Monday, April 27, 2009

The Return of Affirmative Action?

A long time ago (grin), as a former high school student at Torrance High School in Torrance, CA, I was conscientous of the fact that our high school graduates' "success rate" (a.k.a. how many students enroll into a four-year university post graduation) was relatively impressive. As a freshman, I learned that a total of approx. 40 Asian-American students out of the entire graduating class of that year were UCLA-bound alone.

As a freshman at UCLA, the experience of walking through the UCLA campus closely mirrored my experiences of walking through Koreatown in Los Angeles. Statistically, the percentage of Asian-American UCLA students has always been high, and my peers at UC Berkeley resounded the same sentiment. It almost felt strange to walk through the campus of an institution that assumes great pride on its efforts towards diversity. It seemed like Asian-Americans were the majority. There were many days within my four years where I really wished that there were less Asian-American students.

Over this past weekend, I read an article that a friend of mine (also a UCLA graduate) emailed to me:
New UC Admissions Policy Angers Asian-Americans
This past February, the UC Board of Regents unanimously approved a new admissions policy that, according to UC's own estimate, could result in the proportion of Asian admissions to drop as much as 7 percent, while admissions of whites could rise by up to 10 percent.

Directly quoted from Silicon Valley's
"Since its adoption by the UC Regents in February, the policy has triggered Asian suspicions of the UC entry system not felt since the mid-1980s, when a change in admissions policy caused a decline in Asian undergraduate enrollment. In 1989, then-UC-Berkeley Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman apologized for the policy.

'I fear a general sense that there are too many Asians in the UC system," said Patrick Hayashi, former UC associate president.'"

My first, honest initial reaction to the SF Chronicle article was "Whew, thank goodness I'm done with college." But I could not allow myself to remain smug and shelter only a complacent stance on this issue. If I was applying to college or I was the parent of a child who was applying to UC schools, I'd be just as upset as everyone else.

As a women's studies major, this article immediately and naturally infuriated me. How does the UC system envision to implement this policy without making the lessening of Asian-American admissions conspicuous? Is this a reversal of affirmative action? Are people of other races infuriated by this policy as well? Will this policy truly not impact racial diversity, if the UC's claims ring true?

I took a careful look at the UC's website to read through the system's published policy:
UC Regents Adopt Changes to Freshman Eligibility
While there is no mention of "Asian" or "Asian-American" - in fact, any other race - this policy would inevitably sharply reduce Asian-American admissions.

Personally, I want to believe that the UC's intent behind this policy is not for the purpose of increasing diversity, but I do believe that that will be the result. Moreover, I do not believe it will be for the betterment of the UC institution altogether - with what I believe are lowered standards for admissions, the overall integrity and academic excellence of the schools will consequently drop as well. I am definitely a person that standardized tests do not truly reflect the promise and potential of a student, but how can the UC system claim that their admissions determinations are for the purpose of "fairness" to the face of a highly qualified applicant? Like one person commented on the SF Chronicle online article, I also agree that every race has very intelligent, capable men and women. As an Asian-American student, I am confident that my Asian-American peers have worked hard in the past to become the successful professionals and academicians they are now. To see that the hard work of only future Asian-American collegians will be negatively impacted by this policy greatly saddens me.

I would love to know what you think.


  1. Hello! You bring up good points on the implicit effects of the UC's new admission policies, but I'd like to know your viewpoint on how it will affect Southeast Asian American applicants. Do you think that they will also be negatively affected by these new policies? I've read other's opinions on how it will barely make a difference with Latino and Black applicants, so I am curious if that will also apply to Southeast Asian Americans. Thanks for your input!

  2. "It seemed like Asian-Americans were the majority. There were many days within my four years where I really wished that there were less Asian-American students."
    - Can you clarify this statement please? I think this statement excludes the lack of Southeast Asian American(Lao,Cambodian,Hmong,Vietnamese,etc.) population in the UCLA and UCB. I'm assuming you didn't really mean to do so but I'd like to know your opinion in how they fit into the whole picture! Sorry if I sound too forceful, I'm just watching out for my SEA allies!

  3. I think a decrease in Asian Americans may mean an increase in Black and Chicano/Latino students at the UCs...proportionally, if you're thinking about a pie chart, it makes sense. However, I think this policy may harm the marginalized Asian American ethnicities such as the Mien, Hmong, Cambodians, Laotians who get lumped in this huge diverse racial category. These groups tend to consist of the newest immigrants, and often the parents of these students have never been to college and don't have the time or linguistic abilities to academically support these students. Already at a disadvantage, this policy will only hurt these communities more. This is another institutionalized way that makes it harder for members within the community to address the needs of their community. It's a viscious cycle.