New Haven, Same Grievance
August 22, 2020 9:07 AM Subscribe
Last week, the Justice Department accused Yale violating federal civil rights law by discriminating on the basis of race and national origin against Asian and white applicants in admissions.
Art Coleman, an attorney and former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights under the Clinton administration, raised questions about the strength of the Justice Department's case in an interview with NPR.The Conservative Misdirection of the Affirmative Action Debate:
"The case here is thin at best," he said. "Thin in terms of underlying evidence."
He compared Thursday's four-page Justice Department findings to the more than 100 pages a judge issued in a similar case regarding Harvard University, and noted "that difference says a lot."
The Supreme Court has long upheld the use of race-based admissions in colleges, ruling on the subject as recently as 2016.
As journalist Jay Caspian Kang noted last year in The New York Times Magazine, Asian American progressives have often found it difficult to reconcile their own ideological support for affirmative action with the overwhelming evidence that elite schools are trying to keep the number of Asians—already technically overrepresented on many campuses—from exceeding a certain threshold. (“Look, I support Harvard’s right to pursue the diversity they want,” one source told Kang, “but of course they discriminate against Asian kids.”) Because some of the Asian families decrying such practices have made common cause with political conservatives pushing for the end of affirmative action nationwide, liberals have tended to view them with a mix of consternation and embarrassment, often characterizing them as “entitled” (as one professor put it to The New Yorker) or even racist. Some commentators have subsequently treated the admissions battle as a kind of metaphor for America’s racial hierarchy in which Asians enjoy a certain proximity to whiteness and are now seeking to entrench that advantage within the Ivy League system.Justice Dept. Says Yale Discriminates. Here’s What Students Think:
Yet these battles ultimately reveal less about Asians as a group, or even about race in the United States, than they do the peculiar nature of “opportunity” and education at this moment. The warring over the racial makeup of the Ivy League—regardless of one’s perspective on what that makeup should be or how the schools in question should achieve it—is a conflict that by definition focuses on a handful of hyper-elite institutions to the exclusion of larger educational and economic crises. Foremost among those is the fact that the soaring cost of college in the U.S. has generated $1.6 trillion of student debt and jeopardized the financial solvency of even middle-class households. The same economy that now demands a college degree no longer even rewards it; wages have been stagnant since the end of the 1970s for the majority of workers, including those with college degrees. Colleges themselves haven’t fared much better: According to an analysis released earlier this month by the Columbia Teachers College publication The Hechinger Report, more than 500 colleges nationwide showed signs of financial distress, including declining enrollment and revenue, prior to the pandemic.
In the grand scheme of higher education, then, fixating on admissions at the most elite institutions is a classic case of rearranging chairs on a fast-sinking ship. And particularly as the U.S. struggles to control a pandemic and revive the economy, higher education is inching closer to a state of emergency. The ongoing imbroglio over whether to open campuses (or conduct the fall semester remotely while continuing to charge full tuition) reached a boiling point earlier this week when UNC-Chapel Hill, which had resumed in-person classes earlier this month, was forced to abruptly close its campus after around 130 students tested positive for Covid-19 in the first week of school. “We all saw this coming,” the editors of the UNC-Chapel Hill student newspaper wrote.
Mary Chen, 20, a junior, said she had experienced discrimination against Asian-Americans. She recalled being taunted by classmates in the seventh grade in her hometown, Columbus, Ga. But she did not believe Yale was discriminating against Asian applicants, and regardless, she said, the racism she had experienced did not compare to anti-Black racism in America.[Previously]
“Anti-Blackness and systematic racism and oppression, especially for Black Americans, is the more pervasive and the most important thing that we need to focus on right now,” she said.
She noted that the Justice Department had ignored Yale’s tradition of legacy and athletic admissions, which favor wealthier white students.
“That’s not something that is considered in discussions about affirmative action,” she said. “It’s always continuing the demonization of Black and Latinx students, as taking a spot from a deserving white or Asian student.”
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