Does affirmative action hurt Asian Americans? 

(Tiếng Việt)

Claim: Many Asian Americans believe that affirmative action hurts their chances of getting into colleges.

Rating: This claim is FALSE. Affirmative Action does not hurt Asian Americans’ chances of attending college. In fact, according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Education, Asians have the highest college enrollment rate among all ethnic groups, at 59%. And in fact, if affirmative action was outlawed, it would hurt Asian Americans’ chance of getting into college.

Affirmative Action is a policy that aims to increase the representation of individuals belonging to groups that have been historically discriminated against. Affirmative action policy started in the 1960s as American colleges began considering race and gender as a factor when admitting new students. The goal of this policy was to accept students from groups that have been historically excluded from colleges and universities, such as Black students, Latino students, and female students.

Affirmative action has made its way to the Supreme Court multiple times. The Supreme Court has shifted its stance over the years, sometimes in support of affirmative action, sometimes against it. As it currently stands, colleges can consider race as a factor in admitting students as a way to make their campus more diverse.

The most recent case to come before the Supreme Court is Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. In this case, an anti-affirmative action group called Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard University. The group claimed that in considering race in its admissions process, Harvard unfairly discriminated against Asian Americans. 

Harvard responded that its Asian American student population has grown over time. A decade ago, the percentage of Asians admitted into Harvard was 17%. In 2022, 27.8% of students admitted to Harvard were Asian Americans. And in recent years, Asian Americans have been the second-largest ethnic group admitted to Harvard, behind white students.

Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College was first brought to the United States District Court in Massachusetts. In court, no Asian student testified that they were discriminated against by Harvard. But there were Asian students that testified in favor of affirmative action. The judge sided with Harvard. 

Students for Fair Admissions appealed the case, taking it to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has not filed a decision on the case. But many experts believe that if the Supreme Court sides with Students for Fair Admissions, it could make it illegal for colleges to consider race when admitting students. This could negatively impact Asian Americans.

How does affirmative action benefit Asian Americans?

When discussing college admissions, many universities take a holistic review to applicants, with race being one of many factors. Harvard in particular wants to “create a campus community that is diverse on multiple dimensions” so in admissions, it considers not just test scores, but also, “extracurricular interests, race, socioeconomic background, and life experiences.” Harvard also considers personal essays and letters of recommendation from teachers. 

Harvard describes race as a “plus factor” that could influence a close decision if an applicant comes from a historically underrepresented group, but race can only be a plus not a minus — meaning race can help a student get into college but it cannot hurt their chances. 

In a recent admissions cycle, there are only 2,000 available admission slots available at Harvard, while 8,000 applicants had perfect GPAs, 3,400 had perfect SAT math scores, and 2,700 had perfect SAT verbal scores. This shows that even if Harvard just prioritized GPAs and test scores, many applicants with perfect scores would still be denied admissions. 

National data also DOES NOT show that Asian Americans are being discriminated against in college admissions. From the Condition of Education study, released by the U.S. Department of Education, in 2018, Asians had the largest college enrollment (59%), more than any other race.

A study from Georgetown University also found that Asian Americans actually benefit from affirmative action. If colleges only considered test scores, while Asian American enrollment would increase slightly, 21% of Asian Americans admitted under the holistic system would lose their spot. In short, Asian Americans with lower SAT/ACT scores would give up their admission to Asian Americans with higher test scores. This would potentially affect lower-income Asian Americans, who cannot afford to spend money to prepare for those tests.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and 32 Asian American groups and higher education faculty, released a statement in support of Harvard’s admission policy and affirmative action, saying that abolishing affirmative action “would mostly benefit white applicants, not Asian Americans.” 

Experts say that abolishing affirmative action would prevent students from writing about their race in their college admissions essay, which has been a benefit to many Asian American students. “You had applicants who talked very frankly about their race. They talked about being Chinese American or being the child of immigrants,” said Julie J. Park, a professor at the University of Maryland, to NBC News. “There was no evidence that they were marked down. If anything, that was seen as an asset or something that spoke to why this person had a really interesting story and ultimately was admitted.”   

In a 2020 study from AAPI Data, 77% of Vietnamese Americans surveyed supported affirmative action.