CampusAffirmativeAction Web
Photo: Joy Lee

Despite the recent announcement from the Trump administration suggesting that affirmative action in college admissions may be discriminatory against white and Asian applicants, Penn's administration remains steadfast in its "strong commitment to diversity," University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy said.

"An inclusive student body greatly enhances the educational experience for all students and better prepares them to succeed in an increasingly complex world," MacCarthy wrote in the statement. "We believe our current policies and practices are fully within Supreme Court guidelines.” 

The 2016 landmark Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas held that a race-conscious admissions process was lawful under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has planned to investigate a complaint filed in 2015 by 64 Asian-American groups against Harvard University that claims Harvard’s admissions policies include the institution of “Asian quotas.” 

The Penn Admissions Office declined to comment. 

College sophomore Nicole Posadas is the communications chair of Penn First, a student group for Penn students who either are the first generation in their families to attend college or come from a low-income background. Posadas said she supports affirmative action policies because many students accepted through these programs come from underprivileged backgrounds who have worked hard to overcome their "personal boundaries."

Critics of affirmative action such as the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia have cited statistics that indicate that some minority students are admitted to elite institutions with lower SAT scores. A 2015 Princeton University study found Asian applicants were held to a higher standard by admissions officers, effectively losing 50 points on their SAT. 

Posadas, however, insists that an applicant’s scores must be evaluated relative to their background. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds whose scores may be lower than their more privileged peers should not be barred from admission.

“We all believe we have earned our spots, just like every Penn student,” Posadas said. 

Wharton sophomore Kathryn Wang, the vice chair of communications for the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, said she wasn't convinced of the sincerity of white conservatives who say they oppose affirmative action due to potential discrimination against Asian people. 

“Asian Americans are being used as a shield or a proxy for these conservative, traditional white Trump supporters,” Wang said. “Saying that Asian Americans are being discriminated against is largely a strategy for these groups to twist the policies to help them.” 

Wang added that she thinks conservatives who claim to be concerned about Asian-American discrimination should focus on a wider range of issues that the Asian-American community currently faces, beyond potential discrimination in college admissions. 

One example she cited is the “bamboo ceiling,” which refers to the lack of Asian Americans in leadership roles in corporate America.

Wang also pointed to the lack of representation of Pacific Islanders, such as Samoans, as well as Southeast Asians on elite college campuses as indicative that affirmative action is still important for the Asian-American community. 

“The idea that Asian Americans have really high access to educational resources isn’t entirely true,” Wang said. “Affirmative action is still necessary for these specific Asian-American groups.”  

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