Kawsar Yasin, a Harvard sophomore of Uighur descent, found the Supreme Court’s decision last week banning race-conscious college admissions poignant.
Jayson Lee, a sophomore of Taiwanese descent, hopes the court’s decision will open the door for him and others at competitive schools.
And Divya Tulsiani, the daughter of Indian immigrants, can’t help but think that the decision would not stop the toxic side of colleges.
Asian Americans were at the center of the Supreme Court decision against Harvard and the University of North Carolina. In both cases, the plaintiffs said that high-achieving Asian American applicants lost out to less academically qualified students. In Harvard’s case, Asian Americans were pegged on a personal assessment, according to the lawsuit, launching a painful conversation about racial stereotyping in admissions.
But in the days after the court’s ruling, interviews with about two dozen Asian American students revealed that for most of them — no matter their views on affirmative action — the decision is unlikely to alleviate doubts about the fairness of college admissions.
“I don’t think this decision has brought any kind of leveling of the playing field,” Ms Tulsiani said. “It did the opposite.”
Lower courts found that Harvard and UNC did not discriminate in admissions. But the Supreme Court ruled that, “however well intended and carried out in good faith”, the admission practices of the universities did not pass a constitutional meeting, and that race could no longer be considered in deciding which students to admit.
The court noted that the two universities’ main response to criticism of their admissions systems was, “basically, ‘trust us'”.
The universities said they would comply with the decision. Harvard added that it “must always be a place of opportunity, a place whose doors remain open to those to whom they have long been closed.”
In a community as large and diverse as the Asian-American community, opinions on affirmative action were wide-ranging. fresh A Pew Research Center survey conveyed the ambivalence of Asian Americans. Only about half of Asian Americans who had heard of affirmative action said it was a good thing; three-quarters of Asian respondents said that race or ethnicity should not be a factor in college admissions decisions.
Some students found hope in the Supreme Court’s decision.
Mr. Lee, the Maryland sophomore, is interested in studying science and technology and supports standardized tests and other traditional measures of merit.
“Before the case, yes, I had concerns about my ethnicity being a factor in college admissions,” he said. “But if colleges implement the new court rulings to eliminate affirmative action, then I think it will be better, and more even, for every ethnicity.”
Others had more mixed feelings. Jacqueline Kwun, a sophomore at a public high school in Marietta, Ga., whose parents emigrated from South Korea, said she felt the sting of stereotyping when people assumed she was “born smart.”
Even so, she said she believed the court’s ruling was wrong.
“Why would you shut the whole thing down?” she asked. “You should try to find a way to make yourself happy and make other people happy at the same time, so it’s a win-win situation, rather than a win-lose.”
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that colleges could consider mentions of race in the essays that students submit with their applications if they could be linked to, for example, overcoming discrimination through personal qualities such as “courage and determination.” But many Asian-American students had doubts about that prescription .
Students already feel pressure to write about hardships, said Rushil Umaretiya, who will attend the University of North Carolina in the fall. He wrote in his essay about how the women in his Indian immigrant family were the hands-on and intellectuals, and how his grandmother rose through the white male-dominated ranks at the Roy Rogers restaurant chain to become a regional manager.
Even before the decision, he saw anxious classmates at his selective high school, Thomas Jefferson High School, in Alexandria, Va., coming up with stories about confronting racial injustice.
“I think college admissions has really dipped into this fashion of trauma dumping,” he said.
Ms. Tulsiani, who is studying for a master’s degree in sociology and law at New York University, is a veteran of the application process.
She wrote a Georgetown application essay about her family — her father worked his way up from a deli worker and taxi driver to owning restaurants — in response to a prompt about diversity.
“You accept that you have to sell some kind of story to appeal to this audience,” she said.
She was glad the court kept the diversity essay option, but felt sympathy for the candidates having to spill their most intimate secrets and speak with moral strength. “It’s a huge burden for a 17-year-old kid,” she said.
She thinks the stigma of affirmative action will continue. “The narrative will be, instead of ‘you got in because of affirmative action,’ ‘you must have got in because of your class,'” she said.
Some Asian American students believe, contrary to the dominant narrative in the court case, that they benefited from affirmative action. Evidence presented in court showed that Harvard sometimes favored certain Asian American applicants over others. For example, applicants with families from Nepal, Tibet or Vietnam, among other nations, were described with words like “merited” and “Tug for BG”, an abbreviation for background.
“I do believe I was a beneficiary,” said Hans Bach-Nguyen, a Harvard sophomore from Camarillo, in Southern California. He said he wasn’t sure until he asked for his admissions file and found that one of the two readings in it referred to his Vietnamese heritage.
He was happy, he said, to be recognized as a member of an underrepresented minority in higher education. But he wondered if he fully deserved it. His parents came to the United States as refugees around his age, and obtained college degrees in state universities.
“I think my guilt comes from not growing up low-income,” he said.
Echoing a common criticism of the university, he noted that many Harvard students, “even if they are from minority backgrounds, are from financially stable or wealthier families.”
In California, affirmative action has been banned since 1996, but even so, some Asian-American students there seemed suspicious of what they perceived as a secretive admissions process.
Sunjay Muralitharan, whose family is of Indian origin, was rejected or waitlisted by his top five college choices, a mix of public and private colleges in California. He believes his race was a factor. He ended up at the University of California in San Diego, where he is a sophomore.
“I know people say, ‘Oh, it’s just going to be merit-based, merit-based, merit-based,'” he said. “No, it’s not.”
However, he said, he has gotten over his initial resentment. “I grew up middle class, I never had to worry about where the next meal was coming from,” he said. “Like it or not, I’ve been put into a bunch of tutoring programs. It’s natural to give someone an opportunity who didn’t have the same amount of opportunities when they were younger.”
Colby Edmonds and Anna Betts contributed reporting.