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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

March 29, 2005

Written by C.N.

College Admissions and Asian Americans

The Washington Post has an article that discusses one of the most vexing issues that Asian Americans contend with — situations where highly qualified Asian American college applicants are rejected to the top schools in favor of other applicants of color who have objectively lower qualifications. In other words, many Asian Americans apparently find themselves to be the victims of affirmative action, in much the same way that Whites have claimed:

Asian American students have higher average SAT scores than any other government-monitored ethnic group, and selective colleges routinely reject them in favor of African American, Hispanic and even white applicants with lower scores in order to have more diverse campuses and make up for past discrimination. Many Asian Americans and some educators wonder: Is that fair? Why shouldn’t young people of Asian descent have more of an advantage in the selective college admissions system for being violin-playing, science-fair winning, high-scoring achievers? . . .

Many Americans, including some of Asian descent, have grown accustomed to seemingly irrational and unfair admissions decisions by selective colleges and shrug off the Asian numbers as something that can’t be helped. . . But Arun Mantri, born in India with children at Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, said he thinks the system should change. Asian American applicants’ chances “would improve dramatically if race was not used as a factor in admissions, perhaps at the cost of the white applicants, something that only a few selective schools have dared to do,” he said.

This kind of issue is not new — the article discussed the Asian college admissions controversy of the late 1980s where several top universities around the country were found to have unfairly rejected Asian American applicants at disproportionately high rates. It’s a very complicated situation for sure. On the one hand, fairness would dictate that applicants should be judged solely on academic merit, rather than racial/ethnic identity. On the other hand, we still live in an unequal society and still have to make up for past discrimination committed against Blacks and other disadvantaged groups.

Does this mean that some (maybe even many) Asian American students who have objectively higher qualifications are necessarily rejected in the interests of promoting diversity? It’s a very hard call to make but I would still have to say yes. Addressing the history of systematic disadvantage and promoting campus diversity should still be the paramount priority for universities and online schools alike. Further, as the article described, where’s the diversity when so many Asian American applicants want to major in math or engineering and are good at playing the piano?

We as Asian Americans should strive to diversify our interests as well, not just for the purpose of helping us to stand out from the other Asian American applicants, but also to enrich and diversify our community as a whole. It’s fine to be doctors, engineers, and scientists, but our community also needs more artists, teachers, professors, activists, etc. We are more than a one-dimensional group of people in so many ways. It’s time to apply that to our majors and occupations as well.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "College Admissions and Asian Americans" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/03/college-admissions-and-asian-americans/> ().

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