Affirmative Action: To Be Or Not To Be conundrum for Indian-Americans

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A man walks toward Durfee Hall on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Conn., on June 12, 2015. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Craig Warga

Indian-American and Asian-American students especially those aspiring to go to Ivy League institutions for higher studies, and their parents, have long been split for and against Affirmative Action, with those against it arguing that they have been discriminated by universities like Harvard and Yale by being marked down on less measureable variables, despite their academic and other credentials, in favor of under-represented communities.

This week, on Sept. 16, one of several cases went up for hearing in a federal appeals court in Boston, where Harvard is expected to answer that it is not holding Asian-American students, including Indian-Americans, to a higher standard, than other minorities;

Yale is also supposed to answer the Justice Department’s allegations in mid-August of stereotyping and dividing students on the basis of ethnicity etc.; and two cases are pending against University of North Carolina and the earliest one against the University of Texas.

Earlier, on Aug. 13, 2020, the Justice Department announced Yale had violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by discriminating against Asian-American and white applicants. It was a feather in the cap for the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) which filed the civil rights complaint back in May 2016 on behalf of 132 Asian American organizations, including numerous Asian-American umbrella organizations, as well as a few South Asian American organizations including, American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin-NCC; Global Organization of Indian Origin – Los Angeles Chapter; and Pakistan Policy Institute. Yale has said it will take the matter further up in court.

In an earlier complaint filed by AACE on May 1, 2015, with the support of 64 Asian-American organizations, jointly filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Education, and Justice Department calling for an investigation into Harvard’s alleged discriminatory admissions practices against their ethnic/racial group. The organization (AACE) said it had been informed that the Justice Department is investigating that complaint as well.

Among its supporters for the various briefs and complaints, the AACE lists the National Federation of Indian American Associations, the India Association of San Antonio, the Indo-US Chamber of Commerce of Northeast Florida, India Association of San Antonio, Pakistan Policy Institute, and Pakistani American Volunteers.

But so far, there has not been any groundswell of support for ending affirmative action, within the Indian-American community, just an underlying suspicion within a section that there is some element of discrimination in the ratings for their children, but not enough to galvanize them as a force to take up the issue on he conservative side.

Back to the present, the Students For Fair Admissions founder and President Edward William Blum, sent a statement to News India Times regarding the latest Boston federal court proceedings regarding Harvard admissions.

Edward Blum, a longtime foe of affirmative action, founded Students for Fair Admissions. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Adam Glanzman

“We are grateful the judges on the First Circuit were well-prepared for this important argument. It is our hope that this court will carefully examine the massive amount of irrefutable evidence we presented at trial that proved Harvard’s systematic discrimination against Asian-Americans and reverse the lower court’s ruling. If necessary, Students for Fair Admissions is prepared to take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Blum. The SFFA is an activist and advocacy group at the forefront of the anti-Affirmative Action push, and has now gained an ally in the Justice Department led by Attorney General William Barr.

“It is gravely disconcerting that Harvard’s admissions officers systematically gave Asian-Americans the lowest scores on personality traits such as likability, kindness and courage,” Blum said, adding, “We assert that the district court erred in its recognition of this discrimination even though Harvard’s private internal studies revealed the exact same outcome,” referring to the 2019 Fall decision of U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs who came down on Harvard’s side after a three-week, high profile proceedings.

Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans believe that a student’s race or ethnicity should not be a factor in college admissions,” Blum contends. “Our nation’s public policies and laws must recognize that people should not be treated differently because of their skin color or ethnic heritage.”

While this last argument is an ideological divide between conservatives and liberals that will not be bridged in the near future, the courts so far have sided with the liberal position. And students of Asian descent have protested against the SFFA stance in some universities, showing they are for Affirmative Action policies.

In a study entitled, Real Penalty, released by SFFA this April 2020, the group has reiterated its stance on how Asian Americans in a sense, pay a price for being over-achievers, and concludes that they would otherwise be admitted at a rate at least 19% higher if those “unobservable” penalties were not being enforced.

” That Asian Americans still manage to make up over 20% of Harvard admits despite the disadvantages they face in the admissions process is striking. But it does not justify Asian Americans losing out on a substantial number of seats because of their race and their unexplainably low personal ratings,” the  report says.

The oral arguments on Sept. 16, 2020, at the Boston-based U.S. Appeals Court moves the case against Harvard closer to a ‘showdown’ at the U.S. Supreme Court, a CNN report rightly noted, and as both sides (SFFA and Harvard) have stated they are determined to do.

The 1978 Supreme Court which endorsed racial affirmative action is far different from the current 9-judge bench which leans decidedly conservative.

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