Poison Ivy

by princess lim

How Non-Race Blind Admissions at the Nation’s Elite are Affecting APAs

The debate regarding college admissions policies has persisted since affirmative action in California was banned by Prop 209. Proponents of affirmative action argue that it promotes academic readiness among those who are admitted, regardless of race, and that the admission standard for state educational institutions is placed on merit, independent of race, rather than in addition to race. Opponents assert that this leaves behind certain minority groups who have not had the resources to attend SAT courses and tack on countless extracurricular activities to their transcripts. A crucial question remains: In their mission to increase diversity and take race into account, do non-race blind schools also end up discriminating against certain groups because they can admit students partially on the basis of race?

The Ivy Leagues are not race blind in their admissions processes and this focuses attention on how they choose to admit the students that apply. Over the past five years, the percentage of Asian students has remained static at about 20 percent, dubbed the “Asian ceiling.” On the other hand, institutions like UC Berkeley are race blind in their admissions processes and Asians comprise about 40 percent of their student body. Caltech is also race blind in their admissions process and Asians comprise one-third of their student body. What accounts for this disparity between these schools and the Ivy institutions? Is it possible that it is due to the fact that California does not take race into account when considering an applicant and the Ivy Leagues do? This could very well be the case.

Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade affirms that racial discrimination against Asian applicants occur in the nation’s most elite universities. In 1997, he conducted a survey that found an Asian American student needs a 1550 SAT score to have an equal chance of gaining admittance when compared to a Caucasian student who only needs a 1410, or an African American student, who only needs an 1100. Due to this supposed “Asian ceiling,” some half-Asian, half-Caucasian students now check the “White” box when applying for such schools. For those who are full Asian, it’s difficult to implement this strategy. For some half-Asians, however, they consider it a necessary maneuver to ensure they have a fair chance of getting into Yale, Harvard, or Columbia, as any other person of another racial group would.

If such discrimination really exists, is indicating the “White” box rather than checking the “White” and “Asian” box acceptable? Employing this strategy may give an unfair advantage over full Asians who cannot get away with it, but if these institutions do in fact put Asians to impossible standards and discriminate against them, then I believe it is entirely reasonable to utilize resources that give one the highest chances.

Some may think that checking one box rather than two might be dishonest in that it denies part of one’s identity and cultural heritage.

Margaret Zhou, a member of the Mixed Student Union at Cal, feels that it would not feel right for her to just check one box: “I feel like my thoughts and personality have been shaped by my transnational and multiracial experiences, and so it wouldn’t do to just check one box. Just saying I’m Asian wouldn’t be totally true because I haven’t lived the life of someone who was born and raised mostly in Asia, and it would ignore the privileges I am given in some situations when I’m able to pass as white. Basically, just identifying with one side of my heritage would be an offense to the family and the parent on the other side, and since I’m lucky enough to be part of very loving families in the U.S. and in China, I want to appreciate all my family members by just identifying as mixed.”

It’s impossible to know for sure that Ivy Leagues are purposely admitting a set amount of Asians so that they do not surpass the “Asian ceiling.” However, it is undeniable that pervasive stereotypes that portray Asians as overachieving robots persist in our culture, and that cultural lens inevitably impacts how Asians are perceived in academic settings. The disparity of Asian admittance rates between race blind and non-race blind schools are also undoubtedly evident.

Private schools have historically used preferential admittance for children of alumni, the wealthy, and celebrities. However, if the Ivy Leagues should one day follow the example of Caltech in their race blind policies, certain racial groups would no longer be excluded on the basis of race, when the student has gone above and beyond the necessary requirements to prove his academic worth.

This is a very nuanced form of discrimination because the admissions officers would neither confirm or deny its occurrence, but Kara Miller, a former admissions reviewer at Yale, attests that Asians were held to a higher standard: “Asian kids know that when you look at the average SAT for the school, they need to add 50 or 100 to it.”

If there is veracity to Asian discrimination in the admissions offices of these Ivy League schools, this is indeed a complete misuse of the non-race blind admissions process. Instead of using the process to diversify their campuses, they are using it to selectively weed out those ethnicities whom they think unfit to grace their halls of prestige, on the basis of race, rather than on the basis of effort and merit. This conduct is especially abhorrent because world-class institutions are supposed to be pioneers in progress and thought. A necessary step in restoring this credibility would be to regard Asian applicants as individual persons of accomplishment, rather than a faceless horde of overachieving nerds.