Abigail Fisher And Her Lawyers Continue To Fight Affirmative Action By Arguing Its Negative Impact On Asian-Americans

Late last month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the University of Texas in the landmark case Fisher v. University of Texas, upholding the university’s right to take applicants’ race into consideration in their admissions. But the plaintiff, white woman Abigail Fisher, will continue her war on affirmative action, documented every step of the way by memes and social media hashtags like #StayMadAbby and #BeckyWithTheBadGrades, which, while very very funny, downplay the serious, lingering threat to fairness and diversity in education. This time, however, Fisher and Edward Blum, who recruited her to be the plaintiff and advised her, are now arguing against affirmative action’s effects on Asian students.

Students for Fair Admissions, an extension of Edward Blum’s Project on Fair Representation which Fisher is a board member of, filed suit against Harvard College in November 2014 when a Chinese-American applicant who was rejected alleged Harvard’s admissions policy violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by “discriminating based on race or ethnicity.”

Students for Fair Admissions cites a 2005 study by sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Chang Chung asserting that Asian-American students “would occupy four out of every five seats created by accepting fewer African-American and Hispanic students” if admissions didn’t take race into account. They also note how Asian students appear to need higher grades and SAT scores than other applicants of color or white applicants for admission.

Opponents of affirmative action have long weaponized its alleged effects on Asian-Americans as a talking point against policies that speak to the needs of of people of color. As one paper by the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education in conjunction with College Board points out, “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have now been positioned as buffers, middlemen in the cost-benefit analysis of wins and losses in an affirmative action debate.”

Additionally, by reducing Asian-American students to stereotypes about their polarizing emphasis on academics and testing prowess, but ignoring very real struggles of Asian-American students with stress, pressure, and mental health, affirmative action opponents have no right to claim they’re actually helping this demographic.

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It’s quite literally impossible to singularly blame rejection on affirmative action due to the wide-reaching, holistic process that is admissions, which takes into account standardized testing and academics, but also looks at community service, life circumstances and adversity, the arts, athletics, and leadership, as the Supreme Court pointed out in Grutter v. Bollinger.

Additionally, it’s entirely possible that Asian-American students could actually benefit from affirmative action, contrary to popular belief. One 2009 study found white applicants three times more likely to be admitted to selective schools than Asian students with the same academic records.

That’s not to say evidence does not exist that affirmative action can have negative effects on Asian-Americans. At colleges where race is not taken into account, there tends to be a much higher proportion of Asian-American students, according to Vox. Still, it’s worth noting that white women actually benefit most from affirmative action according to some estimates, and that affirmative action opponents who use Asian-Americans as their shields neglect to consider the existence of a wide range of Asian-American subgroups, such as Cambodian, Laotian and Hmong-Americans, who have higher poverty rates than Americans as a whole, as well as the lowest college attendance rates in the country.

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Most rational people acknowledge and accept that the completely different historical and modern experiences of black and white people should account for some consideration in the college admissions process. Historical slavery, segregation, and the systemic social and economic disenfranchisement of black people led to far less opportunities for their families for generations, as well as significantly higher modern poverty rates in black communities than white ones. Meanwhile, lingering systemic discrimination against African-American youth often leads to far harsher disciplinary action than their white counterparts for the same behaviors, additionally reflected by statistics about black and white youth and police brutality.

The case for taking race into account in admissions is so strong Fisher’s lawyer is clearly struggling to find white people still blind enough to their own privilege to be willing to act as plaintiffs, requiring him to reach out to Asian-American applicants. Ultimately, however, Blum and his supporters still seek to achieve the same result, which is undermining the experiences of nonwhite people.

Fisher alleged the University of Texas discriminated against her in denying her admission but accepting black students she perceived as less qualified. After eight years of litigation, the Supreme Court finally ruled against her. Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, an organization against affirmative action, previously called the decision just “a temporary setback,” and with Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College now in the works, unfortunately, it looks like Clegg might have been right.

While Fisher and her legal team continue to bemoan affirmative action, plenty of race-neutral, but still very questionable, admissions policies like family legacy continue to exist, but go untouched by affirmative action opponents who would rather feign concern that black students won’t be able to handle course rigor of selective schools. This argument remains popular despite evidence that academically challenging environments tend to result in higher graduation rates for people of color, as oppose to less challenging environments.

There do exist valid criticisms of affirmative action by proponents for diversity in education. In December last year, The New York Times ran an editorial on how promoting diversity through quotas and proportions doesn’t promise that students, who tend to form homogeneous friend groups, will actually carry out the purpose of diversity in higher education, which is to collaborate, interact, and learn from each other’s different cultural experiences. For this reason, many scholars accurately regard affirmative action as a necessary but short-term solution.

Yes, a diversity problem in higher education that reaches deeper than the admissions process does exist, but I fail to see how not even considering the very different experiences of different types of people in admissions is going to help anyone.