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Monday, December 11, 2017
Race-Based Admissions and the Problem with the Model-Minority
It has been nearly three years since over sixty prominent Asian-American organizations first filed a lawsuit against Harvard University, alleging that the school's admissions policies unfairly discriminate against Asian students. As the case slowly winds its way through the U.S. legal system, the complex social dynamics illuminated by the suit are generating heated discussion.
The "Model Minority" concept, which first fluttered onto the American social science radar in the 1960s, refers to demographic groups who tend to enjoy above-average success, intellectually, financially and socially. In the U.S. the stereotype is overwhelmingly imparted to Asian-Americans who comprise the majority of non-white students in American colleges and universities.
The premise of the Harvard lawsuit is that Asian-American students are actually held to higher standards of admission, simply because of a perception that they are smarter. This notion is pervasive in the college admissions industry, where many consultants coach Asian students on how to appear less typically Asian on their applications (hint: stop spending so much time on calculus and piano).
In a deeply personal piece for Slate, recent Yale University graduate, Aaron Mak, wrote of his regrets about scrubbing his race from his college application, out of fear that it would be a liability. Mak, who is Chinese-American, made no reference to his race or heritage in his application, and now wrestles with two demons-regret at having concealed his identity, and concern that, had he been honest, he might not have been admitted.
Mak tackles the complexity of the so-called "Asian penalty", including the racism at its heart. Asian students may be held to a higher standard because of the perception that they are, as a class, smarter. But the real problem is that white society has decided that Asian students are a monolith-some faceless class of submissive math geeks who fail to "stand out" in the college admissions process. As Mak ponders-don't all those blonde lacrosse players all look the same too?
Edward Blum, the Jewish conservative activist who has thrown significant weight and financing into the Harvard lawsuit is unabashed about his goal, which is not advancing the cause of Asian-American students but abolishing affirmative action-a policy that has produced mixed results for Asian students. As Mak concludes, perhaps it is possible to be Asian and support affirmative action, while also opposing a system that may stack its cards against them.
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