harvard-1401205_960_720
Statue of John Harvard in Harvard Yard // CC0

Dear Jessica Li,

Nice article! I’ve read many opinions about this issue and I am still not completely sure what the right answer is. Affirmative action has historically been a polarizing topic and a discrimination case by one minority group against others makes things even messier. I think it’s great that people like you are stirring discussion and attempting to answer the questions at hand.

I think it is completely true that people probably shouldn’t sue a school purely based off the fact that they feel entitled to an acceptance letter. That said, from what I’ve read so far (granted it’s not much), I feel like the lawsuit represents more than just a personal grudge against a school; it asks a question of principle: Is it fair that when you have an Asian American and a non-Asian American with an almost identical profile, the data appears to show that you are more likely to get in as a non-Asian American? Is it fair if this difference is statistically significant?

I think realistically speaking, the majority of supporters of this lawsuit are probably just upset Asian-American families whose kids did not get into Harvard despite having stellar grades and extracurriculars. Nevertheless, I feel like that is the angle a lot of people focus on — almost too much — when building an argument that this lawsuit is attacking the affirmative action system in place. I think it’s easy to forget about the principle argument aforementioned and turn it into a debate about who has more privilege or whether it’s bad that this lawsuit is pitting minorities against one another.

Credit: Julia Schorr

While I wholeheartedly agree that affirmative action is a great thing on the most part, I also wonder sometimes about the alleged benefits of diversity as part of college life. Personally, I find the greatest impact of affirmative action the idea that we are giving historically underprivileged groups to chance to attend greater education and get themselves out of the cycle of poverty/lower socioeconomic status. That should be reason enough to support affirmative action, and not the “Wow, our school is so diverse, our education will be great!” angle. I mention this because I think the latter argument — while probably true — when used as the main argument justifying affirmative action, becomes an easier argument for someone to question when building a case saying affirmative action is unnecessary in colleges.

To put it all together: I think this case is polarizing because it assumes affirmative action is the cause of the discrimination, and puts the two in an almost mutually exclusive light. Parties on both sides argue each of their respective policies should be maintained/changed in order to advance minority groups’ statuses in America. Affirmative action becomes especially looked down upon by lawsuit supporters because people focus too much on the benefits of diversity, rather than the (arguably more important) benefits of giving disadvantaged groups a chance to attend higher education. 

Conversely, this case also is looked down upon by affirmative action supporters because it comes off like its motive is to trash affirmative action, but its true motive (or at least, what their motive should be) is to remove what seems like statistically significant discrepancies in admission rates when sorted by race (which may or may not have been caused by affirmative action).

I think the ideal solution is a compromise where affirmative action isn’t completely dismantled, but instead admissions officers stop making these subconsciously biased decisions when it comes to Asian-American applicants, and remove that statistical discrepancy. Obviously, that’s not something the law can easily control/implement, so the case goes for the simpler solution of ending race-based admissions entirely. I don’t think that’s ideal at all, but I think this practicality issue is why the case is targeting affirmative action as such.

Maybe I’m wrong on some of these points, so please feel free to correct me; I am still learning more about this issue and these are simply my thoughts so far.

Lastly, I hope you ignore (or at least, attempt to make productive discussion with) the other commenters. It always pains me to see random people attack/come off completely dismissive and condescending to poor authors like you at The Daily Pennsylvanian instead of actually trying to facilitate discussion and have fruitful debate, like an opinion column should be doing. You’re doing great and I hope to read more from you in the future!

YOUNG LEE is an Engineering junior from Vancouver, B.C. studying computer and information science. His email address is leejaeyo@seas.upenn.edu. He is a former Under the Button video staffer.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.