Dear Penn Admissions,
Why is it consistently harder for Asian Americans to get in?
There are many reasons given for using race as a criterion in admissions, but none of them justify the fact that Asian Americans need to score somewhere between 120 and 140 points higher on the SAT than whites to get accepted into an Ivy League school.
The University prides itself on elevating groups that have faced discrimination, but it is penalizing Asian Americans for their success despite prejudice. Affirmative action is meant to give historically persecuted racial groups a boost, so there is every reason for blacks and Asian Americans to benefit from it. Atrocities against blacks were of course much worse, but Asian-American immigrants have also faced significant prejudice.
For much of the 20th century, job postings in California added the tagline “No Asians need apply,” and as recently as 2001, 507 cases of anti-Asian-American assaults, vandalism and verbal intimidation were reported nationwide according to the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium.
In that light, it’s pathetic that others are being protected against their higher-performing Asian-American peers in the admissions process at Penn.
Admission officers who defend their statistics in the name of diversity are equally deluded. First, diversity depends on the individual, not the color of one’s skin. If you think that my neighbor is meaningfully and inherently different than me because her skin is darker, then I’d prefer you weren’t selecting the class of 2017.
The kind of diversity that enriches a student’s experience lies in differences of culture, religion, life experiences and outlook — not in a simple physical difference. Race is often, but not always, linked to these more meaningful differences and should not be a blanket marker for differences that lie in the individual.
Further, since when are all Asians one race? Asia is the largest, most populous and most diverse continent and its population is neither genetically nor culturally homogeneous. You don’t have to go to Penn to spot the difference between an Indian person and a Chinese person, and try telling a Korean his culture might as well be the same as that of the Japanese.
Another feeble defense of the blatant discrimination against Asian Americans is that Penn’s student population should roughly mirror the population distribution of the nation.
First, this seems a counterproductive goal for a university that claims to be global and welcomes one of the largest number of international students in the Ivy League. Second, if Penn is really concerned about its population mirroring that of the United States, what about our Jewish population? According to Penn Hillel statistics, the Jewish population is 25 percent of the undergraduate student body and roughly 15 times better represented at Penn than in the United States in general. This of course means that non-Jewish whites are drastically underrepresented at Penn, but who cares? As long as Jewish students are qualified to be admitted in such disproportionate quantities, then they deserve to be here.
The same should hold for Asian Americans. Judaism and Asian are of course two different categories — one religious, the other geographic — but neither is racial and neither group should be penalized for producing so many high performers.
The SAT is not the best measure of intelligence, but as long as you use it, you should respects the results. If you can show me that Asian Americans are consistently inferior in any other part of the admissions process — essays, leadership, etc. — then my argument is moot. I don’t think you can.
Just because no other Ivy is taking steps to stop the discrimination doesn’t mean Penn shouldn’t. “Making history” isn’t about raising money, nor will $4.3 billion catapult Penn to pre-eminence. Leveling the admissions playing field for Asian Americans would, however, go a long way towards making Penn worthy of its eminence.
These facts don’t represent a recent trend — they are long-known, and make your inaction even more galling.
Instead of waiting for someone else, take the lead. Your reputation, and that of the University, rests upon it.
Xavier Flory is a College sophomore from Nokesville, Va. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him @FloryXavier. “The Gadfly” appears every other Monday.
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