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Two Sides of the Affirmative Action Debate in College Admissions for Asian Americans

Harvard LibrraryShould test scores and grades be the only criteria for admission into college?

That seems to be the burning question in the debate over affirmative action in college admissions.

By now, you know the arguments.

Johnny had perfect SAT scores and a 4.4 GPA, how could he not be admitted to Harvard when others with lesser scores and grades did get in?

Two high achieving Asian American students exemplify both sides of that story.

The Asia Times tells the story of Thang Diep, a Vietnamese American who arrived in the United States as a refugee when he was just 8.

He scored a 2060 on his SAT, short of the perfect 2300 of some of his competitors. Diep admits he applied to Harvard three years ago on a whim, not thinking he would be able to win admission.

Today he’s a junior at Harvard majoring in neurobiology. His admissions file is revealing. He was from a lower middle class family, studied until 3 in the morning, competed in spelling bees and withstood fellow students mocking his accent. Others in the heavily Hispanic neighborhood where he grew up called him “chinito,’ a derogatory term often applied to Asians meaning “little Chinese boy.”

Despite that he volunteered to help many Hispanics and African Americans on skid row, choosing to ignore the harassment he faced.

“I learned not to get angry and to understand why there was such misperceptions in Asian identities,” Thang said. “It’s not that I got over it. It’s that I’m more understanding of other people when they do that.”

He later came out in high school after realizing he was gay.

His Harvard admissions file pointed out Diep had a strong sense of self.

“They said I had a strong identity, a good understanding of who I was,” Diep said. “They were also interested in my service to the community, sense of social justice and interest in helping other people,” Thang added.

Then there’s the story of Austin Jia, also in the Asia Times as originally told to the NY Times.

He had nearly perfect SAT scores and grades and was a member of the debate team, tennis captain and state orchestra. He didn’t get into Harvard or any other Ivy League school, but now attends Duke.

“My gut reaction was that I was super disillusioned by how the whole system was set up,” Jia said.

A lawsuit against Harvard alleges discrimination against Asian Americans by Harvard and the Justice Department has signaled it may investigate the issue.

Some contend there are other ways to boost socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts recently received a $1.7 million five year grant to provide support, services and extra-curricular activities to Asian American and Pacific Islander students, according to the Lowell Sun.

The school will launch an Asian American Connections Center and peer-support program, titled Asian American Student Network.


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  1. RE: Two Sides of the Affirmative Action Debate in College Admissions for Asian Americans: Top Universities are looking for well rounded students who not only get wonderful grades but know and understand how to function in the world we live in. We need to remember everyone that applies has wonderful grades, but what these schools are looking for are future leaders and innovators like the first young person mentioned. Sad but the second person mentioned didn’t have anything unique to offer they sounded boring and typical.


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