish in the college admissions process. Legacy preferences are far worse, because affirmative action at least operates under the ideal of giving more opportunities to under-represented minorities who need it the most, wheres legacy preferences give help to those who don’t need it.
My hope, after first abolishing legacy preferences, would be if colleges could then replace affirmative action in favor of a two-part metric: is this applicant (a) clearly well-qualified academically and (b) did he or she make the most of his/her opportunities given the context of his/her life? In addition, both of these factors need to be clear and unambiguous to reduce confusion among applicants and to reduce the advantage that wealthy families have in getting their children to achieve the vague, nebulous criteria of “extracurricular activities.”
The first factor, (a), establishes the fact that an accepted applicant is academically qualified, and furthermore enables schools to admit academic all-stars who would pass the “professor test.” The second, (b), would help to ensure a degree of fairness in the process which indexes the applicant’s performance to opportunity. This is where one could take race into account, but it needs to be done as part of a detailed process which looks at nuances such as whether certain housing projects have been subject to redlining, and considers disparate impacts on racial sub-groups such as Southeast Asians, East Asians, and other categories that are lumped under the umbrella of “Asian.”
Yes, I have read the criticism that Whites are using Asians as a “wedge” to advance their “racial agenda,” and I don’t share that agenda. Yes, it is true that many Asians do support affirmative action to provide more opportunity to members of other minority groups, but that’s precisely why I have that second item (b) as part of my proposed admissions metric. As someone who grew up without financial concerns, even though I wish every day that I had gone to an elite science school in New York City or Silicon Valley, I understand that I had more academic opportunity and privilege than the average American child. Besides my disability, I have little basis for a college admissions committee to give me extra points for my background. I understand and accept this, which likely explains why I got rejected from Harvard, Princeton, and MIT. I want other students who did more with less to get in those schools. I just don’t want the reason for rejection to be partially (mostly?) because of my racial background.
Ultimately, I aim for a college admissions policy that does not require Asians to be held to a higher standard compared to other races in order to address past and ongoing sins of whites.