AACE files civil rights complaint

by Joyce Lee | 5/25/16 5:32pm

The Asian American Coalition for Education, a group consisting of more than 130 Asian American organizations, announced the filing of civil rights violation complaints against Dartmouth College, Yale University and Brown University on Monday. AACE requested that the Department of Education and the Department of Justice investigate the admission practices of the three colleges in light of allegedly discriminatory practices against Asian-American applicants, including the use of racial quotas, racially-differentiated admission standards, racial stereotypes and other unlawful admissions criteria.

The coalition’s 37-page letter of complaint against the three colleges says that Asian-American applicants “with exemplary educational records and awards and leadership positions” have been rejected from the three colleges while applicants of different ethnicities but similar records have been admitted to the institutions. The letter said that “the Ivy League Colleges impose racial quotas and caps to maintain what they believe are ideal racial balances,” despite the dramatic increase of qualified Asian-American applicants in recent years.

AACE president Yukong Zhao said that the coalition’s main objective is to eliminate racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in the college admissions process that is in violation of existing law. He said that the coalition was specifically calling for the same requirements for all racial groups, with no higher standards imposed on Asian-Americans, as well as the elimination of racial stereotyping during the admissions process.

Michele Hernandez, a former admissions officer at the College, wrote in a Huffington Post article that the “so-called ‘holistic process’ can discriminate against Asian students.” She said that high-scoring Asian applicants are often seen as “passive,” “robotic,” and “just another violin/piano playing standout” with “lack of spark.”

Emily Kong ’16 said that as an Asian-American student, she remembered hearing from her college counselors that she would need higher test scores because of her ethnicity. She also said that she often felt pressure to stand out instead of fitting into a generic “Asian” box, with activities such as playing the piano that would “check off all the boxes.” She said that she felt Asian-American applicants might be grouped together due to their common ethnicity, with certain activities being “devalued” and seen as a standard for Asian-American applicants, who would then be expected to display further qualities or activities in addition to such activities.

Vice president for communications Justin Anderson wrote in an email that the admissions process considers the whole person, and that all applicants, including Asian-American applicants, are evaluated under the same criteria.

Ninteen percent of Dartmouth’s class of 2019 identified themselves as Asian-American, compared to 21.8 percent at Yale and 20 percent at Brown. This was an increase from the previous two years, with 15 percent of Dartmouth’s class of 2018 identifying themselves as Asian-American, and 18 percent from Dartmouth’s class of 2017.

Zhao said that these complaints are not new — similar federal complaints have been filed against selective colleges such as Princeton University, but the Department of Education did not find in their investigations signs of deliberate discrimination against Asian-American applicants. He said that he was disappointed by the Office of Civil Rights because the office rejected the organization’s complaints and mishandled the investigation of Princeton.

Because of this, Zhao said that during this investigation, he sees a need to establish an oversight committee that would include delegates representing Asian-American interests.

Zhao also said that the AACE will also strongly urge the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a total ban on racial discrimination in college admissions in its upcoming ruling of Fisher v. University of Texas, a case about affirmative action college admissions policies. He said that he felt an affirmative action process based on socioeconomic status rather than race would be a more fair way to admit disadvantaged students into selective institutions.

These complaints come to the College directly after controversy about faculty of color and tenure. Through the use of hashtags #fight4facultyofcolor and #dontdoDartmouth along with petitions and public forums, students have expressed disappointment and frustration over faculty of color tenure decisions, especially in the case of English professor Aimee Bahng, who was not granted tenure.

Kong, who is a member of the Dartmouth student activist group Asian Americans For Action, said that she felt there is a relation between the tenure decision and the complaints about bias against Asian-Americans because of a systematic bias that affects all minorities on campus. She said that she felt there was a lack of support from the administration for individuals of color, from admissions to maintaining faculty of color in tenure tracks. Kong said she believes support for students of color will increase significantly at Dartmouth if faculty of color receive tenure.

“Admissions is one way that this investigation could help with, but once students come in, they need support from the administration and from faculty who aren’t actually available at the moment,” Kong said. “Even if this investigation does prove Dartmouth is guilty of bias in admissions, that doesn’t solve the problem that once [students] get here, there’s still a lack of support. Just because numbers go up, it doesn’t mean Asian-American experiences will improve.”