Harvard's discrimination against Asian Americans

A similar injustice is at work today, against Asian-Americans. To get into the top schools, they need SAT scores that are about 140 points higher than those of their white peers. In 2008, over half of all applicants to Harvard with exceptionally high SAT scores were Asian, yet they made up only 17 percent of the entering class (now 20 percent). Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in America, but their proportion of Harvard undergraduates has been flat for two decades.


The most common defense of the status quo is that many Asian-American applicants do well on tests but lack intangible qualities like originality or leadership. As early as 1988, William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions, said that they were “slightly less strong on extracurricular criteria.”

Even leaving aside the disturbing parallel with how Jews were characterized, there is little evidence that this is true. A new study of over 100,000 applicants to the University of California, Los Angeles, found no significant correlation between race and extracurricular achievements.

The truth is not that Asians have fewer distinguishing qualities than whites; it’s that — because of a longstanding depiction of Asians as featureless or even interchangeable — they are more likely to be perceived as lacking in individuality. (As one Harvard admissions officer noted on the file of an Asian-American applicant, “He’s quiet and, of course, wants to be a doctor.”)

That's Yascha Mounk, a Harvard professor, in a NYTimes op-ed. There is a particular sting in this discrimination coming from Harvard since, as any Asian American first generation kid like myself will tell you, Harvard remains, for our parents, Earth's academic holy grail.

Given how hard it is to distinguish one extremely qualified applicant from the next (regardless of what admissions committees might claim), it would be more fair to set some bar for qualifying to get into Harvard and then put all those who pass the bar into a lottery for admission.


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