My first reaction to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division's recent decision to investigate Harvard University's undergraduate admissions process to determine if it discriminated against Asian Americans was to laugh. "Look at these special snowflakes," I chuckled, “so frustrated about their Harvard rejections that they sued.”
While suffering through the pain of churning out application essay after application essay, and then enduring the seemingly incessant waiting period before D-Day, it is easy to get so carried away with the college process that you begin to see a false reality — name one person who didn't. Artificial senses of entitlement and hope begin to develop, as does the hyperaware feeling that every applicant is trying to personally push you out of the way of achieving your shining dream: Penn (or substitute the name of some other inferior institution). Therefore, on the surface, this article seemed like an archetypal tale of students stuck in their warped entitled worlds, upset they didn't snag a spot in their dream school.
But then I looked deeper into the complaints in the article and dove into the statistics.
There is strong evidence of racial discrimination against Asian Americans when it comes to the college admissions process. A 2015 Daily Pennsylvanian article cited a Princeton University study that found SAT scores of Asian-American applicants were reduced by 50 points while other minorities were awarded points. The same article further reported that 18.7 percent of Penn undergraduates identified as Asian-American or Pacific Islander in 2013, a number similar to the Wall Street Journal's breakdown of the class of 2021 at Harvard and other Ivy League schools.
While Asian Americans have made up roughly 20 percent of the classes within the Ivy League for the past decade, this group surpassed 30 percent in California public universities such as Universities of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles, which do not use race as an admissions factor by law. Similarly, the Asian-American percentage of California Institute of Technology’s class, a private institution that chose not to consider race in admissions, exceeded 40 percent, according to both the Wall Street Journal and the DP.
These numbers can't be pure coincidence. It is likely that there is a systemic problem causing these discrepancies between California universities and many schools across the nation, including the Ivies. The prime suspect: affirmative action.
Affirmative action was conceived a half century ago to help rectify two things: the racial injustices of slavery and Jim Crow, and the negative socioeconomic impacts of institutionalized racism on minorities. While the injustices committed against African Americans are particularly severe, injustices were committed against other races as well, for example during the Zoot Suit Riots and Japanese internment during World War II. If the original intention of affirmative action was to compensate for past wrongs against a plethora of races and religions, then how is this same policy now penalizing a race because of its members' stereotyped high achievements?
The purpose of affirmative action is in the name: affirmative, and not punitive, action to better create equal educational and commercial opportunity. I wholeheartedly support policies that promote both equal opportunity and campus diversity, as I believe it is a crucial part of any education to learn from people with different experiences and backgrounds. And I agree, as President Lyndon Johnson said, that "[y]ou do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe you have been completely fair." However, like any law, just because I support it doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.
Affirmative action policies have thus morphed into a type of benign discrimination all in the name of fostering campus diversity. In malignant discrimination, a racial group is isolated and branded as inferior and accordingly punished; yet affirmative action has isolated and branded Asian Americans as academically superior and, instead of rewarding such behavior, imposed a penalty to ensure that a certain cocktail of students mix. Not only does this logically make zero sense — the college process is supposed to reward, not penalize, academic achievement - but this is evidence of an inversion of moral standards.
Yes, the college admissions process is over for us lucky Penn students — thank goodness for that. However, college admissions is not the only area where affirmative action is a factor. Whether it is through competing for internships, research positions, graduate programs or jobs, institutions should always be mindful to have a diverse pool of students or employees.
It is easy to be blind to injustices during a process as stressful as applying to college, but it is essential that we always keep our eyes open. Especially today, when a malaise quells critical debates across the nation's campuses — within both conservative and liberal camps of thought — we need to make sure that well-intentioned policies like affirmative action do not evolve into something unproductive, or worse, antagonistic.
JACQUELYN SUSSMAN is a College freshman from Westport, Conn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. "The Objectivist" usually appears every other Wednesday.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.