Alice Lin: Don't use my race to further your agenda

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 2:11pm

When I first heard about the lawsuit against Harvard University’s admissions process for discriminating against Asian-American applicants, I was a high school senior applying to college. I was beginning to understand the debate regarding affirmative action and how it could potentially impact my own admissions results. From a discussion about this in my government class, my understanding was that affirmative action was created to ensure equality of opportunity for students who come from underprivileged backgrounds. The whole point is that instead of setting quotas — which is illegal — colleges are still able to use race as a factor when considering applications. 

The lawsuit claims that Harvard’s affirmative action works negatively for Asian-Americans by focusing their efforts to be more inclusive towards non-Asian-American minorities. It was recently decided that Harvard did not discriminate in its consideration of applications from Asian-Americans, which raises concerns about where affirmative action is going to end up if the case is appealed to the Supreme Court. Since the court currently has a conservative majority, the case might result in the termination of the entire practice, which would be a setback towards equality for underprivileged students. On the surface, it may seem like a win for Asian-Americans if the initial verdict is overruled, but at a closer look, the students who are suing are really being used as pawns to help dismantle an entire system that was created to give those who are more underprivileged a chance. 

The problem with the Harvard lawsuit is the person who is heading the protest against the admissions process is a white man. If the case does end up at the Supreme Court, it would not benefit Asian-Americans and other minorities, but rather white students. The purpose of affirmative action is to help support minority groups obtain the same opportunities that white students have, due to the disparity in socioeconomic privilege. If we dismantle this practice, this would not only perpetuate the system of white privilege but also make it immensely harder for non-white students to advance in society. Furthermore, it would be much easier for colleges to be able to discriminate when considering applicants, which would limit diversity at these institutions of higher education. It is also just outright insensitive and close-minded if we do not acknowledge how privilege and race have a role in influencing the ability of students to perform. I’m also not sure if a white man is the best representative for Asian-American voices when it comes to such a racially charged issue; it feels like this case is being exploited so an outcome that would benefit more privileged students at the expense of more disadvantaged groups can be reached. Regardless of the intention here, this is an issue that affects minorities the most and should not be forgotten.

Affirmative action has become a complicated subject, since past court cases against it argue that it holds students of color to less harsh academic standards. The precedent set by these cases argues that white students are hurt by affirmative action because it appears as if minority students do not need to work as hard or that the spots of white students are given away to create artificial diversity. At the same time, Asian-Americans are hurt by affirmative action despite being a minority, because they tend to perform well academically. There are a lot of problems with the way that race is considered in the pursuit of “creating” diversity and Asian-Americans are constantly overlooked. They are constantly seen as a model minority, meaning that despite all of the disadvantages that come with not being white, they are still able to overcome discrimination and prejudice to succeed and rise. 

This perspective is problematic and completely wrong; as someone who comes from an Asian-American background and community, the idea of success through hard work is deeply ingrained into the culture. Children face a lot of pressure from their parents to achieve certain expectations, and it is due to parental sacrifices and priorities that Asian-American children are turned into hard working machines. The model minority stereotype only reinforces the racial divide between minorities and instead perpetuates discrimination when it comes to programs like affirmative action. The lack of racial privilege that Asian-Americans have compared to white students should not be forgotten; just because the mindset of hard work that exists in Asian culture pushes Asian-American children to perform at a certain standard does not automatically mean that they are less racially disadvantaged. On the other hand, one minority group’s success should not set a precedent or expectations for another. We should strive to remember that privilege exists and varies on all levels. There is a need to promote equality and ensure that those who begin in more disadvantageous situations are given the opportunity to succeed.

Affirmative action is not the problem here. Sure, it is not the perfect solution to tackling the larger issue of socioeconomic inequality and racial privilege, but we should not attempt to dismantle it. It has been ruled that affirmative action does not hurt white students, so we need to focus on changing the inequalities that are deeply ingrained in our society. Rather, the system can be improved upon, so it does not hurt the groups it was designed to help. Invest more in public primary education or create programs to encourage and lift less-privileged students to the same level of opportunity. Don’t pit students who are already disadvantaged against each other at the benefit of a group that has more privilege to begin with. Instead, focus on ensuring that everyone has the same opportunity regardless so that we eventually will have no need to implement programs that force diversity to be created.

Alice Lin can be reached at alicelin@umich.edu.