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How Asian Americans got to the center of the Supreme Court affirmative action case

Some Asian Americans have claimed they were denied admissions to certain colleges based on their race

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Harvard students Shruthi Kumar, left, and Muskaan Arshad, join a rally with other activists at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Harvard students Shruthi Kumar, left, and Muskaan Arshad, join a rally with other activists as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on a pair of cases that could decide the future of affirmative action in college admissions, in Washington, D.C., Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

The Supreme Court is knee-deep in a case that will determine if affirmative action will continue to play a role in college admissions, according to The New York Times.

Affirmative action is intended to create admissions equality for people of every background, but right now, Asian Americans are at the center of it. And there are Asian Americans on both sides of the battle.

“Diversity, as important as it is, cannot come at the expense of Asian Americans,” said one Asian American protester, according to CNN.

Outside the Supreme Court, hundreds of protesters rallied in support of race-conscious college admissions on Sunday. Protesters were seen wearing shirts with the slogan #DefendDiversity, signs that say “Asian Americans for Affirmative Action,” and more.

What is affirmative action?

Affirmative action in college admissions was established to confront inequality in the college admissions process and create more diverse campuses.

Admissions readers are lawfully allowed to consider race as a factor when selecting applicants to attend their college, says Cornell Law School.

The precedent came into play in the Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger. The case looked at how University of Michigan Law School used race as a factor in its admissions process, with the goal being an educationally diverse environment.

Why are some Asian Americans against affirmative action?

Calvin Yang, an Asian American sophomore at UC Berkley, claims he was denied entrance into Harvard because of his race. “There is a trend here. A trend where Asian Americans are systematically getting discriminated because of who we are,” said Yang.

Harvard is being accused of holding Asian American students to a higher standard, reports CNN. The university denied these claims and says it sets no limits.

There are multiple stories similar to Yang’s. Michael Wang shared a similar story earlier this year with CNBC. As a high school senior in 2013, Wang graduated with above-average credentials. He said he was denied from all his top schools — including Harvard. He said that if he could have concealed his race, he felt he would have had a better shot at getting accepted at top universities.

In 2014, Wang and his father, Jeff Wang, co-created the Asian American Coalition for Education. This group joined forces with Edward Blum’s Students for Fair Admissions. The SFFA is the group that filed cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina that the Supreme Court is currently debating.

“It’s time for Asian Americans to break up with woke diversity,” said one Asian American protester outside the Supreme Court on Sunday, per CNN.

What are Asian Americans for Affirmative Action saying?

Not all Asian Americans are ready to see an end to affirmative action. In 2022, 69% of Asian American registered voters said that they support affirmative action, according to the Asian American Voter Survey.

Sally Chen, the education equity program manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action, recently wrote for the Los Angeles Times that affirmative action benefited her during her college admission process. She began her education at Harvard in 2015.

In 2017, she filed a request to view her Harvard application. Admissions readers saw details of her background in her application — she comes from a low-income family with Taiwanese-speaking parents.

“I benefited from an admissions process that took race and the effects of racism into consideration. My story can’t be conveyed in a race-blind way and during the Harvard trial my admissions file was used as an exhibit to illustrate this,” Chen said.

Asian American students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill formed a coalition in support of affirmative action, reports NPR. Sarah Zang and Joy Jang, two of the co-founders, wanted to spread the word about the Supreme Court case.

Christina Wong, a student at UNC, told NPR she believes affirmative action helps disadvantaged Asian American students.

“College is not only about your academics and getting your degree,” Wong said. “It’s so important that we have that accurate representation of what the world actually looks like.”

What will happen?

The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority. According to NBC, liberal justices have defended the use of affirmative action and say it would be a challenge to achieve diversity on campuses without considering race during admissions.

Justices are also looking at potential “race-neutral” policies.

“I’ve heard the word diversity quite a few times, and I don’t have a clue what it means,” Justice Clarence Thomas said, per The New York Times. “It seems to mean everything for everyone.”

A decision is not expected to be released until late June next year.