For the last few weeks 80-20 and other conservative organizations have spread lies, fears, and hate about what California Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA 5) is. Their mobilization against SCA 5 is showing that Asian Americans can successfully fight for their interests. But in the process, they're pushing misconceptions that poison this important policy debate over affirmative action, racial equity and justice in public higher education.
There are two key ways the anti-affirmative action haters are shoveling a lot of bullsh*t about SCA 5. First, they claim SCA 5 is "anti-Asian." Second, they hold an assumption that tests and grades are race neutral, reliable, and the only valid considerations in selective admissions practices. In the meantime while they're too busy in a fear mongering campaign, they're missing a great opportunity to really fight to expand college opportunity for all of the highly qualified students in the state.
Two ways that anti-SCA 5 haters are BSing people:
1. The haters say that "SCA 5/affirmative action is anti-Asian."
A couple weeks ago, a student told me that she'd heard there was a law being passed in California to ban Asian Americans from the UC. Nowhere in SCA 5's language does it suggest a ban on or illegal racial quota on Asian Americans in college admissions. SCA 5, if passed, would allow California public universities to include race as one of many variables in their admissions processes. As the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in 1978 (Bakke vs. University of California), 2003 (Grutter vs. Bollinger), and in 2013 (Fisher vs. University of Texas), race can still be one of many factors in selective college admissions and that diversity is important for learning. Race cannot be the only or a determinative factor in admissions.
SCA 5 would make a small difference to highly represented student populations like Chinese Americans, but it would make a big difference to improve college access for other highly qualified but underrepresented students such as Hmong, Cambodians, Laotian, Samoans, African Americans, and Latinos among others. Not only would underrepresented Asian American and Pacific Islander students directly benefit from SCA 5, all Asian American students benefit from more diverse campus learning environments.
2. The haters say that test scores and grades are (a) race neutral and objective, (b) reliable measures of academic abilities, and (c) the primary items in selective admissions.
Nope, nope, and nope. To believe any of these three things about test scores and grades is pretty naïve. The College Board just announced its third overhaul of the SAT in less than ten years, acknowledging significant problems with the test. For decades, researchers have found that test scores are not very objective or reliable in evaluating students. In fact, a recent very comprehensive study of over 123,000 students at 33 selective colleges showed how little test scores can predict about how successful a student can be. Higher test scores don't necessarily mean better qualifications. If anything, the College Board admits that higher test scores usually means a student comes from a higher economic class.
From New York Times (data from College Board)
Test scores and grades are just two of MANY variables that are commonly incorporated into complex evaluation and admission selection processes. At some selective universities, the admissions review process can include over 900 variables for evaluation. I'm not going to name the hundreds of variables for admission and enrollment management in selective institutions, especially since some institutions consider drastically different variables. However, in addition to race, test scores, and grades here are some other criteria for admission evaluation:
1. Geography of student's hometown and school (UC criterion 14)
2. Can you pay full or near full tuition?
3. Child/grandchild of a donor or alumna/us of the institution, aka legacy status.
4. Early admission/decision participation increases chances of admission.
5. Demonstrated and awarded talents.
6. Demonstrated ability to overcome adversities and persist through challenges.
7. Demonstrated leadership capacities.
8. Academic major selected.
I am much more than my high school GPA and my SAT scores could ever tell you about me. How about you?
The anti-SCA/affirmative action sentiment represents a small minority of Asian Americans. It is revealing that deception and illogical fear can motivate some Asian Americans to rally around a political issue. I get that anti-SCA 5 folks are freaked out about their personal or their kids' chances of getting into one of California's public institutions. It is tougher today for qualified students of all races to get into a California public university, not because of any admission policy, but because of drastic and sustained state budget cuts over the last several decades. Budget cuts have been so bad, the state funded institutions began giving a preference to out of state and foreign students at record numbers to make up for their financial shortfalls.
So if you're pissed because you're not getting into a UC or CSU, fight for the state to reinvest in higher education. Why fight over the dwindling number of seats and resources? The passionate advocacy for equality and opportunity by 80-20 and friends is misguided and uninformed, powered by hate and fear, and relies on a lot of BS. Don't be fooled. The misinformation being spread about affirmative action, SCA 5, and college admissions is not helping to advance racial equity and justice for all.
If you believe in racial equity in education and opportunity, let's reinvigorate a public re-investment in higher education. After all, a college's reputation is based on its capacity and resources to provide quality education to all students, and not based on how many students it can turn away.
If you're pissed, Asian Americans, get up and fight for public higher education!
OiYan Poon, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Higher Education at Loyola University Chicago's School of Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Education and a graduate certificate in Asian American Studies at UCLA in 2010. As a graduate student at UCLA, OiYan was elected the first Chinese American president of the University of California Student Association, which represents and advocates for the interest of all UC students. Prior to pursuing her Ph.D., Dr. Poon was the first Student Affairs Officer in Asian American Studies at UC Davis, where she also served as a comprehensive review reader in the undergraduate admissions process.