Monday, March 01, 2010

Affirmative Action and Asian Americans: the Korean's Take

Dear Korean,

Perhaps you’ve already seen this, but I found this column interesting. I wondered what your thoughts are on this.


Dear Kimberly,

Thank you for the article – the Korean found it interesting as well. The full article is worth reproducing here, because it does present an issue that many Asian Americans consider to be significant.
SAT SCORES aren’t everything. But they can tell some fascinating stories.

Take 1,623, for instance. That’s the average score of Asian-Americans, a group that Daniel Golden - editor at large of Bloomberg News and author of “The Price of Admission’’ - has labeled “The New Jews.’’ After all, much like Jews a century ago, Asian-Americans tend to earn good grades and high scores. And now they too face serious discrimination in the college admissions process.

Notably, 1,623 - out of a possible 2,400 - not only separates Asians from other minorities (Hispanics and blacks average 1,364 and 1,276 on the SAT, respectively). The score also puts them ahead of Caucasians, who average 1,581. And the consequences of this are stark.
Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, who reviewed data from 10 elite colleges, writes in “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal’’ that Asian applicants typically need an extra 140 points to compete with white students. In fact, according to Princeton lecturer Russell Nieli, there may be an “Asian ceiling’’ at Princeton, a number above which the admissions office refuses to venture.
Emily Aronson, a Princeton spokeswoman, insists “the university does not admit students in categories. In the admission process, no particular factor is assigned a fixed weight and there is no formula for weighing the various aspects of the application.’’

A few years ago, however, when I worked as a reader for Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, it became immediately clear to me that Asians - who constitute 5 percent of the US population - faced an uphill slog. They tended to get excellent scores, take advantage of AP offerings, and shine in extracurricular activities. Frequently, they also had hard-knock stories: families that had immigrated to America under difficult circumstances, parents working as kitchen assistants and store clerks, and households in which no English was spoken.
But would Yale be willing to make 50 percent of its freshman class Asian? Probably not.
Indeed, as Princeton’s Nieli suggests, most elite universities appear determined to keep their Asian-American totals in a narrow range. Yale’s class of 2013 is 15.5 percent Asian-American, compared with 16.1 percent at Dartmouth, 19.1 percent at Harvard, and 17.6 percent at Princeton.
“There are a lot of poor Asians, immigrant kids,’’ says University of Oregon physics professor Stephen Hsu, who has written about the admissions process. “But generally that story doesn’t do as much as it would for a non-Asian student. Statistically, it’s true that Asians generally have to get higher scores than others to get in.’’

In a country built on individual liberty and promise, that feels deeply unfair. If a teenager spends much time studying, excels at an instrument or sport, and garners wonderful teacher recommendations, should he be punished for being part of a high-achieving group? Are his accomplishments diminished by the fact that people he has never met - but who look somewhat like him - also work hard?

“When you look at the private Ivy Leagues, some of them are looking at Asian-American applicants with a different eye than they are white applicants,’’ says Oiyan Poon, the 2007 president of the University of California Students Association. “I do strongly believe in diversity, but I don’t agree with increasing white numbers over historically oppressed populations like Asian-Americans, a group that has been denied civil rights and property rights.’’ But Poon, now a research associate at the University of Massachusetts Boston, warns that there are downsides to having huge numbers of Asian-Americans on a campus.

In California, where passage of a 1996 referendum banned government institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, Asians make up about 40 percent of public university students, though they account for only 13 percent of residents. “Some Asian-American students feel that they lost something by going to school at a place where almost half of their classmates look like themselves - a campus like UCLA. The students said they didn’t feel as well prepared in intercultural skills for the real world.’’

But what do you do if you’re an elite college facing tremendous numbers of qualified Asian applicants? At the 2006 meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, a panel entitled “Too Asian?’’ looked at the growing tendency of teachers, college counselors, and admissions officers to see Asians as a unit, rather than as individuals.

Hsu argues it’s time to tackle this issue, rather than defer it, as Asians’ superior performance will likely persist. “This doesn’t seem to be changing. You can see the same thing with Jews. They’ve outperformed other ethnic groups for the past 100 years.’’

Which leaves us with two vexing questions: Are we willing to trade personal empowerment for a more palatable group dynamic? And when - if ever - should we give credit where credit is due?
Do Colleges Redline Asian-Americans? (Boston Globe)

As the article described, Asian Americans present a dilemma to colleges. In practically every objective admission criterion colleges tend to examine, Asian Americans destroy the field. At this point, even the Asian American stereotype of “math genius but not well-rounded student” is outdated. Asian Americans parents have long since figured out and adjusted their educational emphasis to what the elite colleges demand. The new generation of Asian American college applicants are modeled after Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the current president of Dartmouth College. They are class presidents and varsity quarterbacks on top of being valedictorians.

Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a.k.a. "Every Korean Mother's Dream"

So Asian Americans have high test scores and GPAs. Their extracurricular activities are excellent. They have shown leadership qualities. They often do this while being at a substantial disadvantage in terms of family wealth and other background, such as overcoming the language and cultural barrier. In other words, there is no “objective” way for a college to refuse an Asian American applicant, other than drawing a blatant – if unspoken – red line that limits the number of Asian Americans, simply by virtue of their race. Is this a good thing?

You might be surprised, because the Korean actually does think it is a good thing.

First of all, allow the Korean to first state his preferred end result: meritocracy must be an important element in college admissions. The meritocracy must involve clearly stated criteria such as test scores, quality of extracurricular activities, quality of letters of recommendation, and so on. And the Korean is not advocating that college campuses mirror exactly the local or national racial mix. There must be some sort of middle ground. The Korean does not know where the proper middle ground is. But the middle ground is probably not the 55 percent Asian American campus as it is in University of California, Irvine.

To explain why the Korean thinks so, allow the Korean to quote John Dewey: “Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” Because the Korean experienced two drastically different educational systems (Korean and American,) the truth of Dewey’s quote resonates even stronger with him. In fact, many of Korean educational system’s flaws (despite its numerous strengths) can be traced to this: Korea treats its schools as a place where students prepare for the real world, as opposed to treating it as the real world in and of itself. Thus, learning knowledge is emphasized, while learning social skills gets a short shrift.

