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Affirmative Action: South Asians Have a Responsibility to Support Diversity in American Universities

Affirmative Action: South Asians Have a Responsibility to Support Diversity in American Universities

  • As a recent college graduate, I know firsthand the value of learning amongst a diverse student body.

The Supreme Court decision to eliminate affirmative action has led organizers and community advocates across the country to step up to lead movements to further equitize college admissions. Most recently, these efforts have been adopted by some college administrations. Notably, Wesleyan University and Virginia Tech have announced they will no longer use legacy in their admissions process. This is a commendable step in the right direction. However, there is still so much work to be done.

This decision is likely to set back students and young adults decades both personally and financially. As a recent college graduate of the University of Michigan, I feel strongly that the Court’s decision will do a disservice to our country by invariably limiting diversity and decreasing access to higher education for students who are already underrepresented in our nation’s educational system. 

This is a moment for the Desi community to stand up for policies and processes that better our communities and to look beyond the individual to identify what kind of society and country we really want to be a part of.

While there are some in our South Asian American community who champion the decision, including more than one presidential candidate, because they mistakenly hold the belief that affirmative action has hurt the chances for Asian Americans to gain admission to top universities. This viewpoint does not represent that of the majority of Asian Americans. In fact, when affirmative action is accurately explained as a policy in which race is one of several factors that is considered in the admissions process, 69% of Asian Americans support affirmative action, according to a 2022 survey by AAPI Data.

We as a South Asian community are not a monolith by any means. Under the South Asian umbrella exists a vast array of differing cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, and lived experiences. We each have an experience of living in this country that has in part been shaped by these identities. In each place we go, we bring a different perspective that adds value due to increased diversity of thought. 

Homogeneity of backgrounds, experiences, and demographics does all students a disservice by denying many the opportunity for a rightful seat at the table and denying others the opportunity to learn and grow from differing perspectives. As a recent college graduate, I know firsthand the value of learning amongst a diverse student body. Though professors and courses taught  invaluable content, my peer-to-peer interactions are what truly taught me to question, consider other perspectives, and critically analyze an issue in full. 

In being vocal of our disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision, we as a South Asian community are rejecting the dangerous model minority stereotype that serves only to divide communities of color for the purpose of perpetuating existing systems of power in this country. 

For example, at the University of Michigan, where a 2006 state-wide vote banned affirmative action in all state universities, students were a part of a collegiate experience where the population of Black students had decreased from the already disproportionately low percentage of 9% to just 4%, and the Indigenous population steadily declining as well. UofM has expressed support for affirmative action, citing the sustained decrease of historically underrepresented minorities, despite the school’s increased outreach efforts. It is extremely disheartening that the resulting loss of diversity at UofM was not proof enough of the reduction in opportunities for upward mobility that this Supreme Court decision will inevitably cause across the country. 

In being vocal of our disappointment in the Court’s decision, we as a South Asian community are rejecting the dangerous model minority stereotype that serves only to divide communities of color for the purpose of perpetuating existing systems of power in this country. The proponents of this ruling to ban affirmative action seek to do just that — divide us. Yet, we must stand together as history has shown collective benefit comes only from allying against such efforts to limit diversity and opportunities. 

Just as we look to our families who immigrated here with immense gratitude for their sacrifices, we must also acknowledge the significant sacrifices made by African Americans in fighting for the civil rights we enjoy today. Affirmative action has played a crucial role in ensuring access to higher education for underrepresented minorities such as Latinx and African Americans, and in paving the way for opportunities that ensure the American Dream is attainable for everyone. 

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As highlighted by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in her dissenting opinion, “deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.” Stripping race as a factor in admissions inherently disregards the systemic barriers faced by minorities in this country. Neglecting the current adversity linked to the history of racism and exclusion of communities of color in this country is also neglecting the reality of privilege and disparate opportunity existing today.

Though race can no longer be a factor considered, the Court maintained legacy admissions as an acceptable consideration in the college admissions process. Due to systemic barriers for people of color in accessing higher education, legacy admissions continue to adversely impact people of color, including South Asians. In the conversation of higher education admissions, legacy is a significant perpetuator of generational inequities we see today, and should be addressed by universities in their attempt to sustain diversity amidst this decision. 

The South Asian community can and should play a vital role in defending diversity and ensuring colleges remain a place of opportunity for students of all backgrounds. Here are a few ways we  can get involved today:

  1. Learn more about affirmative action. 
  2. Talk about affirmative action with your family and friends. This can be a difficult conversation for some, especially in families with differing perspectives, but it can be helpful to engage when and where you can. 
  3. Stop the spread of disinformation on affirmative action within our community.
  4. Ask candidates about their views on affirmative action and support candidates who are in favor of affirmative action and additional educational equity policies.
  5. Uplift colleges and universities that take steps to discontinue the practice of legacy admissions.

(Top photo, a representative image, courtesy University of Michigan)

Bianca Shah is the Co-Chair of the South Asians for America (SAFA) Youth Engagement Committee.

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  • In principle, everyone agrees that students who are socially and economically backward should be helped by schools or universities. However the author of this article does not address some real concerns with race-based admissions such as:
    According to news reports, an internal unpublished Harvard analysis in 2013 indicated that 43% of admissions would have been Asians if admission had been based strictly on academic considerations alone, things like high school performance and scores on the SAT examination.
    In fact, only about one-half that proportion of Asians were admitted. At Harvard University skin coloration is important, and that dark is “good” (unless the individual is of Asian origin, such as from India), while white is, if not “bad,” certainly less desirable.
    The suggestion that on average Asians are highly deficient in personal characteristics relative to others, especially blacks and Latinos but also even whites, is seemingly indefensible on any objective grounds.
    According to New York Times Opinion columnist, David French, who also happens to be a lawyer, the evidence is overwhelming that Harvard actively discriminated against Asian applicants.
    As if these facts were not bad enough, Harvard specifically rejected alternative, race-blind formulations that could have achieved comparable student diversity.
    As Justice Neil Gorsuch notes in his concurrence, the plaintiffs in the case submitted evidence that “Harvard could nearly replicate the current racial composition of its student body without resorting to race-based practices,” if it gave socioeconomically disadvantaged students just half the advantage it gave recruited athletes and if it eliminated preferences for “the children of donors, alumni, and faculty.”
    This perpetuates a system in which Harvard both favored certain classes of predominantly white applicants and discriminated against Asians, a historically disadvantaged minority. These were dreadful facts to defend in court.
    It is an insult to individual achievement and cancerous to young minds seeking to push through barriers, rather than consign themselves to permanent victimhood. Affirmative Action has created an alternate caste society based on who gets into what exclusive colleges.
    Universities cannot have an open-ended timeline for addressing past discrimination that Harvard and the University of North Carolina used to justify their policies as unfocused, discriminatory and tied to racial stereotypes.
    Contrary to the popular belief that Race-based theory can somehow benefit everyone, it is an immutable fact that ‘every time the government uses racial criteria to ‘bring the races together,’ someone gets excluded, and the person excluded suffers an injury solely because of his other race.
    To sum it up, people must be treated based on their experiences as an individual, not based on their race.
    If an individual has fewer financial means (because of generational inheritance or otherwise), then surely a city or state government may take that into account. If an individual has medical struggles or a family member with medical concerns, a university may consider that too. What governments and universities cannot do is use the individual’s caste as a heuristic.

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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