By OiYan Poon
For the last few weeks 80-20 and other conservative organizations have spread lies, fears, and hate about what California Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA 5) is. Their mobilization against SCA 5 is showing that Asian Americans can successfully fight for their interests. But in the process, they’re pushing misconceptions that poison this important policy debate over affirmative action, racial equity and justice in public higher education.
There are two key ways the anti-affirmative action haters are shoveling a lot of bullsh*t about SCA 5. First, they claim SCA 5 is “anti-Asian.” Second, they hold an assumption that tests and grades are race neutral, reliable, and the only valid considerations in selective admissions practices. In the meantime while they’re too busy in a fear mongering campaign, they’re missing a great opportunity to really fight to expand college opportunity for all of the highly qualified students in the state.
Two ways that anti-SCA 5 haters are BSing people:
1. The haters say that “SCA 5/affirmative action is anti-Asian.”
A couple weeks ago, a student told me that she’d heard there was a law being passed in California to ban Asian Americans from the UC. Nowhere in SCA 5’s language does it suggest a ban on or illegal racial quota on Asian Americans in college admissions. SCA 5, if passed, would allow California public universities to include race as one of many variables in their admissions processes. As the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in 1978 (Bakke vs. University of California), 2003 (Grutter vs. Bollinger), and in 2013 (Fisher vs. University of Texas), race can still be one of many factors in selective college admissions and that diversity is important for learning. Race cannot be the only or a determinative factor in admissions.
SCA 5 would make a small difference to highly represented student populations like Chinese Americans, but it would make a big difference to improve college access for other highly qualified but underrepresented studentssuch as Hmong, Cambodians, Laotian, Samoans, African Americans, and Latinos among others. Not only would underrepresented Asian American and Pacific Islander students directly benefit from SCA 5, all Asian American students benefit from more diverse campus learning environments.
2. The haters say that test scores and grades are (a) race neutral and objective, (b) reliable measures of academic abilities, and (c) the primary items in selective admissions.
Nope, nope, and nope. To believe any of these three things about test scores and grades is pretty naïve. The College Board just announced its third overhaul of the SAT in less than ten years, acknowledging significant problems with the test. For decades, researchers have found that test scores are not very objective or reliable in evaluating students. In fact, a recent very comprehensive study of over 123,000 students at 33 selective colleges showed how little test scores can predict about how successful a student can be. Higher test scores don’t necessarily mean better qualifications. If anything, the College Board admits that higher test scores usually means a student comes from a higher economic class.
From New York Times (data from College Board)
Test scores and grades are just two of MANY variables that are commonly incorporated into complex evaluation and admission selection processes. At some selective universities, the admissions review process can include over 900 variables for evaluation. I’m not going to name the hundreds of variables for admission and enrollment management in selective institutions, especially since some institutions consider drastically different variables. However, in addition to race, test scores, and grades here are some other criteria for admission evaluation:
1. Geography of student’s hometown and school (UC criterion 14)
2. Can you pay full or near full tuition?
3. Child/grandchild of a donor or alumna/us of the institution, aka legacy status.
4. Early admission/decision participation increases chances of admission.
5. Demonstrated and awarded talents.
6. Demonstrated ability to overcome adversities and persist through challenges.
7. Demonstrated leadership capacities.
8. Academic major selected.
I am much more than my high school GPA and my SAT scores could ever tell you about me. How about you?
Photos: NEA, OCA
The anti-SCA/affirmative action sentiment represents a small minority of Asian Americans. It is revealing that deception and illogical fear can motivate some Asian Americans to rally around a political issue. I get that anti-SCA 5 folks are freaked out about their personal or their kids’ chances of getting into one of California’s public institutions. It is tougher today for qualified students of all races to get into a California public university, not because of any admission policy, but because of drastic and sustained state budget cuts over the last several decades. Budget cuts have been so bad, the state funded institutions began giving a preference to out of state and foreign students at record numbers to make up for their financial shortfalls.
So if you’re pissed because you’re not getting into a UC or CSU, fight for the state to reinvest in higher education. Why fight over the dwindling number of seats and resources? The passionate advocacy for equality and opportunity by 80-20 and friends is misguided and uninformed, powered by hate and fear, and relies on a lot of BS. Don’t be fooled. The misinformation being spread about affirmative action, SCA 5, and college admissions is not helping to advance racial equity and justice for all.