The same principle must apply to colleges. College is not a meal ticket given for a certain set of “good behaviors”. It is a place where one receives education. And if colleges do not adequately reflect the “life itself” as Dewey said, they cannot provide adequate education.

Education that solely relies upon what is taught in the classrooms is incomplete at best.
(Not that Columbia University, pictured here, has anything to do with that.)

And the inescapable feature of American life is that Americans constantly deal with other Americans who can be very different from them. This difference need not be racial or cultural. The difference can originate from geography, social class, gender, sexual orientation, or any old thing. However, to ignore the need to handle racial and cultural differences in American life is to put blinders on one’s eyes. And obviously, the skill of handling racial and cultural differences in American life will not come solely through classroom education, if it comes at all in that manner. Students need to learn this skill simply by being around people who are drastically different from them.

Obviously, the differences that need to be represented cannot only be racial. Colleges (especially elite ones) must strive to replicate to some degree – not exactly, mind you – the larger American society in every manner. It needs to have geographical representation, wealth representation, sexual orientation representation, you name it. The more difference elite college students encounter, the better education they will receive.

The Korean draws this conclusion from his own experience. He is firmly convinced that University of California, Berkeley is the place that made him the person that he is today. Berkeley did so by providing a very diverse student body. For the first time in his life, the Korean met someone from Decatur, Alabama – the home of the second largest Wal-Mart in the world, according to him. A former amateur boxer who started college at age 25. A blind person who ended up becoming a school tour guide by memorizing the script in Braille and walking backwards with her cane pointing the other direction. A future NFL starting quarterback. An heiress who has a building on campus named after her family. Meeting and interacting with them gave the Korean a much more nuanced appreciation of the country and the world in which he lived.

The greatest college in the world.

One of the Korean’s favorite college memories is this: The Korean was friends with a charismatic deaf person who ended up serving as the Executive Vice President of the student government that oversees over 30,000 students. His friend was such a socially adept smooth talker that, other than the hearing aid on his ears and his pitchless voice typical of a deaf person, the Korean hardly noticed that his friend was much different from him.

One day, the Korean went to the beach with his friends. After dark, we set a bonfire, sat around it and talked. Because the fire was hot on his face, the Korean spoke with his two hands cupped around the lower part of his face, without thinking much about it. But whenever the Korean talked, the Korean’s friend waved his hand at the Korean, as if he was brushing something aside. The Korean did not understand. After a few seconds, finally another friend explained: “Justin can’t read your lips if you cover your face like that.”

It was a minor episode at the time, but somehow it stayed in the Korean’s mind. It was such a little thing that the Korean himself did not even perceive, but that little thing blocked out the entire communication for Justin. You would think that someone who moved from one country to another at age 16 would be able to appreciate the differences in radically different people. But the moment that stays with the Korean’s head had nothing to do with his experience of adjusting wholesale to a completely different culture. It had to do with his experience of something that was nearly imperceptible at the time but somehow resonated greater and greater until it became a personal philosophy-defining moment.

This is what education should be. Ideal education would provide everyone with this type of moment. Boston Globe columnist Kara Miller’s last question is a perfectly fair one: “When - if ever - should we give credit where credit is due?” The Korean does not know exactly where that line should be. But that is hardly a reason for not having a line. With help of research and experts, we engage in dicey line drawing all the time. (For example, why is the speed limit on some highways 65 mph, not 60 mph or 70 mph?) The line should be drawn at the point where Asian Americans students, like all other students, receive a meaningful education in living in a highly diverse society. And if meritocracy must take a less-than-100 percent role in the determination of who gets a chance to be educated in one of hundreds of elite universities in America, that’s how it should be.

After the jump, a couple of quick hitters that did not exactly fit anywhere.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

Two quick points that did not exactly fit anywhere:

1. The Korean is not convinced that Asian Americans are “historically oppressed” group who deserves special protection as Oiyan Poon in the article claims. Sure, Asian Americans who have been in America for several generations definitely experienced discrimination and oppression. But it is relatively rare to see Asian Americans who are more than third generation immigrants. Vast majority of Asian Americans originally immigrated to America after late 1960s, when the most virulent forms of racism have already passed. While it is certainly true that racism against Asian Americans exists today (and the Korean has bitterly complained about it,) the Korean is unconvinced that such racism is enough to give any special protection for Asian Americans (even if that special protection comes in a form of not having an “Asian cap”.)

2. Even if there was an “Asian cap,” the real damage to Asian Americans should be insubstantial because America has so many elite colleges. This is not like Korea, where there are only about 5 to 6 elite universities. Even if a hypothetical cap was, say, 20 percent of the student body across the board, there would not be enough qualified Asian American college applicants to fill up all the elite colleges in America. If an Asian American student cannot get into Harvard (and make her parents proud,) she would nonetheless be likely make it to at least one of Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Columbia, New York University, Georgetown, Emory, MIT, Penn, UVA, Michigan, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Washington U., Harvey Mudd, Oberlin, Amherst, Cooper Union, and so on and so forth. (She could probably get into Stanfurd as well, but why would anyone want to go to Stanfurd?)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Great caption for Jim Kim.

    When I told my hagwon students a brief biography of Jim Kim's life, the first and only response from a student was "his mom must be proud."

    My students taught me much more than I taught them.

  2. Having grown used to so many Asian-Americans being opposed to affirmative action, it was refreshing to see your defense of it, for many of the reasons I believe it's still important (as long as it doesn't allow for ineligible people to be accepted over eligible people).

    California has a need and responsibility to have a student body that reflects the diverse background of the state, socioeconomically, geographically (which is great for people from Susanville or Crescent City), and ethnically/racially. It does not serve the state well if certain groups end up having a dearth of college educated people among their group.

