Demonstrators against Harvard University’s admission process protest in Boston on Oct 14. AFP
Michael Wang was a senior at James Logan High School, US, back in 2012. According to The New Yorker, he was confident that he could get into an Ivy League university, such as Harvard or Yale. He had a high GPA, excelled at debating and co-founded a math club. He was also a talented pianist.
However, his dream universities turned him down. His less talented classmates, who were Hispanic or African-American, got into these schools. It made him wonder if he was rejected because he was Asian.
On Oct 15, a lawsuit against Harvard brought on behalf of Asian-American students like Wang began.
Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a US non-profit organization, sued Harvard for using racial balancing in their admissions process.
The SFFA cited a Duke University economist who showed that Asian-American applicants who had a 25-percent chance of getting in would have a 35-percent chance if they were white, and even better chances than that if they were black or Latino.
Harvard has denied the charge. The university says that it considers many factors when determining whether a student should be admitted, including academic performance and extracurricular activities. Harvard added that the number of Asian-Americans admitted to the school had greatly increased since 2010.
“Race alone is never the reason a student is granted admission,” William Lee, a lawyer for Harvard, told the Guardian. “And race is never the reason a student is denied.”
Harvard is not the only university to have been accused of discrimination against Asian-Americans. In September, the US Justice Department began to investigate whether Yale University discriminates against Asian-Americans.
The case has fueled a longstanding debate over affirmative action policies that allow universities to use race as a factor when considering applications. The policies traditionally benefit African-American and Latino students in an effort to offset centuries of racial discrimination, according to Time magazine.
According to The New York Times, the SFFA wants the use of race in the admissions process to be ended, arguing that it causes inequality. “People should be judged on character and merit,” Harrison Chen, a student at Vanderbilt University, told the Los Angeles Times. “What does the color of your skin have to do with admissions?”
However, in a statement, Harvard said that dropping the race criterion would “diminish students’ opportunities to live and learn in a diverse campus environment”.
Although the case has just begun, the eventual judgment “could influence admissions to US universities for years to come,” according to Al Jazeera, a Qatar-based TV station.