n March, the University became embroiled in a dispute regarding the confidentiality of using affirmative action in admissions, a practice that a conservative interest group, Students for Fair Admissions (SFA), is portraying as a civil-rights violation against Asian applicants. The University filed a lawsuit to block the release of documents relating to a civil-rights complaint that SFA filed with the Department of Justice (On the Campus, April 12).
There is a pervasive, pernicious media narrative that affirmative action harms Asians. But that is simply not the case. Affirmative action is a positive policy, meant to include minority groups who historically have not had the same educational opportunities due to socioeconomic disadvantages, among other issues. We need to recognize that affirmative action, though it may be unfair, is not a civil-rights violation. A rejection from Princeton University is not the same as disenfranchisement, so let us not conflate the two.
It is far too easy to scapegoat affirmative action for the capriciousness of college admissions. The University’s goal of creating a well-rounded community does not correspond with the applicant’s notion that hard work and accomplishment will automatically lead to admission. Princeton does not owe admission to smart people, but it does have a duty to its current student body to provide the most informative educational experience. Being exposed to diverse worldviews is important to the student body’s intellectual growth outside of the classroom.
Contrary to many narratives, affirmative action can actually help Asians from traditionally disadvantaged subgroups. The Asian Law Caucus’s amicus brief on Fisher v. University of Texas finds that there are “large disparities in educational attainment among Asian American ethnic groups ... . The educational attainment of Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans is the lowest among Asian American ethnic groups and similar to those of Latinos and African Americans.”
The most difficult step is seeing past how much it seems we stand to lose and consider how much affirmative action benefits our fellow people of color. In an issue as personal and important to the Asian community as education, the stakes are high, and rejection seems hard to justify when you have worked so hard. We need to move beyond assigning an agenda to black, Latinx, and Native American students. They are not stealing spots; they are not the culprit. The continuous dispute over affirmative action should compel us to reflect on whom we are pointing our animosity toward and how we position ourselves among other ethnicities.