    That said, as a graduate of extremely heavily Asian UCI, I don't think my education suffered from that. (And I would add that this for many UCI applicants and students of different racial backgrounds, this was a self-selective group that didn't really mind that kind of environment, as were the choices of major within UCI — which was heavily White in the humanities and social sciences and heavily Asian in the sciences and engineering).

    I don't know where I'm going with this, so I'll just say: "Zot!"

  3. Very well examined. Diversity in student bodies is a major objective of affirmative action at the university level. Although I believe Berkely is more diverse than most, I like the personal examples here.

    Your point about there being many elite university options in America is a very good one. Most of the students I went to high school with or taught that wanted to get into a top university applied to about 10 schools. It was crazy and expensive, but it worked.

  4. Korean--I think you articulated well one of the main reasons why I don't necessarily support a wholly meritocratic admissions system. On the other hand, I hope that white students are also just as subject to the same "caps" that Asian/Asian American students are. As there is still some underrepresentation of Asian students (especially of particular underrepresented ethnicities that fall in the category of Asian) in elite colleges and universities, including my dear alma mater, I hope that the demographics balance out further in the future.

  5. y do u hate on stanford? 1 of my uncles got his phd in print journalism there

  6. @dobeki: He hates on Stanford because he went to Berkeley. Berkeley has a longstanding rivalry with Stanford, at least on their end. I'm not sure if Stanford cares about this rivalry.

  7. Berkeley (and UCLA and USC) invest a lot in the illusion of having rivalries so they can feel like they're Ivy League schools.

  8. If "Diversity" simply refers to an increase in minority presence, then a campus with 50% plus Asian population would be a good thing. Truth be told, if UCLA's Latino or African American student poluation ballooned to 50% next year, everyone would hail that as a milestone achievement. Our success rate in elite institution shouldn't be treated any differently.

    If you define "diversity" as racial quota, where every group enjoys equal representation, then you're bound to royally screw deserving students, Asian or not. Bad idea.

    AA supporters often propose a diverse campus as a wonderful breeding ground for cultural exchange. But in reality, what happens when you put different groups together? Koreans will stick with Koreans, Latinos with Latinos, assimilated with assmilated, etc. It's human nature to stay within your own people, your comfort zone.

    "Diversity" in colleges is largely an illusion. (There certainly no politcal diversity) Non white college students could spend the 4 years playing modern warfare and contribute nothing to racial development. I can't imagine Korean bio majors willingly taking "chicano literature" classes other than to meet Fine Arts requirement. Most of them will gladly work for a white majority company to make gobs of money after graduation.

    If I choose to eat a taco for lunch tomorrow, it's because I like Mexican food. No "diversity" expert urged me to try ethnic food. If I marry a black woman, it's because I love her as a person, and I embraced her culture. Not because I wanted to make statement about interracial relationship. Real diversity by my book - when people freely cross to the other side because it benefits them somehow, or because they were willing to learn more about it.

  9. Lee wrote:
    If you define "diversity" as racial quota, where every group enjoys equal representation, then you're bound to royally screw deserving students, Asian or not. Bad idea.

    Public universities are there to serve the public good (private ones, too, for that matter). It goes against the public good if a resource like education is concentrated such that a group — be it a group defined by class, ethnicity, or region — lacks that resource.

    AA supporters often propose a diverse campus as a wonderful breeding ground for cultural exchange. But in reality, what happens when you put different groups together? Koreans will stick with Koreans, Latinos with Latinos, assimilated with assmilated, etc. It's human nature to stay within your own people, your comfort zone.

    Maybe for many, but certainly not for all. Like anything else in school, you get more out of it if you make the effort. For many students, the exposure to different groups is indeed an enhancement, even if they don't hang around them all the time.

    My life and my outlook on it are very different for having spent half my childhood living in the Compton area. Diversity that brings eligible Black and Hispanic students into the universities, for example, opens windows of understanding to the White and Asian students from Fullerton or Mission Viejo who would otherwise not be exposed to them.

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  11. Miscellaneousian wrote:
    1) You met really various people who have different backgrounds in a university which is filled with Asian descent, don't you? How much is the rate of Asian descent students population over there? probably at least up to 40%?

    A thought just occurred to me: Why is a university that is 40% or 55% Asian considered to be lacking diversity, while a university that is 75% White is not?

  12. 1) You met really various people who have different backgrounds in a university which is filled with Asian descent, don't you? How much is the rate of Asian descent students population over there? probably at least up to 40%?

    2) Anyway, you wrongly mixed the issue with "diversity" and "discrimination".

    3) By the way, I don't intend offending you. I think, however, you can't tell fully the discrimination/oppression for Asian-American anyhow, since you're born out of the US. At least, you don't have to deal with the question, "Where are you 'originally' from?" do you?
    I mean, how can measure oppression of some group is less, some group is more?

  13. Probably the most unfortunate part of the admissions/affirmative action situation in the States is how (generally) lower performing children from the homes of Southeast Asian immigrants are placed in the same "Asian" category as the overachieving Koreans and Chinese. When rules are made and lines are drawn it unfortunately causes people harm, but as you said they are there for a purpose.

  14. Wanda, kush -- the Korean will not tolerate blasphemy against his alma mater.


    AA supporters often propose a diverse campus as a wonderful breeding ground for cultural exchange. But in reality, what happens when you put different groups together? Koreans will stick with Koreans, Latinos with Latinos, assimilated with assmilated, etc. It's human nature to stay within your own people, your comfort zone.

    So the solution is to have a racially monolith university instead of finding ways to mix in the students?

    I can't imagine Korean bio majors willingly taking "chicano literature" classes other than to meet Fine Arts requirement.

    The Korean took enough Ethnic Studies courses to nearly get a triple major.

  15. misc,

    You met really various people who have different backgrounds in a university which is filled with Asian descent, don't you?

    Yes. But the Korean wishes he met more. In particular, more white people, since the Korean work with them most of the time.

    Anyway, you wrongly mixed the issue with "diversity" and "discrimination".

