a year ago
Admissions Advice

Affirmative Action: Why?

First of all: I'm Sri Lankan. If you don't know where that is, it is a country in South Asia. I moved to the United States in 2016.

I checked my chances into getting the Big 3 (Harvard, Princeton, and Yale) as an Asian and as an African American. This is what I got:


Harvard: 17%

Princeton: 18%

Yale: 15%

African American:

Harvard 33%

Princeton: 34%

Yale: 31%

I understand that Affirmative Action (AA) had good intentions, but isn't AA enforcing stereotypes in itself? I have a unique situation. Although technically Asian, I have faced racism beyond just "Asian racism". One of many examples was when I was 9 years old I, when faced extreme verbal islamophobia (I'm not even Muslim). Another example was when I was called the N-word. I was even told to go back to Mexico because apparently, I look Latino?

My question is: why am I discriminated against because of a "privilege" that I do no have? I am low-income. I have faced homophobia (I'm gay). I have faced racism, hate against races I am not even. How am I privileged?

I understand completely the argument that African Americans ought to have an advantage, due to systematic racism in the past, however, what I do not understand is why my life, a very traumatic life that far exceeds any sort of verbal racism disregarding race is simplified and compartmentalized as simply "Asian".

I am very grateful to live in this country, and not Sri Lanka, however, I will not simply stand back and stand by and see this injustice simply "play" out. As I said earlier, I understand that AA had good intentions: to negate the effects of systematic racism.

But I must ask: Is it not systematic racism that I am twice as unlikely to be accepted into college simply by just "being Asian"?


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2 answers

Accepted Answer
a year ago

Hi @Phycoticcc!

Affirmative Action is a very controversial thing that has its own pros and cons.

I don't want to say that I support AA or oppose AA. The fact is that it's there and we, as students, can't do anything about it, whether we like it or not. The beneficiaries of AA will say it is 100% justified while the ones missing out due to it will say it's racism. That way, the debate isn't going to end.

You can definitely explain the discrimination that you've faced through your application. It's unfair for anyone to treat you like that, and admissions officers won't turn a deaf ear to what you've gone through.

Hope this helps!

a year ago[edited]

If feel your frustration, I'd be at 40%-42% if I were Black. But you need to understand context so I'm going to share something to you and they rest of 9th-12th graders who are naive about affirmative action and the Ivy league.

Although Spaniards landed in Florida decades earlier than those in New England, America was founded by White colonialists in 1619. But we must remember that John Hawkins traded slaves as early as 1562. Some may disagree but slavery and indentured servitude were an intrinsic part of the English culture from which our founding fathers came. John Harvard was educated at Emmanuel College at Cambridge where he received 2 degrees until 1635. In 1636 he arrived in Boston and help fund Harvard University with half his wealth. I think he knew that he was dying or short for his life because died 2 years later of TB.

The point of this history lesson is to share that all of the Ivy League (except for Cornell) was founded by men who had been involved directly or indirectly with wealth creation off the backs of enslaved peoples either back in England, through trading partners or by being engaged with Southern plantation owners who produced marketable commodities like cotton, tobacco, and sugar. For nearly 219 years after the founding of Harvard, slavery existed in America. The last slave died in 1940, 75 years after slavery was abolished.

Regardless of the elimination of legal slavery, it is easy to see living in America that Black folk have never recovered from slavery as a people. There were no reparations by the government and instead descendants of slaves continued to be marginalized based on the color of their skin. Whether it's racial profiling, harsher sentencing, public housing, segregation etc. Black Americans have a difficult time being accepted by all Americans because of hundreds of years of implicit bias, not necessarily outright racism.

So with regard to your rant about the unfairness of college admissions at Ivy League institutions here is my answer to why they continue to use affirmative action at the expense of giving deserving seats to other Asians like yourself, White people, and International students from all over the world.

1. Main reason. All Ivys are PRIVATE colleges. Not Public colleges. They can make up their own admissions rubric and score card system to determine who gets in and who doesn't. While they do receive Pell Grant applicants, I do not think the US Goverment wants these schools to return the $6195 per year back to the government. Rather, they like to see that Pell recipients have a shot at getting into Ivy schools.

2. Ivys choose to decide for themselves what diversity on their campuses looks like. You can argue that if you are smart and Asian, you should take a Black or Brown or Native person's seat instead of giving them access to an Ivy education. Harvard might argue that they already have a 400% over-representation of Asians enrolled in Cambridge. The US census says 7.2% of America is Asian but Harvard admits 27.9% or 4X as many in their current demographic mix. How many Asians are too little or too much? I can't tell you.

3. Ivy admissions are not a meritocratic process. Harvard being 386 years old has a long history of admitting sons of wealthy aristocrats and clergy. And over their history, one could argue that the connections that Harvard students made on campus were more important to the education they received. I would concur that not much has changed. If you want an excellent education, you don't have to attend an Ivy. You can get a good or better education from any of the Top 100 colleges.

4. If Harvard, Yale, or Princeton want to hire more Black, Brown, and Native people to improve their reputation they do so. Last month Havard hired their first Black President who is also female. I think it's important to note that she didn't come up through the South Side of Chicago but attended if not the finest boarding school in America, a close 2nd, Phillips Exeter academy. Why I mention this because most Americans are completely ignorant about the symbiotic relationship between Elite Boarding schools and the Ivy League that started 250 years ago. Even though these feeder schools face stiff competition from Public charter schools or specialized HSs, their admissions statistics are nevertheless impressive. About 30% of any given top 10 boarding school class of seniors gets admitted to Ivys versus 1% or less for Publics. Are these kids inherently smarter? Nope. But attending a private boarding school helps curate an academic, EC and athletic or musical narrative that is so compelling it's hard for Ivys to turn them down.

5. The last reason is that Ivys decided for themselves to create a level playing field for the most talented yet marginalized people that apply to their schools. So you might think it unfair for Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to admit BIPOC or Native students with lower GPAs, lower test scores, poorer ECs, and writing ability but in their view-point they are making reparations privately and enacting their own brand of social justice. It helps them wash away the guilt of having university founders and tenured professors who were also slave owners at one time.

So my advice to you is not to compare yourself to an African American, LatinX or Native person. You and your family came to this country voluntarily 6 years ago. Your ancestors were not beaten and tortured, not raped and stolen from by rich and powerful Americans and the US Govt. Your land was not stolen as in the case of Native and Mexican Americans. Your descendants were not denied an education, medical care, and other benefits because of your race in America.

And if AA bothers you, do not apply to colleges that use race to determine who gets in and who doesn't. You can apply to all the race blind colleges in America like UCLA or UC Berkeley. "Currently, there are eight states that have a race-blind policy in their public state colleges and these are: California, Michigan, Washington, Florida, Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma. There are also some race-blind private institutions such as CalTech, as well as some schools like Stony Brook University and University of Hawaii that aren’t officially race-blind, but have similar admission percentiles as ones that are. " (source SuperTutorTV)

What is clear is that American colleges are still the world's best but their admissions process is messy at best. It's not Harvard, Yale or Princeton's job to make it fair for everyone based on some agreed standard like test scores, or course rigor. They as private institutions have their own goals and agenda and they might argue it's the job of Federally and State funded colleges to make higher education a level playing field to serve the will of the people. They are just a luxury brand, selling a commodity like Mercedes Benz or Tesla or a Hermes Bag. If you don't like the acquisition process for these brands, then taking your money and your business elsewhere is how they would respond.

I'm sure there are many other people from different backgrounds who feel the same way but what's the point of complaining if you know the genesis of the problem?

Good luck.

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