Anti-Asian Discrimination at the Heart of the Progressive Education Agenda

Anti-racist discrimination is not a victimless offense. A glaring skeleton in the closet of American education is its intentional and long-established discrimination against Asian Americans, both in college admissions and in access to quality K-12 education.

In light of such endemic practices that should embarrass any classical liberal, a federal lawsuit filed by Coalition for TJ against Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in northern Virginia has galvanized national attention. The grassroots organization, mainly consisting of Asian-American parents, argues that Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) discriminates against Asian-American students in admissions. Specifically, the parents challenge FCPS’s new policy change to ‘reform’ its merit-based admissions process by establishing a test-blind system that caps TJ’s enrollment from the district’s 23 middle schools—in other words, geographic quotas serving as a proxy for racial quotas. The case has generated extensive media coverage and public outrage, partly due to the FCPS school board’s unapologetic support for racial biases, thinly veiled under the guise of promoting diversity and equity at our nation’s top-performing public high school.

Prior to the lawsuit, TJ’s Class of 2024 was 73% Asian-American, 1% black, 3.3% Hispanic, 6% other, and 17.7% white. By abandoning its standardized test for admissions, the school was projected to have a “racially balanced” student body: 54% Asian-American, 7% black, 8% Hispanic, 6% other, and 25% white. This “equitable” make-up, according to the policy’s proponents, will better reflect the racial composition of Fairfax County, which is 61% white, 10% black, 16% Hispanic, and 19% Asian-American.

The problem, of course, is the illegal and unconstitutional method by which the FCPS school board has sought to achieve this balancing act. Rather than improving outreach to the so-called underrepresented minorities to build up the eligible applicant pool, FCPS leadership resorted to crude social engineering under the banner of Virginia’s 2020 budget bill for diversity goals in Governor’s Schools. A treasure trove of public documents has also surfaced, demonstrating that FCPS board members’ anti-Asian sentiments were both the goal and the motivation for scrapping TJ’s former race-blind policies. On one occasion, board members Abrar Omeish and Stella Pekarsky exchanged text messages regarding the policy change:

Pekarsky: “It will whiten our schools and kick [out] our Asians. How is that achieving the goals of diversity?”

Omeish: “I mean there has been an anti asian feel underlying some of this, hate to say it lol.”

Alas, the nonchalant bigotry of the establishment educrats is fully captured. But the TJ case is only a highlight in the decades-long pattern of using anti-Asian discrimination to achieve a progressive, utopian agenda, one that hijacks American education with politically correct edicts, mediocre outcomes, and collectivist ideals. Before the TJ controversy, anti-Asian discrimination went hand in hand with racial balancing and quota programs in New York City’s world-class specialized high schools, Maryland’s elite magnet middle schools, and San Francisco’s prestigious Lowell High School.

[Related: “At Foothill College, Equity Collides with Education”]

This trend started long after similar reforms in higher education, such as when Harvard University pioneered the “holistic” method of evaluating applicants. Surprisingly, its holistic system kept Asian enrollment steady at around 20% between 1992 and 2013 and uniformly rated Asian-American applicants low in personality, ceteris paribus. According to case files from Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, Harvard used race as a dominant factor, not to achieve a critical mass of underrepresented minority students, but to discriminate against Asian Americans. An Asian-American applicant with a 25% chance of admissions would have his odds increase to 35%, 75%, or 95% if he were white, Hispanic, or black, respectively. At Yale, against which the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration launched a federal lawsuit following an administrative civil rights complaint from 132 Asian-American grassroots groups, statistical findings reveal that Asian Americans have only one-tenth of the likelihood of admission as black applicants with comparable academic credentials. For American students applying to medical school with average GPAs (3.40 to 3.59) and average MCAT scores (27-29), Asian-American applicants only have a 22.5% acceptance rate, about one fourth of that of black applicants, one third of that of Hispanic applicants, and two thirds of that of white applicants.

The overwhelming quantitative evidence is enhanced by first-person testimony. Sara Harberson, former associate dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote:

There’s an expectation that Asian Americans will be the highest test scorers and at the top of their class; anything less can become an easy reason for a denial. And yet even when Asian American students meet this high threshold, they may be destined for the wait list or outright denial because they don’t stand out among the other high-achieving students in their cohort. The most exceptional academic applicants may be seen as the least unique, and so admissions officers are rarely moved to fight for them.