    Rational differentiation to achieve a legitimate goal is not discrimination. Is the speed limit discriminatory?

    you can't tell fully the discrimination/oppression for Asian-American anyhow, since you're born out of the US. At least, you don't have to deal with the question, "Where are you 'originally' from?" do you?

    Please read this post, which is one of the most popular posts in AAK! history, and see if you can say what you say again.

    I mean, how can measure oppression of some group is less, some group is more?

    "Not getting lynched" is a pretty good measure.

  16. Why is a university that is 40% or 55% Asian considered to be lacking diversity, while a university that is 75% White is not?

    Because America as a whole is about 75 percent white. Students need to learn what it's like to live in a society like that.

  17. Joel wrote:
    lower performing children from the homes of Southeast Asian immigrants are placed in the same "Asian" category as the overachieving Koreans and Chinese.

    In California, at least, there is a differentiation made between the "overachievers" (a loathsome word that wreaks of telling someone or a group that they're performing above their station, though Joel may not have meant it in that way) and those from families of recent immigrants. At the very least, Cambodians are lumped in with Koreans.

    WORD VERIFICATION: unchillu, a university that's not very relaxed?

  18. The Korean wrote:
    Because America as a whole is about 75 percent white.

    Wrong. You're conflating diversity with population parity.

    Take two hypothetical universities, one that 75% White, with 90% of the White students being from the same five counties in the same state and being 80% of German descent and 17% of British Isles descent, and the other that is also 75% White, but with half of the students from other states and the Whites being 15% of Italian descent, 15% German descent, 15% British Isles descent, 20% Scandinavian descent, and the rest being a mixture, with a good number of foreign students from Western Europe or Australia thrown in. They both have population parity, but which is more diverse?

    Now I'm not sure of the numbers, but with the high concentration of Americans of German or British Isles descent (English, Scottish, and Irish), the average random crop of East Asian descent students in a US uni might be more diverse than with average crop of White students.

    BUT... there is an underlying assumption in the "too many Asians" argument that a lot of Asians tends to represent a lack of diversity and that having population parity for Whites tends to represent more diversity.

    Students need to learn what it's like to live in a society like that.

    Because they don't know already?! We should boost the budget of the primary and secondary schools so that they can spend two to three hours a week doing the "go and look the f--- around" exercise.

  19. The two downsides to un-regulating Asian American admission I can think of are:

    1. I would be afraid that less-than-stellar (i.e., just following the college formula without much thought or drive) Asian Americans can still score higher than many stellar members from other cultures and therefore effectively push out some very driven and motivated candidates of other cultural and economic situations. That would be tragic.

    2. After a certain threshold, it becomes very easy to stay within one's cultural comfort zone and therefore lose out on what you and I both agree is the most amazing thing about college: meeting and befriending people from ALL walks of life, not just those whose lives mimic yours (or the life you dream of living one day).

    I know this is totally anecdotal and can very well not hold water statistically, but during my 4 years in college (which shall remain anonymous but I will call by the code word "The Farm" GO CARDINAL) as a Korean American I had two choices: I could hang with all the other Korean Americans (take the same classes, go to the same church, etc.), or not.

    I chose not to, because 1. I always felt like an outsider in my mostly-Asian hometown and 2. Before this, I never really had the opportunity to hang out with so many different types of people.

    I considered that decision to be one of the most important I ever made, and if The Farm was 55% Asian (I think it was around 20% at the time), it would have been a lot harder to pull off.

  20. This post has personal bias written all throughout it (although you did state it was your "take.")

    So what if a school has a predominate Asian population? There are countless women only and black colleges and universities. Why should whites be the only ones able to dominate in student body represenation and population? Because they are white?

  21. tK, great post!

    I agree with you on the need for diversity in the campus, yet I must admit that I still feel uncomfortable about any admission allocation (stated or unstated) dependent on race. Balancing the need for a diverse student group and maintaining a fair admission process is a challenge that doesn't seem to have a clear cut solution. I was thinking about this issue in the past when the African American student quota was being discussed.

    I believe this is a balancing act and a subjective call for the admission department and is hard to criticize them, unless there is clear evidence of neglect or abuse.

    As my teacher back in school used to say, "Life ain't fair, and then you croak!"

  22. kush,

    Wrong. You're conflating diversity with population parity.

    In the Korean's book, they are the same. In fact, the Korean avoided using the words "diversity" and "diverse" as much as he could, because they became shibboleths of what the Korean does not want.

    To restate the Korean's position: Colleges are better of if they reflect the larger population to some degree. How you label that -- "diversity" or "population parity" -- is up to you.

    Because they don't know already?!

    Given that a significant portion -- if not the majority -- of Asian Americans live in ethnic enclaves dominated by others who look like them, the Korean is inclined to say they actually don't know already. But it would be ideal they learned it previous to college as well.

    Julie, no Stanfurd fans served here.

    (Just kidding. Many of the Korean's friends attended Stanford. It's a great school.)


    So what if a school has a predominate Asian population?

    Did you even read the post?

  23. Kushibo

    If Latinos and African Americans earned good grades (their test scores tend to lag behind other groups) and I dominated the student field, I wouldn't argue for them to be excluded only to boost enrollment of other ethnicities. Most Latinos would be outraged if I proposed that an institution should cap THEIR population to make room for other minorities. Of course, that's a hypotehtical situation, given their miniscule presence in most elite institutions.

    I disagree with the thought that a university must represent EVERYONE according to their ethnicities, sexual orientation, geographical and national origins, etc. That's arbitrary, if not implausible. I would be devastated if my child was denied entrance to the UCs because the quota for straight Asian kid from Southern California was already met.

    Yes, there are other excellent universities out there. But what if a student coveted certain program and faculty? Price? Perhaps he preferred a diverse population, or one saturated with his own people? Maybe he had a job close to home and didn't want to attend schools outside of his state? I realize you can't get everything, and the college submission is a subjective process. But you can't potentially deny a well qualified student his top tier choices and leave him with a bunch secondary options only because his racial group is well represented in the student population or a certain field. Since Asians are already dominating the minority segment of any campus, we have a lot to lose with a "AA on Asians".

