I’m an Asian American Student, and I’ve Changed My Mind about Affirmative Action

If you had asked for my opinion on affirmative action two years ago, I probably would have given you an emphatic response. It would have been a critical rebuke of the system, driven by data, logic and emotional appeal. In recent weeks, my feelings have completely changed. 

I’m an Asian American student preparing to apply to college this fall. Last month’s Supreme Court decision on affirmative action should have felt like a major win for me and my community. Instead, it has only deepened my concern for the future of my peers and our unity. 

I would characterize myself as a student who cares a lot about college admissions, regularly spending hours examining admissions counseling websites, looking for ways to give my application that coveted “wow factor.” While this is fun for me, I would be lying if I told you much of this motivation didn’t stem from my community’s influence. 

In the Asian American community, college admissions must be approached with a kill-or-be-killed mindset. While this may help in the classroom, it leads to unhealthy competition and isolation from other groups.

Many people I know still perpetuate the myth that their spots are being taken by members of other minority groups. This couldn’t be further from the truth, but casual racism has become seemingly interlinked with college admissions. 

When a college commitment is posted to social media, and an African American or Hispanic student is being admitted to a selective university, I’ve heard people say, “They only got in because of their race.” Dismissing these students’ hard work isn’t just bigoted, it also creates excuses for the only part of college admissions that can be controlled: your own application. 

Since I was old enough to know what “college admissions” meant, I’ve been told that the system was working against me. As an Asian American student, I would have to work twice as hard to achieve my goal of getting into a prestigious school. It seemed other minority applicants were my enemies, instead of my friends, classmates and allies. 

This often devolves into stereotyping and separation and fosters unnecessary tension. My future university will not define the person I am, but the relationships that I foster will. The past few years have brought about massive social justice movements, empowering and uniting minorities in America. We cannot let the arbitrary process of college admissions disrupt this progress and distract us from our goal of achieving equality. 

“In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.” These were Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s words in her deciding vote to uphold affirmative action in 2003. 

If the students of my generation are to become the leaders of the future, we must ensure that everyone enjoys the same opportunities. If we have a world where the disadvantaged never have a chance, we will lose our fundamental identity as a nation. Without diversity, unity is only uniformity.

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1 thought on “I’m an Asian American Student, and I’ve Changed My Mind about Affirmative Action”

  1. This article on the necessity of affirmative action was quite impressive. Your thoughtfulness on that subject came through loud and clear. The choice to quote a conservative Supreme Court Justice nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan on the benefits of affirmative action was brilliant.

    I hope you are accepted by the college of your choice, and that you someday become one of those leaders of the future – but probably in some career other than philosophy! Law? Politics? Public Policy?

    Those of my generation (Baby Boomers) are counting those in your generation to clean up this mess we’ve left for you. And that can only be done with leaders who reflect the diversity and inclusion made possible by the equitable policies of affirmative action. Thank you for the wisdom you’ve shown in your writing. It gives me hope.

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