Are Equal Opportunities Really Equal?

Amelia Hewson | publishinghaus

Erika C, Junior

With a 4.6% acceptance rate, the prestigious Ivy League, Harvard University, is one of the most selective institutions in the world. However, a recent controversy with Harvard’s affirmative action program – which gives specific ethnicities priority in the college admission process- has tainted the world-renowned reputation of the school. In 2014, a group of Asian-American students filed a lawsuit against the University for discriminating against a specific pool of applicants. The students were challenging Harvard’s admission policies, which they claimed intentionally limits the number of accepted Asians, regardless of whether they’re more qualified than other applicants. As the case unfolds, Harvard has been forced to disclose long-withheld information on their admission process, making the case a hot topic among students, teachers and citizens alike.

Recently, the lawsuit revealed Harvard’s five-aspect assessment for prospective students, including an academic, athletic, personal and extracurricular score. Alongside this finding was a far more controversial reveal; Harvard unjustly lowers the personal score of Asian-American students to compensate for their commonly high academic achievement. According to statistics, on average, 21.3% white students get the highest score on the “personal score,” while only 17.6% Asian-Americans can reach the top. The supposed reasoning behind this method is maintaining a racial balance within the institution, to prevent a minority from dominating the student body. Qian Guo, a junior at Harvard who identifies as Asian, responded to this news, stating: “Even if it is understandable that colleges want to create equal opportunities for students who cannot gain as many educational opportunities, it is quite irrational to pull up the threshold for Asians simply because they are stereotypically hard-working and academically strong students.” Qian’s words shed light to the core issue with Harvard’s policy: an applicant’s racial identity can be the deciding factor in their acceptance or rejection, instead of their individual character.  

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Many Asian countries have an education system in which teenagers have to achieve exceptional academic success in order to climb the economic social ladder, and secure a stable life. With the overwhelming competition among students, wealthier Asian families often choose to send their children to American schools, to escape the toxic academic environments of their homeland. However, as more international students excel in American educational facilities, the standards for the average Asian student has risen to extreme levels. Throughout the past decade, the term “Model Minority” has rapidly been adopted to describe the expected high performance of Asian pupils. Even though stereotypes such as that “Asians are good at math” may have a positive connotation, such ideals create unattainable standards for students, who feel obligated to live up to this toxic racial image.

An anonymous Asian international student in the NWS community holds a strong opinion regarding this policy: “My family is not a typical Asian family that some people may imagine. Instead of my parents, I am always the one who sets expectations for myself due to my awareness of my family’s emotional, financial and physical hardships for supporting me to study in the U.S.” After talking about the difficulties he experienced studying in the U.S, he stated: “The reason that I talked about these experiences is because I want people to know that when they are in shock of an Asian student’s academic performance or pressure, do not simply think that it is because they are Asian or they have strict Asian parents. I set these expectations for myself because I think these are the expectations that I should set for me, my family, and my compatriots.” Similarly, Deanna Wang, a current Taiwanese American senior at NWS also feels the same way:

Do you feel pressured or stressed that you have to be good at math just because you are Asian?

Deanna: “Intellectually I want to say no, but actually YES.”

Has anyone said that you are good at math because you are Asian?

Deanna: “Too many times.”

Has your hard work been challenged just because you are Asian?

Deanna: “A hundred percent YES.”

Deanna’s words bring up an intriguing point: an Asian-American student’s natural intelligence is often valued more than their work ethic. With this prevailing theme, an increasing number of Asians work tremendously hard in an effort to fulfill this stereotype and satisfy friends, family and themselves. According to the Asian American Coalition For Education and the Asian American Legal Foundation, “The discrimination in education against Asian-American applicants causes real and tangible harm. It causes Asian-Americans to feel that they are not valued as much as other citizens. It causes many young Asian-Americans to feel a sense of inferiority, hopelessness and anger.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1942 states that discrimination on the basis of race and nationality in activities and programs receiving federal financial assistance is prohibited. While this prevents public colleges from practicing affirmative actions, private institutions like Harvard are legally allowed to make race a factor in their admission process. Although it is understandable that colleges wish to form a diverse pool of students, they should nevertheless keep in mind the importance of a student’s individual qualities,  as one’s racial identity does not define their character.

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