    In reality, certain groups earn better grades than others. Different people favor different majors. True for gender lines as well. The racial makeup of most schools will at least partially reflect that. I was an English major. How many minorities, much less Asians, were in my classes? One Chinese, handful of blacks and Latinos, and that's about it. No one really made a fuss about the scarcity of Asians in the English program, because it's an unpopular fine arts major, and most Asians chase business or science degrees. It's just the way it is, no bigotry or conspiracy involved. If you want all universities and all programs to be totally inclusive, I'd say that's unrealistic.

    Universtities SHOULD take race into account, especially if the student applicant has contributed to the advancement of his own culture in some ways. ("Oh, my family endured hardships as immigrants" stories are dime a dozen, really) They should welcome all viewpoints and encourage debates on various issues. Above all, they must promote diversity of THOUGHT and CULTURAL exchange. That's not achieved by default with a structured physical diversity. If, in the pursuit of that racial quota, a talented student was denied opportunity, then he has a legitimate gripe on his hands.

    As it is, most universities lean hardcore left, Jewish and Arab students spar with each other, and college kids drink, party, smoke, play countless hours of modern warfare, hang nooses on libraries, chase fahionable causes, and generally behave like most Americanized (white?) young adults would. The romance of "diversity", a kind of racial brotherhood most Americans envision, is rarely seen.

    Lastly, I'm not necesarily horrified by a campus where one racial group constitutes an absolute majority of the student population. So what if Asians take up 30,40% of the campus? Most of them earned it. "Asians" might include Koreans, Vietanamese, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Laotian, Taiwanese, "Pacific Islander", etc. Pretty broad range of cultures and nationalities, each unique and at least two of them hate each other to death. We shouldn't be brushed aside as de facto whites as sympathies lean towards blacks and Latinos, whose academic struggles defy a one size fit all AA solutions.

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  25. I agree with the Korean on students should learn how the society really is while they're in college. I went to UCI myself and found it very comfortable having so many Asian students on campus. However, it never properly introduces me to the culture of White American. Not until I came down to UC San Diego for grad school and later on enter the biotech workforce (which is predominantly White) did I realize how important it is not to just stay with your own racial group.

    I know it may be unfair that Asians need to excel at a higher level than other groups to get admitted into the top universities...but isn't that how our society as a whole works? You look at CEOs of corporate America, and aren't they 99% White male? To be straighforward, life and our society are both unfair....that's just how the world is. And the best way is just to cope with it.

  26. Thank you for another thought-provoking post, tK.

    As an ascending college student, I have worried about the possible competition I might face (not just from fellow Asian students, but from all students in particular).

    However, your comments about the real value of education really helped put my worries at ease.

    I'll happily send off my applications next year.

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  28. A few scattered comments:

    1. Asian-Americans do benefit from affirmative action.

    Much brouhaha over affirmative action focuses on its application in college or graduate school admissions, where Asian-Americans indeed get the short end of the stick.

    Nonetheless, what is ignored is that Asian-Americans do slightly benefit from affirmative action outside the educational context (e.g. government contracts).

    (Of course, this data may be out-dated, given that it has been at least a decade since I researched this topic.)

    Moreover, some elite institutions do/did give a plus to Asian-American candidates in admissions, due to a variety of factors. I knew, for instance, that this was true when I applied to Dartmouth College. And Dartmouth is emphatically not the only elite institutions that had difficulty attracting minority candidates when I applied.

    2. "Affirmative Action" in college or graduate school admissions is not de facto limited to race.

    I have several friends who happen to be/have been admissions officers (including at an Ivy League college), and you would be absolutely shocked at how many academically unqualified students are admitted because they can run 4.4 40 yard dash or are children of an alumni.

    So it is not like we have a purely meritocratic admissions standard anyways.

    (But to be fair, I also concede that the larger size of unqualified minority candidates as opposed legacy or "student-athlete" candidates makes the race affirmative action aspect more problematic.)

    3. I personally think there are better justifications for affirmative action or racial quotas than "diversity."

    To be frank, "stability" or--if one were to be less frank--"opportunity" would be a better slogan. To summarize and even simplify Aristotle (and many lesser lights after him), a society cannot endure by shutting off a large segment of its population from the corridors of power, regardless of its fitness or capacity. Hence, aristocracies must take special care to incorporate the demos (and, conversely, democracies the aristoi) into the ruling structure. Likewise, American pigmentocracy must do the same to its racial minorities in order to moderate stasis.

    This is what I call a "conservative" case for affirmative action.

    4. In a similar vein, the original rationale of affirmative action as a temporary fix was a bad strategy.

    I understand that the "race" metaphor and temporary fix rhetoric was used by LBJ to dampen the opposition to affirmative action. But I think the underlying presumption that racism is a temporary phenomenon--and that we can eradicate racism through education, enlightenment, and exposure--underestimates what is permanent in human. And surely, the discriminating and tribalizing instinct is primeval with man.

    Hence--like a good Aristotelian or Burkean conservative who knows that certain unappetizing aspects of human societies will never disappear--I would have framed affirmative action in permanent terms, as a system of eternal quotas.

    Of course, that would invite a rhetorical problem. That is, such a pssimistic and tribe-centered perspective clashes with the fundamentally optimistic and "individualistic" American ethos. So perhaps some rhetorical subterfuge about affirmative action may be inevitable.

  29. True! It's not great preparation for working life to go to a school whose population largely ticks the same race box as you do on the US Census - especially when that race box is not "Caucasian." However, I wonder how many Asian-Americans would be at Ivy Leagues or even colleges "further down" the spectrum if admissions were race-blind; would it be so terrible to have a 20 or 30% Asian-American student body?

    On the flip side, why don't people talk more about the fact that many of these schools have a solid 20-30% (often white) legacy population as a factor in undercutting a well-rounded college experience? I think it points to how American racialization trains us to see whites as individuals or the norm and Asian-Americans, especially, as the perpetual and homogenized outsider that this debate centers on the minority population's ability to decrease diversity in the rare cases when it dominates (or even increases).

