August 30, 2018
Asian Americans Advancing Justice Pledges Continued Support for Affirmative Action
Groups File Second Amicus Brief on Behalf of AAPI Students
SAN FRANCISCO – Today, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) alongside the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Boston-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, and pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter, filed a second amicus curiae, “friend of the court,” brief on behalf of a diverse group of students, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who support Harvard’s race-conscious holistic admissions policy. The students have special status in the case, which allows them to submit evidence and participate in oral argument.
This brief focuses on distinguishing the two distinct issues in this case: (1) whether Harvard is intentionally advantaging white students to limit Asian American admissions; and (2) whether Harvard’s limited consideration of race as a plus factor to promote diversity is constitutional.
These two distinct issues have been conflated by Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiffs bringing the case, as well as in the media. This only serves to further drive a wedge between Asian Americans and other communities of color.
“The reality is that racism and segregation continue to unfairly limit educational opportunities in K-12 for students of color,” said Nicole Ochi, supervising attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. “Race also shapes our life experience and is part of who we are and what we bring to the table. The consideration of race as one of many factors in holistic admissions recognizes those realities. That recognition should not be conflated with unlawful discrimination against Asian Americans.”
Ochi continues, “The evidence is clear that Harvard’s constitutional consideration of race in a holistic admissions process benefits underrepresented minority students, including Asian Americans. As a civil rights organization that fights every day to end racism against Asian Americans and other people of color, we know that ending the inclusionary consideration of race will exacerbate, rather than ameliorate any problems with racial bias that Asian Americans experience.”
At the heart of this case is a dispute about how to define and measure “merit.” But contrary to the plaintiffs’ assertions, flat numerical indicators like SAT scores and grade point averages are not colorblind measures of merit. They capture and magnify racial inequalities in K-12 education, bias in the tests and the test-taking experience, and cannot be fairly evaluated out of context. Research also confirms that the most promising students are not always the ones with the highest SAT scores or the best high school grades and that non-academic factors that predict success like grit, resourcefulness, creativity, and critical thinking are independent of (or even correlate negatively with) these traditional academic measures.
“America’s version of meritocracy is not race-blind,” said Jang Lee, a senior at Harvard who is part of the student amici group with special status before the court. “Though the opposition says we should not be using race to decide our children’s destinies, race had already bound our destinies since birth.”
Student amici wholeheartedly support a holistic admissions program that considers a broad range of factors to identify the most diverse and promising students.
“I have benefited from the diversity at Harvard that is made possible by its holistic, race-conscious admissions policy,” said Alex Zhang, a junior at Harvard who is also part of the student amici group. “At Harvard, I have found a community of Asian Americans and other students of color that immeasurably contributed to my personal development. I think that Harvard still has a long way to go when it comes to race. Improving the racial climate for Asian Americans and supporting affirmative action programs are not mutually exclusive, they are complementary efforts to reduce racial bias.”
“Asian Americans will never have a fair shot at life in America until racism is eradicated from this country,” said Daniel Lu, a junior at Harvard who is also part of the student amici group. “We need affirmative action to help address this racism, but it is far from enough.”
Advancing Justice will continue fighting to protect race-conscious holistic admissions policies. We urge all communities to stand on the side of equity and opportunity for all students and stand up for affirmative action.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice is a national affiliation of five leading organizations advocating for the civil and human rights of Asian Americans and other underserved communities to promote a fair and equitable society for all. The affiliation’s members are: Advancing Justice | AAJC (Washington, DC), Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco), Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, Advancing Justice – Atlanta, and Advancing Justice – Chicago.