Continue Our Fight for Asian American Children’s Equal Education Rights

By | June 12, 2016

─ Announcement Speech on AACE’s Filing of Administrative Complaint against Yale University, Brown University and Dartmouth College

By YuKong Zhao, President of AACE

Ladies and gentlemen:

Today is another major milestone in Asian Americans’ fight for equal education rights. This morning, more than 130 Chinese, Indian, Korean, Pakistani and Japanese American organizations all over the nation have united, and jointly filed an administrative complaint with the Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights, Department of Education. In this complaint we request that the U.S. government initiate a civil-rights-violation investigation into the admissions processes of Yale University, Brown University and Dartmouth College, and require the three colleges and other Ivy League schools to stop the following discriminatory admission practices:

First, the use racially-differentiated admission standards.

In 2009, Princeton Professor Thomas Espenshade and his assistant Alexandria Radford revealed that, after adjusting for extracurricular activities and other factors, Asian-Americans have to score on average 140 points higher than a White student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student and 450 points higher than a Black student on the SAT, in order to get into America’s top universities. On June 9, 2015, in her Los Angeles Times column, The Truth About ‘Holistic’ College Admissions, Sara Harberson, former associate dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania wrote: “For example, there’s an expectation that Asian Americans will be the highest test scorers and at the top of their class; anything less can become an easy reason for a denial. And yet even when Asian American students meet this high threshold, they may be destined for the wait list or outright denial because they don’t stand out among the other high-achieving students in their cohort. The most exceptional academic applicants may be seen as the least unique, and so admissions officers are rarely moved to fight for them.” This is another compelling example of how Ivy League College admission officers apply a racially-differentiated higher standard to Asian American applicants, unfairly burdening them.

The second is the use of various racial stereotypes.

In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, the Prize of Admissions, Daniel Golden gave many examples as to how Ivy Leagues Schools use various stereotypes to discriminate against Asian-American applicants such as their “being quiet” and “focusing on math and science.” These are not justifiable reasons for rejecting outstanding Asian American students. Albert Einstein was quiet and focused on math and science. He played violin too. More importantly, most Asian American applicants do not fall into these Asian stereotypes. A few years ago, UCLA professor Richard Sander studied 100,000 UCLA applicants over three years, many of them Asian, and found no correlation between race and non-academic “personal achievements.” As a matter of fact, Asian Americans are among the leaders in America’s technological innovation and entrepreneurship. Between 2006 and 2012, more than 42% of technology start-ups founded by immigrants were founded or co-founded by Asian Americans. We make up only 6% of US population.

The third ─ and also the most serious discrimination against Asian American children ─ is de facto racial quotas.

According to a study by Ron Unz in 2012, over the last two decades, although Asian American college-age population doubled, Asian American undergraduate enrollments at Ivy League Schools have been basically flat. This is clearly an indication of the existence of a de facto quota system, which has been banned by the US Supreme Court since 1978. Specifically, from 1995 to 2014 Yale University and Brown University have maintained the same percentages of Asian American applicants comprising their freshman classes of 16% and 13% respectively. Dartmouth started with a very low percentage of around 9% in the 1990’s and, after reaching nearly 13% in 2004, it has maintained this flat rate. Other than de facto racial quotas, there is no credible explanation of such strange admission patterns in Ivy League schools, for as long as 20 years!

In the face of such unlawful and severe discrimination, Asian American communities fought back. In 2006, Jian Li, this brave young student, filed a civil-rights-violation complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education against Princeton University. In next few years, a few Indian and Chinese American students followed his courageous act. In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions filed a lawsuit against Harvard. Last year, we united more than 60 Asian American organizations and filed a civil-rights-violation complaint against Harvard University.

However, over the last ten years, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice have done virtually nothing to vindicate and protect Asian American students’ constitutional rights.

To our disappointment, in June 2015, the OCR rejected our joint complaint against Harvard University, citing a procedural reason. In September 2015, the OCR issued a report on its investigation of Princeton University’s admissions process, stating it had found no discrimination by Princeton against Asian American applicants. If any experts read this report, they will find the investigation was methodologically flawed and its conclusion was clearly biased: Let me give you three reasons for this assessment:

  1. The first complaint, by Jian Li, was filed against Princeton in 2006. Accordingly, the OCR should have analyzed Princeton admissions data prior to 2006 to determine if a de facto racial quota was in force at Princeton. However, OCR inexplicably used Princeton’s 2012 and 2014 admission data in concluding there was no racial quota.
  2. The report failed to address compelling evidence compiled by many researchers which showed that Asian-American applicants were held to significantly higher standards in Princeton admissions than other applicants in both academic and non-academic areas.
  3. The OCR ignored Michael Wang’s 2013 complaint against Princeton and prematurely gave Princeton a green light for its questionable admission practices without completing investigations of all pending complaints.

Today, I want to remind everybody: In May 2014, President Obama made a promise to Asian Americans. He said, “let us ensure the laws respect everyone, civil rights apply to everyone, and everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to get ahead.” Asian Americans are known for working hard and playing by the rules, and we deserve an equal chance to get ahead. However, based on the track record, I have to say, the U.S. Government failed to keep President Obama’s promise. It has let 20 million Asian American down!

One year ago we broke history by uniting 64 Asian American organizations and filed a joint complaint against Harvard. At that time I announced: “After being largely silent for more than 20 years, Asian American communities have spoken.” Today, we want to tell Ivy League schools and other colleges: Asian American communities are going to continue our fight, until you totally stop your unlawful discrimination against our children! Just one year later, we become even stronger: we have doubled our alliance as more than 130 Asian American organizations joined our complaint against Yale, Brown and Dartmouth. More Asian American children and parents are very angry. Our children have suffered enough! It is the time for U.S. Government to take action now!

We strongly request Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Education Secretary John King: please help us stop this discrimination against Asian Americans. Do not let our children be treated as second-class citizens.

At present, Asian American communities are very disappointed by the U.S. Government’s previous handling of complaints filed by Asian American students and organizations. In order to rebuild the trust of the Asian American community, AACE strongly urges that the Department of Education and Department of Justice set up oversight committees, including delegates from AACE representing the Asian-American community, to demonstrate to all the objectivity and rigor of their investigations into the complaint of discrimination by Yale, Brown and Dartmouth.

Today, Jian Li’s presence reminds us: It has been 10 years since he filed the first complaint against Ivy League schools. However, most Ivy League schools have not changed their discriminatory behaviors against Asian American students. The U.S. Government has failed to help Asian American children. The discrimination against our children is increasingly severe. Dr. Kothari later will tell you a sad story in South Florida, where top 4 students were Asian. All were rejected by Ivy League schools. Five students from other races, though ranked lower, were accepted by Ivy League schools. Their case is not unique. We see it also in New England, on the West Coast and many places in America. Asian American children cannot afford to wait another 10 years for the justice! It is time for the U.S. Supreme Court to Act! On behalf of more than 100 Asian American organizations, we strongly urge the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a total ban on racial discrimination in college admissions in its upcoming ruling of Fisher vs. University of Texas.

Finally, we want to make it very clear. Asian Americans care about education in disadvantaged communities. The fundamental way to enhance diversity in American colleges is to improve K-12 education in disadvantaged communities, not by imposing racial quotas in college admissions. We should treat all applicants the same based on merit, and jointly help the poor, regardless of their racial background. Only in this way, can we build a racially harmonized society and advance American education.

Thanks to everybody!

* The Speech was delivered on May 23, 2013 at National Press Club, Washington DC, Actual Delivery may have slightly deviated from this transcript.

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