Do Ivy League schools have a 'bamboo ceiling' on admissions?

Updated: 2015-04-15 05:14

By Chang Jun(China Daily USA)

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A group of Asian-American students have filed a lawsuit against Ivy League schools' admission policies claiming they seek to set quotas on admitting Asian students.

The midwife of the complaint, long-time civil rights activist Edward Blum, is coming to the Bay Area on May 30 to elaborate on his mission and discuss how this case might affect tens of thousands of Asian families in the US.

It started early last year when an overachiever was rejected by Harvard. The applicant, a child of Chinese immigrants, scored perfectly on three college-admission tests and excelled in extra-curricular activities and community service. He lashed out at Harvard, challenging their decision and demanding to know if his racial background played a role in their decision. The case went viral through social media among the Chinese community. Do Ivy League schools have a 'bamboo ceiling' on admissions?

His demand for eliminating racial discrimination in the Ivy League admission process resonated among Asian communities across the nation. Edward Blum, and his Students for Fair Admission, joined forces with students who believed their rejections were partly because of their Asian background and filed a class action lawsuit against several of the "most selective" Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

Harvard officials refuted the allegations, reaffirming that its admissions policy was well-rounded and praised in a 1978 Supreme Court decision. Besides, one in six of its students were from Asian families and rejecting thousands of impressive applicants was not an uncommon practice every year.

A recent revelation by Indian American Vijay Chokal-Ingam has also triggered a nationwide outcry over admission policies and race.

On his own blog, Chokal-Ingam said that ten years or so ago he was frustrated at being rejected by medical schools, in part because of his mediocre test scores and a 3.1 grade point average. So in 2001 he shaved off his straight black hair, began using his middle name, "Jojo," and checked the "Black" box for race on his applications. He soon had interviews at Harvard and Columbia and a spot on the waiting lists of the University of Pennsylvania, Washington University and Mt Sinai.

(He eventually went to Saint Louis University Medical School but dropped out after two years, applied as an Asian American to UCLA business school and earned an MBA.)

"I got into medical school because I said I was black," Chokal-Ingam writes on his blog Almost Black. "The funny thing is I'm not, [but] my plan actually worked."

Chokal-Ingam admits it was wrong for him to lie but says he did so in part because he was angry at the system of quotas that discriminated against Asian-American applicants.

"Affirmative-action racism is as ingrained in our society as imperialism was in the time of Gandhi and segregation was in the time of (Martin Luther) King," he wrote. "People who challenge affirmative action racism such as Abigail Fisher, Justice Thomas, and Ward Connerly are the true heirs" to the ideal of a color-blind society.

Abigail Fisher, Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly are among the fiercest opponents of affirmative action. Thomas has written that affirmative action amounts to racial discrimination and is every bit as wrong as segregation or slavery. Connerly is the founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, a national non-profit organization that opposes preferences based on race and gender.

Blum said he believes the Supreme Court decision in [Abigail] Fisher v University of Texas (2013) provides valuable legal ammunition in terms of college admission.

"The Fisher opinion unambiguously requires schools to implement race-neutral means to achieve student-body diversity before turning to racial classifications and preferences," he said.

However, there is a clear anomaly at the most selective Ivy League schools, where Asian Americans accounted for more than 27 percent of applicants between 2008 and 2012, but only 17-to-20 percent of those admitted. The discrepancy represents a "bamboo ceiling" for Asian-Americans, Blum believes.

In March, Blum started sending letters to every Ivy League college's president asking the university to preserve their student admission records and to restore documents if any parts had been destroyed.

Blum said Yale Law School reported to have destroyed its admission records, which might serve as evidence for its discriminating against students of Asian descent in its admission process.

"What we Asian families ask from the Ivy Leagues is fairness," said Eric Zhou, whose teenage son will apply to Harvard next year. "I simply can't accept the fact that my child is denied because of his skin color."

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