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Harvard Square, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 On Monday, July 30, the University joined other Ivy League schools and nine additional private universities in defending Harvard’s practice of including applicants’ race in its admission process in the face of a lawsuit against Harvard’s system. The lawsuit has generated debate within the Asian-American community at the University regarding topics such as affirmative action and the model minority myth. 

In an email statement, Assistant Vice President for Communications Daniel Day confirmed the University’s support for the inclusion of race in college applications. Day pointed to President Christopher Eisgruber ’83’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Fisher v. Texas and a 2015 compliance review of the University’s undergraduate admission process by the Office for Civil Rights.

Addressing Fisher v. Texas, Eisgruber wrote in a statement, “[T]he Court has consistently recognized that the judicious use of race as one factor among many admission criteria can play an important role in universities’ efforts to enroll talented students from all backgrounds, promote intercultural understanding, eliminate stereotypes, and cultivate leaders for our multiracial society.”

“The goal of creating a diverse, inclusive, and equal society is fundamentally important to Princeton University, this country, and the world,” Eisgruber added in the statement, and he affirmed his confidence that the University’s admission policies have contributed to that mission.

The Office of Admission deferred comment to Day.

In 2015, a compliance review of the University’s undergraduate admissions process by the OCR of the Department of Education concluded that the University did not discriminate against Asian applicants on the basis of race of national origin.

In the review, the OCR found that “the University weighed multiple factors in assessing applicants” and that it “treated each applicant as an individual, without making an applicant’s race or national origin a defining characteristic. Accordingly, OCR found no evidence of the different treatment of Asian applicants.”

Although the OCR review found no discrimination, members of the Asian-American student community feel differently.

Jessica Ma ’21, a Chinese-American, said that she felt negatively discriminated against based on her race during the college application process. Ma is from Valley Stream, N.Y., where she estimated that her high school’s population was 20 percent Asian.

“Since Asians usually have higher scores than other ethnicity groups,” said Ma, “many of my friends and I felt that Asian applicants could be rejected from a university, even if they met the admissions score requirements, because we are lower than the [average score] range of the Asian race.”

On the other hand, former president of South Asian Students Association Ruchita Balasubramanian ’19, an Indian American, said that she didn’t feel discrimination while applying to colleges. Balasubramanian is from East Brunswick, N.J., which has a high Asian population.

“Race didn’t seem like a big deal to include [on college applications] since we have been including race on different forms of testing and reports for all of our lives, like the SAT,” she explained. 

Although Balasubramanian said she understands the motivation behind the inclusion of race on college applications, she believes that affirmative action should be based on socioeconomic status instead of race.

“If socioeconomic status is reported instead, ethnic diversity would automatically result,” Balasubramanian said. “Selecting based on just race is problematic.”

“I know Asians that have debated clicking ‘Asian’ on the race box,” said Dorothy Zhao, cultural advocate officer of Asian American Students Association.

“I put [my race] down because it’s pretty clear I am Chinese-American, based on my last name,” Zhao said. “I personally don’t think it affected me.”

Zhao is an assistant opinion editor for The Daily Princetonian.

Ashley Chang ’21 agreed that since she has a last name that immediately identifies her as Asian, the inclusion or exclusion of the race question would not have affected her. 

Balasubramanian and Zhao also found issue with the fact that the lawsuit doesn’t seem to consider the different subgroups under the “Asian-American” umbrella.

People often think of Asian-Americans as individuals of Indian, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese descent, which are groups that perform well, Balasubramanian explained. However, she added that people of Vietnamese, Nepalese, and Cambodian descent are also included under the term “Asian-Americans,” groups that have historically not performed as well.

Zhao agreed that East Asians are the ones who come to mind when the term “Asian-American” is mentioned, which excludes Asians who live in abject poverty. Zhao said that the lawsuit itself shows how limited our scope is in thinking about social justice issues, since we don’t think about all the ethnicities that fall under the Asian-American umbrella. 

“Not including race as a category [on college applications] suggests that we live in a post-racial society, but race is clearly an issue and something that we can’t ignore,” Zhao said. “We [would be] ignoring the fact that people of color do have a different experience than people who are white.” 

Chang added that, regardless of race playing a factor in admissions, Asian-American applicants often embrace their cultural heritage in essays, noting its importance in shaping their identities.

“In the [college] essays, a lot of Asian-American applicants do choose to write about their experiences being Asian-American and how their cultures have shaped their identities,” Chang pointed out, “so even if we are discriminated against because of our race, a solution doesn’t involve trying to hide who we are.” 

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