Asian American Groups Target Top Ivy League Schools For Racial Discrimination

Jun 1, 2016
Originally published on June 8, 2016 3:45 pm

A coalition of Asian American groups filed a federal complaint asking for an investigation into Yale, Brown and Dartmouth for alleged racially discriminatory practices in college admissions processes.

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Three Ivy League schools are alleged to have used racial quotas to limit the number of Asian-American students admitted to their campuses. The Asian-American Coalition for Education says Yale, Brown and Dartmouth have been doing this for at least a decade. The group recently filed a complaint with the federal government. Kirk Carapezza from member station WGBH in Boston has more on the story.

KIRK CARAPEZZA, BYLINE: First, a little background. This isn't the only complaint against Ivy League universities by the Asian-American Coalition. Last year, it claimed Harvard holds the highest expectations for its Asian applicants. The Education Department dismissed that complaint, but that didn't stop the coalition.


YUKONG ZHAO: Asian-American communities are going to continue our fight until you totally stop your unlawful discrimination against our children.

CARAPEZZA: Speaking last week in Washington, coalition president YuKong Zhao said the group is now asking the government to investigate admissions practices at Brown, Yale and Dartmouth, pointing to a study that concluded Asian-Americans need to score higher than white, black and Hispanic students on the SAT to get into these colleges.


ZHAO: So this is clearly a compelling example of how Ivy League admission offices apply - just for Asian - high standard against Asian-American applicants.

CARAPEZZA: The coalition says while the population of college Asian-Americans has grown, the percentage of accepted students has flat-lined.

Officials at Yale, Brown and Dartmouth say the complaint doesn't have any merit, and they point out that the number of Asian-American students at these elite colleges still far outstrips their representation in the general population.

AARON LEWIS: I wish I was a fly on the wall in one of those admissions offices to find out more, you know, what's going on.

CARAPEZZA: Aaron Lewis is a guidance counselor at Newton South High School, and he's checking in with some of his seniors at a graduation festival.

Newton South is just west of Boston, and more than 20 percent of the students here are Asian-American.

Do you think that these elite schools are showing bias against young Asian-American applicants?

LEWIS: It's hard to say because especially in Newton, kids get into mostly the schools that they really want to and they deserve to get into because they work so hard.

CARAPEZZA: Lewis says while some families are looking for any edge in the college admissions game, he never tells his Asian-American students that they might benefit from not checking the box indicating their race or ethnicity. Instead, he urges all of his students to relax and to find a school that's a good fit.

LEWIS: I really want the kids to enjoy high school. I really want them to be here and be present in high school and not just using it as a stepping stone to move on.

CARAPEZZA: Sophomore Isabella Xie agrees with her guidance counselor.

ISABELLA XIE: They need to just chill.

CARAPEZZA: Isabella is Chinese Asian-American and says she thinks some Asian-American groups get too caught up on the idea of discrimination at big-name schools.

ISABELLA: Yes, it does happen. Like, I'm pretty sure it does happen, but I think they're going a little too overboard with it.

CARAPEZZA: Still, Isabella admits she can get anxious about where to go to school.

ISABELLA: I get pressure from my parents. They're like, oh, you should go into a good school, but no pressure.

CARAPEZZA: No pressure until she begins applying to colleges next year. By then, the coalition hopes Isabella's race won't play any role in where she goes. For NPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.