    And as someone who really enjoyed her summer class at Berkeley, Cal and its organic ice cream parlors are fantastic. Stanford kids have no idea what they're missing out on.

  30. I can't ever be in favour of denying someone admission to university based on the colour of their skin. That's ridiculous. The goal of teaching students how to interact with other cultures is valuable, particularly if you're an ethnic minority that can't relate to the majority (ie not a problem that white people have), but using university admissions should not be the vehicle for this.

    I do appreciate the overall argument, however. I come from a suburb that is heavily South Asian (at least 50%?). My high school was more of a UN-type mix, and my university program (liberal arts) was mostly white. The result is that I know people who grew up in Canada but dealt almost exclusively with other South Asian.

    It comes out in their mentality, their diminished ability to interact with people from other races on more than a superficial level, and, yes, even their accent. I can always tell who came from what part of Toronto based on their accent, even if they were born in Canada.

  31. Adeel wrote:
    I can't ever be in favour of denying someone admission to university based on the colour of their skin. That's ridiculous.

    But "straightforward" (i.e., non-affirmative action) admissions does do that as well, only indirectly and more insidiously.

    I used to live in a nearly all-Black neighborhood near Compton College. It got that way because it was redlined (which was apparently illegal), meaning Blacks were pushed by realtors into that neighborhood, while good White folk were shown other homes in nicer neighborhoods. Our neighborhood had been nice, until some of the Whites who had made up a sizable amount of our once multi-ethnic middle-class community decided they didn't want to live around so many (middle class) Black people, and they started to leave. When you have enough people leaving, property values go down, and then more people — even the ones who don't mind living next to Blacks — feel a need to leave, too. This leads to more downward pressure on real estate values, which causes more to leave (my dad was unwilling to move "just because some stupid White people don't want to live next door to Black people) and he lost 40% of what he had paid for his home. We finally moved when we were the last of three non-Black families in a half-mile by half-mile block, by which time drive-bys had occurred several times, our home had been burgled (and my dad's hunting rifles stolen), and our school had started to deteriorate. See, a lot of local services, police, fire, and to some extent schools, were based on local property taxes, and the tax base had melted, China syndrome style, through the floor. The police were not equipped to handle the problems that came when the middle class Blacks themselves were getting out of Dodge and being replaced by poor Blacks, many of whom rented out the neglected homes owned by absentee (often White) landlords.

    Our neighborhood was a mess, and it was a mess because of the race of most of the inhabitants (though not necessarily because of anything they'd done wrong). School performance was low — smart kids would have had a much harder time than ten years earlier — and so if an admissions eligible kid from Cummings Street could not get in because their SATs and grades were not quite as high as that of some kid from Irvine, then yes, that is an outcome based on the color of their skin.

  32. First post here!

    Here is an interesting wrinkle on this matter. I was laying the groundwork for my Korean nephew to get into a local university and got to meet with an admissions office staffer. He told me colleges downplay Asian applicants statistics (especially ACT and SAT scores) because they are not as good of indicators for them as they are for applicants from other ethnic groups. The reasoning is many Asians cram for tests and perform well, but can't necessarily manipulate the data they have or in worst case situations may not even understand the meaning of the answers they got right!

    Here is a simple example of this. Lets say you have a test on the Battle of Hastings. The Asian student using Asian study methods would come into the test knowing all sorts of information. They'd know the exact date, names of the leaders, size of forces, who won/lost, etc. But if you asked this person why all this mattered, their response may not be all that satisfactory.

    One troubling bit to this, is what about the Asian student who comes from a family with deep roots in America? I have a high school friend who is Japanese but here family has lived in America about 120 years. She dealt with school just like all the white and black kids at our school. Despite that, I think she got her college application stats handicapped.

  33. Chris,

    I think the de-emphasis on the SAT (or other standardized test) scores of Asian applications on the explanation that Asians are simply effective test takers might hold some validity for overseas applications or recent immigrants.

    But I think the explanation is not very applicable for early immigrants or born Americans who did not grow up in the test-taking "hagwon" and memorization-dominated class-room culture.

  34. I don't have time to get into it right now, but I think the last two comments underscore a basic problem of the SAT (and there are many): This supposedly objective test often used to reinforce a socioeconomic hierarchy with WASPy Whites on top in the past is now being "scrapped" (or at least discounted) in some sort of way when another group comes along as and beats the WASPy Whites at the same game.

  35. Kushibo,

    But you have to have some form of "objective" criteria for admissions.

    Sure, standardized tests may be flawed, but would it be better to replace them with a wholly subjective criteria? Please, don't urge us to throw the baby with the bath water.

    Also, you seem to imply that the trend de-emphasizing standardized tests has to do with "WASP" fear of increasing competition. I have no expertise in the area, but the impression--esp. from admissions officers who are close friends/acquaintances--is that the pressure is still from under-performing Blacks and Hispanics and their champions.

  36. Won Joon Choe wrote:
    But you have to have some form of "objective" criteria for admissions.

    Sure, standardized tests may be flawed, but would it be better to replace them with a wholly subjective criteria? Please, don't urge us to throw the baby with the bath water.

    When a person is deemed qualified or not qualified, based on a multiple-choice test that measures skills contrary to what one would actually need in school, we have failed our students and ourselves.

    Using the SAT as "objective" criteria to determine who would be a good student or not is like using basketball tryouts to field a soccer team because you don't have the resources to obtain a soccer field.

  37. Kushibo,

    1. I think you know my aversion to one-solution-fits-all approaches.

    So for the record: I am not advocating that standardized tests should be the sole nor even the primary criterion. I would prefer a more holistic scheme myself.

    2. Your criticism of standardized as "a multiple-choice test that measures skills contrary to what one would actually need in school" is contestable. But even if that is the case, what measure do you think better predicts performance in school, and--perhaps more germane--how would you standardize it for purposes of admissions?

