The actual problem with Harvard’s admission policy

MOHAMMED RAWWAS, Opinion Columnist

An article appeared in the April 29, 2019, issue of the Northern Iowan in which the author argues against Harvard’s admission policy. The most egregious fault is the comparing of this admission policy, which is implicitly considered discrimination against Asian Americans, to the historical, systemic discrimination against Jews, blacks and other minority groups. However, by framing this issue in such a way, the article minimizes the institutional racism faced by these other groups. Furthermore, by presenting this clearly sympathetic, but formally “neutral” “analysis” of this lawsuit while neglecting to mention pertinent information, the article is helping white nationalists in their fight against African Americans and other racial minorities.

The man bringing forward this lawsuit, Edward Blum, is a white nationalist whose sole purpose in life is to eradicate affirmative action and even to overturn provisions within the 1965 Voting Rights Act, in order for whites to be elevated once more to the detriment of African-American, Latinx and other minority students. He has brought forth multiple lawsuits regarding affirmative action, mostly with white students complaining about “reverse racism,” which of course does not exist. The results of these cases have been catastrophic, with states such as North Carolina seizing on the opportunity that one of Blum’s cases had resulted in a rescindment of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in order to enact voter suppression against African Americans. Attacking affirmative action is a common trait of white supremacists: When former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke announced his bid for Congress, he stressed his fight against affirmative action and the court cases he had won to this end.

This is Blum’s first lawsuit in which the “victims” have been Asian-Americans, in a clear strategy to reframe his case so that unwitting liberals will fall into his trap and support him. Let one thing be clear: Blum does not care about Asian-Americans. His end goal is white nationalism. Dismantling affirmative action is one way of moving towards his ultimate vision. And for an article supposedly explaining this lawsuit, failure to mention this crucial fact is very irresponsible. 

As an Asian-American, I am uncomfortable being used as a pawn in order to bludgeon other racial minorities, which have fared much worse in the US. I am also uncomfortable with this article’s author pretending to care about “discrimination” against my identity to this end. Furthermore, I don’t think that not being admitted to Harvard constitutes oppression. I think that, as Asian-Americans, we need to recognize our privilege with respect to other racial minorities. Most racial oppression is subsumed by class oppression, which is why different racial groups in the US experience oppression in different ways, and to differing extents. Asian-Americans have more class privilege than even white Americans do. And for this author to equate the discrimination we may face to that of Jews or blacks is absolutely horrendous.

But let us get to the heart of the matter. The author finds no issue with admitting based on “academic achievements” and “extracurricular activities,” finding that they can be “measured quasi-scientifically.” However, what are we really measuring when we measure academic achievement? The answer is, of course: Class privilege. People who come from higher socioeconomic statuses are afforded better educational opportunities, and perform better in school. Measuring academic achievement, then, is simply classism: What you are really measuring is the opportunities that were afforded to these students. Public schools are funded through property taxes, which means that living in richer neighborhoods means more funding to schools for proper resources and better teachers. Rich parents can hire private tutors and are more likely to be able to help their children with homework. This also means that it is less likely you will need to get a job during high school to support the family, meaning more time to focus on studies. I don’t think Asian Americans, or white Americans, should be rewarded for their class privilege by admitting them to prestigious universities. And I think students that have not been afforded the same opportunities should be awarded them. Of course, I am only talking about averages here. Not all Asian Americans have class privilege, but on average, we do. Affirmative action is a good method of trying to counteract the classist reasoning of “meritocracy” by attempting to break the cycle of inequity rather than duplicating it. None of this amounts to discrimination.

The real problem with Harvard’s admission policy is not affirmative action, but rather legacy admissions. If we actually care about a fairer, more equitable admissions process, why don’t we target legacy admissions, which have the most privilege and are leveraging their wealth and connections in order to actually unfairly be admitted in what is tantamount to nepotism. Rather than directing our ire towards African-Americans and other racial minorities being admitted, why don’t we instead direct our ire against the most privileged among us?