When I first heard a lawsuit was being filed by Asian-Americans against Harvard's racial admission policy, I won't lie to you, I felt vindicated. Let me take this time to lay all of my biases on the table: First, I am an Asian-American. Second, I have gone through the college admissions process in America. Now, both of these things considered, vindication was a relief.
My college process was strained and involved a fair amount of crying in my high school bathroom. As delightful as that sounds, I know that I was part of the class of students with the most applications to universities in the history of college applications. I know this well because many schools listed it as a substantiating reason for their rejection of my application.
NYU even admitted that in just one year, their admission rate dropped from 28 percent in 2017 to 19 percent in 2018, down even further from a rate of 35 percent five years prior.
Now, what does this mean for me and the lawsuit against Harvard? It means that, for a period of my senior year, I felt my ego bruised. I felt disappointed in myself for not being able to scale what I thought were insurmountable odds. I felt very, very lost.
Like I said, vindication was a relief.
But I'm in my first year now, and at some point, you've got to learn how to tread water on your own. And I believe it's crucial to take an objective look at the lawsuit, regardless of personal biases. Because when I read the headline about the Department of Justice issuing their support for the Students For Fair Admissions, the group filing the lawsuit on the behalf of Asian-American students, my initial reaction was that it was a success for Asians in the struggle for equality. Studies have been cited by the group about what is perceived as mistreatment and discrimination against Asian-American students.
"What Harvard will not admit," Students for Fair Admissions told CNN, "is that race is not only an important factor, it is the dominant consideration in admitting Hispanics and African-Americans. An Asian-American applicant with a 25 percent chance of admission, for example, would have a 35 percent chance if he were white, 75 percent if he were Hispanic and 95 percent chance if he were African-American."
They have also cited racial mistreatment in other areas of admissions. Harvard uses a holistic evaluation of all applicants, assessing them in categories like test scores and personality traits. Although Asian students usually scored well on the test score categories, they were scored consistently lower in personality traits like "kindness" or "likability," according to The Guardian.
Harvard denied these claims about engineering racial diversity at their institution and blamed the faulty statistical analysis of the Students for Fair Admissions. Though the trial set in October has yet to take place, I found myself surprised by the Department of Justice's sudden show of support for the Students for Fair Admissions.
The Department of Justice under the Trump administration has made no attempt to cover up its objections to the affirmative action policies on college campuses. This comes hand in hand with the new administration's ushering in of more conservative policies. According to a report gathered by the New York Times, an internal announcement was made to the civil rights division seeking lawyers to work on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions."
And I suppose Asian-Americans were the first step.
It's brilliant, if you think about it. How do you combat affirmative action, a policy set in place to help foster equality for races like African-Americans and Hispanics who have experienced brutal and blatant discrimination? How do you do that without leaving the putrid stench of racism and opposition to equality behind? You do it under the pretense of helping another race.
You see, by calling out Harvard's admission policies as racist against Asian-Americans, the Department of Justice circumvents the inevitable backlash for trying to reverse a policy that is supposed to bolster equality. They are heroes, white knights riding in to defend the embittered Asian students who have faced discrimination at the hands of colleges. And while they stamp their approval of supposed equality for Asian-Americans with one hand, they work to dismantle affirmative action with the other.
This is why I believe we must be vigilant and maintain skepticism behind the true motives of the Justice Department. With that being said, if Harvard is proven to have racist policies or a quota for Asian-American students, I do believe that should be corrected. Injustice is injustice. But it needs to be changed without the Justice Department's heavy-handed influence, which will overshadow any victories won for Asian-American equality.
Because, above all else, I understand. I understand what it feels like to have the college process kick the wind out of you, to be crushed, to have true and absolute dreams lay in a puddle at your feet. I mean, is it fair to feel like you have to prove yourself to be beyond a stereotype?
Is it fair to have to endure an onslaught of lectures about how Asians are marginalized in the college admissions process because of preconceived biases in an admissions room miles away from your influence? Is it fair to hear time and time again what personality traits or talents make you indistinguishable from the masses of your race?
No, I'd wager it isn't. And I speak for myself when I say that. But when it comes to the future of American education, I'd have to say that, above all, equality requires us to look at the bigger picture.
Because even if it benefits us Asian-Americans in the now, it doesn't mean that we should allow ourselves to be co-opted into an administration that views us as nothing more than pawns for their own conservative gains. There's absolutely no indication that the Department of Justice's support for us now will translate to future support for furthering equality and social justice for Asian-Americans on the whole.
We are a minority still. We fight for our representation from Capitol Hill to the silver screen. We fight for our protection against discrimination, hand in hand with other minorities. This will not change with the success of a single lawsuit. Because our responsibility is not just to our own, but also to our kind — even, if I may be so bold, our country.