Top Five Reasons Why Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders Should Support Affirmative Action

Guest Post by Nicole Ochi, Supervising Attorney, Advancing Justice - LA

I'm on vacation! This week, I'm taking a much-needed break to recharge the batteries and get a change of scenery. To keep things going around here, I've enlisted the help of several friends of the blog to submit guest posts on various topics of their choosing. Here's one from Nicole Ochi, Supervising Attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles.

Last week, in partnership with more than 160 Asian American and and Pacific Islander organizations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of University of Texas Austin’s ("UT-Austin") race conscious admissions policy. So, why did more than 160 AAPI-serving organizations, from large, pan-Asian national organizations and professional associations, to student and grassroots groups serving Arab, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, South Asian, Southeast Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities stand together to tell the nation’s highest court that it should uphold UT-Austin’s race conscious admissions policy for a second time?

Here are the top 5 reasons:

Reason # 1 - We refuse to be used as a racial wedge and break solidarity with other communities of color.

Opponents of affirmative action often use Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) as a racial wedge by selling the myth that affirmative action hurts Asian American students by placing quotas on their admissions into elite colleges in favor of African American and Latino students. Quotas, in fact, have been unconstitutional for decades and AAPIs have historically benefitted, and continue to benefit, from affirmative action policies. Defending affirmative action also means standing in solidarity with other communities of color, as we collectively fight and work against the reality of structural racism in our country.

Reason # 2 - Race still matters in American life.

The idea that race should be eliminated from holistic admissions policies in higher education is ludricous. Race is an integral part of how each of us views the world and is treated by society. The epidemic of black lives lost at the hands of law enforcement, the racist rhetoric of the immigration debate, and the proliferation of English only policies in the workplace are irrefutable evidence that race still matters in American life and colors every person’s experience.

Reason # 3 - There is no such thing as a race-neutral admissions policy.

Opponents of affirmative action would have us believe that eliminating race as a factor from any holistic admissions program makes the policy race-neutral. This is a lie. Test scores play a dominant role in any holistic review program, and test scores are not race-neutral. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that race is the single most determinative factor in SAT scores (even more than socioeconomic status and parental education levels) and that its effect is increasing over time.

Reason # 4 - AAPI groups still need affirmative action.

Contrary to the model minority myth, which presumes that all AAPI students are universally successful, many Southeast Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander subgroups face school segregation, inadequate preparation for college, and other barriers to higher education. A recent report on AAPI access to higher education in California, which is home to the nation’s largest AAPI community, revealed that the admit rates of Filipino, Thai, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students are all significantly lower than the general admit rate, and that relative to their overall population, Filipinos, Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Guamanians or Chamorros, and Fijians are underrepresented in the UC system.

Reason # 5 - Racial diversity on campus benefits all students.

Some AAPI subgroups are underrepresented on college campuses while others are overrepresented, but all students benefit from the increased racial diversity and improved racial climate produced by race-conscious admissions programs. Even AAPI students who belong to subgroups that may be overrepresented on college campuses report racial hostility, pressure to segregate and/or assimilate to the dominant White culture, feeling silenced in academic exchanges, and stereotyped as perpetual foreigners and/or model minorities. Studies also show that campuses that reach the highest levels of diversity have fewer racial incidents.

If this feels like déjà vu, it is -- back in 2013 the Supremes reaffirmed that universities may consider race as part of a holistic review program to increase racial diversity on campus, but sent the case back to the 5th Circuit to look more carefully at whether UT Austin tried race-neutral methods of achieving racial diversity (a paradox in itself). The 5th Circuit upheld the program on the basis that the consideration of race is necessary to obtain the diversity within racial groups that it seeks. Abigail Fisher, the white plaintiff in the case, appealed this decision, resulting in a second hearing of the case by the Supremes in December.

Nicole Gon Ochi is the Supervising Attorney of the Impact Litigation Unit at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles and, along with pro bono counsel Caldwell Leslie and the Advancing Justice affiliates, represents the more than 150 organizations and academic professionals that signed on to Advancing Justice’s amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of UT-Austin’s race conscious holistic review program.


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