If you believe in racial equity in education and opportunity, let’s reinvigorate a public re-investment in higher education. After all, a college’s reputation is based on its capacity and resources to provide quality education to all students, and not based on how many students it can turn away.
If you’re pissed, Asian Americans, get up and fight for public higher education!
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OiYan Poon, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Higher Education at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Education and a graduate certificate in Asian American Studies at UCLA in 2010. As a graduate student at UCLA, OiYan was elected the first Chinese American president of the University of California Student Association, which represents and advocates for the interest of all UC students. Prior to pursuing her Ph.D., Dr. Poon was the first Student Affairs Officer in Asian American Studies at UC Davis, where she also served as a comprehensive review reader in the undergraduate admissions process.
At this year’s Commencement ceremony, USC President C. L. Max Nikias will confer Honorary Baccalaureate and Honorary Master’s degrees on Japanese-American former students who were interned during World War II.
Referred to as Nisei (“second generation” in Japanese, although the term refers to first-generation Japanese-Americans), the students at USC and many other universities were forced to abandon their studies in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent and Japanese nationals living along the Pacific Coast.
"We are privileged to honor the accomplishments and the dreams of the Nisei students who are highly deserving of receiving a college degree for the work they have done at USC," said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. "Through the years these students have been among the most passionate and dedicated members of the Trojan Family. We are honored that our Nisei students have an enduring devotion to USC and we want them to know that the university is also devoted to them."
I wrote recently on higher education and the APIA community. For too long students have been ignored and pushed to the wayside, our issues and hardships left unnoticed. We call on our legislators to sign our pledge in order to bring more transparency and affordability to our public universities.
While the University of Washington’s demographic shifts have been sharper and faster — international students were 2 percent of the freshmen in 2006 — similar changes are under way at flagship public universities across the nation: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and University of California campuses in Berkeley and Los Angeles all had at least 10 percent foreign freshmen this academic year, more than twice that of five years ago. And at top private schools including Columbia University, Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania, at least 15 percent of this year’s freshmen are from other countries.
All told, the number of undergraduates from China alone has soared to 57,000 from 10,000 five years ago. At the University of Washington, 11 percent of the nearly 5,800 freshmen are from China.
A few places have begun to charge international students additional fees besides tuition: at Purdue University, it was $1,000 this year and will double next year; engineering undergraduates at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had to pay a $2,500 surcharge this year.
“We’re in something akin to the gold rush, a frontier-style environment where colleges and universities, like prospectors in the 1800s, realize that there is gold out there,” said David Hawkins, the director of public policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “While it’s the admissions offices butting up against the issues most right now, every department after them, every faculty member who comes into contact with international students, is going to have to recalibrate as institutions become more international. I see a cascading list of challenges.”
As some of you know, I am extremely involved with the higher education campaign (especially in New York). The organizations I work with most, Save Our SUNY and New York Students Rising, focus on the public education systems in New York City and New York State. When I was at the White House AAPI Initiative briefing earlier this month, I asked the higher education panel about how the failures of America’s higher education institutes affect the APIA community. The response I mostly received was that “higher education is an American issue, not solely an Asian American issue”.
I don’t think that’s right. As I replied back to the panel, the issues of college affordability, program cuts, financial aid, and the quality of the education we receive is very much an APIA issue. By blanketing problems as “American problems”, the crucial factors of how race and ethnicity play into the situation are ignored.
Let’s think back on this year: we’ve had students deliberately not marking ‘Asian’ in order to get into college. We’ve had anti-affirmative action bake sales. We found out that Asians are statistically the most bullied in schools. Asian American studies programs are being cut nationwide.
Speaking on what I know best, the fight to preserve funding for New York’s state schools is just as much about preserving an accessible education for communities of color. By raising tuition in an institution (City Universities of New York for example), blocks out potential students from low income communities. CUNY, which used to be free, was and is sometimes the only chance for people to go to college. The same can be said for California’s CSU system.
Education is a right, not a privilege. It shouldn’t be something that we have to fight for, but reality shows that the road to education access is long and hard. We have great legislation like the DREAM Act that challenges existing notions of who “deserves” an education and fights for our people.
So now let me turn this question to you: do you think higher education is purely an American issue?
Open your eyes. Learn, get involved, and MOVE.
我们 是 家庭
This is an urgent issue for the Ithaca College Community. Without an Asian American Studies program, the term ALANA is incomplete. Ithaca College needs to foster an education that does not exclude the Asian community. Please please come to this event. IC needs this.