  38. P.S. Needless to say, I don't like your analogy! :)

  39. Won Joon Choe wrote:
    2. Your criticism of standardized as "a multiple-choice test that measures skills contrary to what one would actually need in school" is contestable. But even if that is the case, what measure do you think better predicts performance in school, and--perhaps more germane--how would you standardize it for purposes of admissions?

    A complete revamping of the SAT so that it more closely mimicked actual skills needed in college would be in order. This might involve removing time limits (how many of us routinely had to take tests where running out of time halfway through was such a looming threat that it was a game changer in the way we approached the test; sure, running out of time on the last question or two was a possibility on some tests, but not at all in the way that it is for most people on the SAT).

    This would involve the use of materials that students actually use when they use language, including dictionaries, etc.

    Of course, since everybody is accustomed to the SAT as it is, these ideas seem radical or counterintuitive, but if you want to figure out what a prospective student can figure out, you have to put them in a more appropriate environment.

    But the real reason it won't be accepted is the cost. The cost to ETS, which is a huge money-making venture, their "non-profit" status notwithstanding. People are lulled into thinking that this is a semi-governmental agency, but it's really just a private corporation that has done a very good job of protecting and expanding its interests. They don't want to do a test the right way because it would cost them too much money. It would actually cost them the amount of money people already pay to take their tests (tell me why a 40-page book and a scantron should be over $100).

    It's a scam. As much as I loathe the way the 수능 in Korea is the end-all-beat-all determinant of college entrance in Korea, at least the Korean government gets it right in terms of being in control of the test and keeping it affordable.

    And I'm speaking from the point of view as someone who got nearly 800 on SAT math and 800 on GRE math, with pretty high verbal scores to boot. I say that only to demonstrate I'm not some disgruntled person who couldn't cut in on ETS tests. Rather, I'm someone who sees the scam and the inherent unfairness.

  40. I learned how to deal with American diversity the old fashioned way, growing up in the streets of the Bronx during the 80s.

    I didn't need to go to some fancy college campus and have my parents spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to learn about diversity because my roommate was some redneck from Alabama or what have you.

    Any Asian-American who supports Affirmative Action and any system other than pure Meritocracy has his head embedded deep within his rear end.

    This opinion is nothing more than regurgitated political correctness tripe, not a unique Asian-American viewpoint. Diversity? Gimme a break. Most KAs end up being some variety of Twinkie anyway. In fact this opinion could have been said by some white liberal twat who probably majored in basket weaving at a small liberal arts college that was 80% white.

  41. I mean, how can measure oppression of some group is less, some group is more?

    "Not getting lynched" is a pretty good measure.

    Really? "getting lynched" is your only measurement of oppression? By that measurement, most people in the States aren't oppressed. When was the last time someone was actually lynched?

    Korean, your arguments are good, but this simplistic notion of racial oppression can't stand in a country whose president -- whose most powerful person -- is a black man who has experienced racial oppression.

  42. Really? "getting lynched" is your only measurement of oppression?

    No. The Korean never wrote "only". But it is "a" measure, as the Korean wrote previously.

    When was the last time someone was actually lynched?

    As far as the Korean can remember, 1999 (James Byrd Jr.)

    this simplistic notion of racial oppression can't stand in a country whose president -- whose most powerful person -- is a black man who has experienced racial oppression.

    How is Barack Obama relevant to this at all? If anything, he is the proof positive that the oppression is (while actual) not enough to prevent minorities from achieving success.

  43. Interesting post. I have been told to inject into these discussions that redlining of asian americans has less to do with affirmative action than negative action, which is keeping the asian americans out. Where slots that AA's are kept from due to discrimination dont' go to other minorities; most likely, it will go to a white person. Also, yea like everyone said the 20% Legacy thing is huge too.

    My most important point is that diversity does not have to suffer from AA enrollment rising to 20-30%. Learning to interact with a diverse group of people is left to the individual. If we look at it from the other side, white students in white majority colleges (almost all) hanging out with almost all white students. I would not say this would seriously negatively impact their success later in life. Asian americans must more importantly learn to interact with white students even if one has mostly asian friends because that will be the workplace majority (like in the Korean's case) In the future, when hispanic numbers are really high thats ok. they will end up acting like white people anyway in the workplace. Maybe learning spanish would be good for the real world. but emphasis should be placed in hanging out and schmoozing with white students (don't become a banana/twinkie) but don't exclusively hang out w/ asians.

    Korean grocers have faced racial violence.

    I thought this other article was interesting:

    I don't feel as though my test taking abilities or interest in science was due to parental pressure, though i must acknowledge their nurture, support and parenting. I mean students start taking multiple choice tests at a very young age; its a lot of practice leading up to the SATs and other tests.

    standardized testing is not perfect but diminishing testing in american education will lead to lower quality in the actual academic caliber of students in a student body. ideally, you'd admit high scoring, well rounded students who excel in other areas without redlining asians. revamping the content, format or discriminatory aspects of the sat will not diminish asian performance on the test in the long run. Test taking is a skill; practice makes perfect. Changing the test just changes how you prepare.

  44. @Julie: I agree with you about how beneficial making "the choice" you did was in college. Meeting and accepting new friends of different racial backgrounds forces your mind to a person (no matter their race) for who he or she is as a person. This allows us to differentiate from the stereotypical ethnic personality standard by measuring our friend's own behavior against it. Thus, we are training our minds to allow for exception from accepted racial behavioral standards. The prejudice in our minds this way can slowly be changed.


    "So what if a school has a predominate Asian population? There are countless women only and black colleges and universities. Why should whites be the only ones able to dominate in student body represenation and population? Because they are white?"

