A Conflicted Asian-American’s Perspective on: Affirmative Action

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Is affirmative action necessary? Is it detrimental in today’s college admissions process, to some degree? There has been much heated debate as to whether the policy does in fact help promote opportunities for minorities and bring about equality, or whether this practice ends up endangering the opportunities of other racial groups in an attempt to help out the selected few.

Affirmative action was first introduced to the nation during the Kennedy administration in 1961, when President JFK signed an executive order declaring that the government must “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed…without regard to their race, creed, color, or natural origin.” Since then, this order has cascaded from the area of employment to the area of college admissions.

As a young Asian-American woman, I am aware of the public’s assumptions that the admissions process is a bit more challenging for members of my ethnic group. It has been generally posited that Asian students have to score higher on standardized tests, and that Asian students have to find ways to “stand out” more in the competitive application pools to strengthen their chances of being considered. There is a constant frustration that while Asian-Americans are perceived as the members of another minority group, they are being disadvantaged by a policy that is supposed to stand by the minority. That’s why various groups of Asian-Americans are coming together to sue Harvard University, by claiming that the institution considers race as a factor in admissions. The Justice Department is currently reviewing the claims.

To be quite honest with you, I am conflicted. There is one particular side of me which does not favor affirmative action because of reasons relating to personal bias. But there is another side of me that sees good in the goals affirmative action seeks to accomplish in terms of helping the African American and Latino communities acquire more opportunities in higher education, as well as better employment. This is the government’s attempt to help eliminate — since we cannot undo — the discrimination and inequality these communities have experienced in the United States’ past. In theory, the concept is wholesome; college campuses nationwide would enjoy diverse student bodies of faces, majors, and life experience.

While strong critics of affirmative action point out that by implementing such a mandate, colleges’ evaluation of candidates become racially-conscious, I would like to know how they have arrived at such conclusions. How can we people, individuals who are not college admissions counselors, accuse these institutions of actively considering race as an admissions factor when we do not have the insight?

We have our biases, our personal beliefs, and our tendency to simplify issues and fail to see the bigger picture. We cannot simply state that affirmative action grants universities the right to prioritize the admittance of students of color (regardless of their credentials) in the name of “equality.” How can we, if all we have are assumptions and lack evidence and concrete rulings from the courts?

My dad frequently tells me that affirmative action helped him get accepted into law school during the 1990s. As a Vietnamese refugee who immigrated to America a couple of years before, the policy helped make his dreams come true. I believe that there are stories that mirror the same gratitude and appreciation for affirmative action, and that the system still continues to work today.

I believe in established opportunity. I just don’t believe that there is a systematic bias that college admissions employ by actively factoring in race. The benefit of the doubt should be given, and the American Dream should be pushed forward, for all.  

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