    I couldn't disagree with you more. One of the main reasons that elite universities are just that is because they have racial diversity in their student body. Whites are not the only race that gets to dominate a university's racial profile. There are all or nearly all black schools that do that in the U.S. Woman's schools too. If someone wants to have an all Asian school go for it! Good luck getting the high SAT scoring Asians too attend....haha. They will want to go to these elite universities that red line Asians. I pity students that go to all or predominately anything schools because of the experiences and non-classroom learning their students will be deprived of.
    Lower ranked schools that want to be all/predominantly Black, White, Asian, Male, Female, Gay, Christian, Muslim, Transgender, Transvestite, whatever way you want to filter to admit students... can still exist. However, chances are the schools that allow for the most diverse range of race and by extension cultural background and frame of thought will probably be the highest ranked. Why is that?...
    I think it is because even though it is human nature to "be around your own kind", the fact that two different races have to share space in everyday life makes it more likely that each group will learn something about the other's thinking, culture, and behavior whether they choose to or not. Those experiences are invaluable assets in the real world which does just the same in forcing the races to interact with one another whether we choose to or not. These experiences probably make students' smarter in a number of ways. Students or races of people that isolate themselves to any other race except their own lose out in the end on human progress and technological development. There are too many examples in history to cite (and I am digressing as it).

    It is so interesting how the race wars play out. One minority may be discriminated against in one culture and not like that experience while all the time bemoaning how unfair and wrong discrimination is. Then, the true test comes when the tables are turned.. I notice that a lot people somehow forget that idea of fairness and equality when their race is in the favored position and they are no longer the minority. The motto then becomes "well, that is just how things are"... or any other excuse to maintain their societal position.
    Funny how biased, bigoted, and hypocritical all races are when their own interests are at stake....

  45. A campus that is 100% Asian-American would be a lot more diverse than many American universities that are between 90-100% white...and diversity in America is a myth, as Prof. Nancy Abelmann discusses in "The Intimate University." Universities should be 75% white because America is 75% white? that is pretty lame. then why isn't the Senate 75% white? U.S. universities' admissions is a microcosm of America's history of race management, a work still in progress that still needs many, many more changes.

  46. Because America as a whole is about 75 percent white. Students need to learn what it's like to live in a society like that.

    I don't like that answer. Look at our lives from a worldview perspective. Look at Asia (China) rising above. This world is NOT 75% White.

  47. There is a lot of diversity within the label "white" people use, just as there is among the "Asian" category. I get the commenters' points, but don't be so dismissive of "white," as if there is no diversity among the "white" experience.

  48. Do you really think that students at schools that don't use affirmative action are missing out on anything in regards to learning how to interact with other races? I'm sure the average graduate from UCI is smart enough to know how to treat all races with respect and not discriminate/stereotype against them; you don't need to go to a "diverse" school to know that. it really is common sense for the most part, especially if all these people grew up in the US. I'm pretty sure if Ivies dropped affirmative action, their students wouldn't miss out on much either. If a school wanted diversity, they would be more concerned with the number of international students they have as opposed to the racial makeup of its American students. this is especially important in an increasingly globalized world. It's topics such as this that reminds us all just how insular and ignorant many Americans are of the rest of the world; 75% of the US is white, so it's okay for a college to be 75% white and not be considered non-diverse? You do know that worldwide, only about 20% of all people are white? by that logic, any university with over 20% whites has too many whites and should start redlining the white student population. Also, keep in mind that many students may end up self-segregating anyways, so regardless of how many students of another race are present, they may still end up keeping to their own race. you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. and even if they did self-segregate, it'd be okay because if they ever did have to deal with those of another race, they'd be able to simply out of common courtesy. just because they don't doesn't mean they can't.

    When I was in school, I always got excited when I met an exchange student from another country, much moreso than when I met a fellow American student of another race. I really don't see what I have to learn by being around AMERICANS of a different race. It's kind of redundant. Another nationality, sure. But not those from the same country as me. To be honest, I find most parts of the US to be boring anyways, and the key to being prepared for the future lies with learning more about the rest of the world.

  49. I disagree. Racial makeup of the college population should not mimic the racial makeup of the US as a whole. It is unrealistic to expect this of any industry or isolated group. Is it unfair that black people dominate basketball? Is it unfair that Jewish people dominate Nobel prizes in sciences? There is a reason. Sterotypes can be ugly and ridiculous but sometimes, they hold some truth. As shown by SAT scores and other evidence, Asian people hit the books better than anyone else. Combine that with all the other applicable achievements and a reverence for academics and education, and it's only reasonable that Asian people should dominate colleges. How is it fair that Jewish people make up 2% of the population but can make up as much as 75% of a college population? Should we add a new "Jewish" category to "races" and place a 2% race quota on Jewish people, like on Asians people?

    Colleges should reserve a small proportion of acceptances to applicants from low socioeconomic backgrounds, but race should not be a factor, especially when the applicant is an American citizen. If colleges become Asian-dominated, so be it. What are we afraid of? Are colleges really disadvantaged by a large Asian population? Especially when many Asians in college these days, are naturalized American citizens, some with multiple generations of living in the states. Is it because they are seen as less American, than white Americans? And what about those who are adopted, raised by non-Asian households. Are they Asian? Should they be included in the quota? Even though they probably have a different up-bringing than someone raised in an Asian household?

    However, I do not think college admissions should become race-blind as they give insight into the whole picture of an individual applicant. I am against legacy and race quotas. I am for making admissions more of a meritocracy. If Asian population shoots to 50%, so be it. And I do think we should reserve a small % of admissions for those from low socioeconomic backgrounds as stated earlier, regardless of race. Even though most of those disadvantaged applicants end up dropping out and not completing their degrees... The idealist in me still persists.

    And speaking of SAT scores... SAT scores are unfairly criticized. More than anything, especially for technical majors, they are a great early challenge that mimics that in technical courses: studying from a book/class and then taking a multiple choice test. Yes, great students might do poorly but as long as SAT scores are used to include rather than exclude a potential candidate, then they will be around for a long time. This is from someone who had a shit GPA but great SAT scores and extracurriculars. SATs gave me a chance to prove myself and now I have close to a 4.0 in college.

    1. 2016 -- No longer uses SAT for college admission.

  50. I'm glad at least finally SOMEONE says they're going to a certain school to fulfill their own dreams, not their momma's dreams. I was getting worried for a while.


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