A former Dartmouth admissions officer agrees:

Often high-scoring Asian applicants with top GPA’s were seen as “passive,” “robotic,” and “just another violin/piano playing standout” with “lack of spark.” Though I don’t think discrimination was intentional, there persisted a stereotype that the majority of Asian applicants were strong in math/science, played the violin or piano at a high level, attended Chinese (or Korean) school on weekends and often did tutoring, Kumon, high level math contests and award-centered activities like Academic Decathlon or Quiz Bowl.

UCLA Law Professor Richard Sander adds: “no other racial or ethnic group at these three of the most selective Ivy League schools is as underrepresented relative to its application numbers as are Asian-Americans.”

[Related: “The Political Unfolding of California’s Racial Reckoning: From Affirmative Action to Critical Race Theory”]

Like a parasite overtaking its host, the woke dogma of diversity, equity and inclusion has operated through unjustifiable penalties against an inherently diverse and dynamic racial minority group. ‘Give us more diversity, and just remember: we want fewer Asians because their statistically significant excellence in academics insults the progressive pursuit of mediocrity. Also, their non-Western faces don’t enhance diversity.’

How ironic it is when the education establishment turns around to collect its Asian mascots and virtue-signal its commitment to combatting “anti-Asian hate.” Last year, the Biden Administration signed a bill to address COVID-related, anti-Asian hate crimes after promptly dropping the DOJ lawsuit against Yale alleging racial discrimination. Some California schools are mandating Asian American studies with sample lessons featuring victimhood over empowerment. Yet in 2020, the state’s political elites had no problem pointing the finger at an opposition campaign coalition, led by many Asian-American advocates and funded mainly by first-generation Asian immigrants, smearing them as right-wing white supremacists.

Conveniently, the progressive bandwagon ignores the biggest structural barrier to Asians in this country—unequal education rights—and tosses out cheap political gimmicks to win the Asian vote.

From California to Virginia, education leaders have failed in too many meaningful ways. And they will continue to falter unless they begin to detangle the intersectional mess between anti-Asian discrimination and progressivism.


Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Wenyuan Wu

Wenyuan Wu is Executive Director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. Twitter: @wu_wenyuan

8 thoughts on “Anti-Asian Discrimination at the Heart of the Progressive Education Agenda

  1. “Like a parasite overtaking its host, the woke dogma of diversity, equity and inclusion has operated through unjustifiable penalties …”

    That is the perfect analogy. Thank you for your clarity of thought.

  2. In my opinion, the fairest admission policy would be one that goes strictly in proportion to the demographic distribution at large. So for example, the admission rate for Thomas Jefferson High School should be 61% white, 10% black, 16% Hispanic, and 19% Asian-American, reflecting the racial composition of Fairfax County. Each group then only competes with its own ethnic cohorts, i.e. Asian applicants compete against other Asian applicants, black applicants compete against other black applicants and so on, and within each group, admission is strictly meritocratic, i.e. the highest scoring 61% of whites, 10% of blacks, 16% of Hispanics and 19% of Asians respectively get in.

    We could also do the same for elite college admissions, so Harvard should be 62% white, 12% black, 16% Hispanic, 6% Asian. IMO this is the fairest way in a multicultural society such as ours. Btw I’m Asian.

    You might ask how is that fair to the Asian kids in the 20%-70% who still score far higher than the top 2%-10% of blacks for Thomas Jefferson HS? Well, is it really the end of the world if they don’t get in? They’ll just go on to other schools and improve those other schools.

    Asians need to stop being such suckers for elite colleges. If it weren’t for all the Asian kids flooding these schools with their applications, they wouldn’t have been half as prestigious. Meanwhile, the smart Asian kids who take their talents elsewhere would make those other schools esp. the StateU’s much more prestigious. Those fancy elite colleges do not deserve the pedestal they are being put on by Asian kids and their parents. They are hollow bastions of left wing hypocrisy that live off undeserved reputations, charging suckers a ton to brainwash their kids with left wing hypocrisy, degeneracy and lunacy.

  3. Today’s featured article by Wenyan Wu is all well and good, and is accompanied by links to articles on the topic which appeared in NAS over the last several years. One of these articles, dated June 25 2018, depicts a woman graduating from a Vietnamese College, to illustrate an article about MIT and Harvard. The title of the article refers to Asian students, but the first line of the article discusses Asian-Americans. This type of flabby referencing also characterized the briefs in the lawsuit against Harvard presented by Ed Bloom. To be clear, US Colleges and Universities have no legal obligation to admit foreign students (their may be some contractual obligations), and any discernment (discrimination) in doing so is entirely their business alone. But briefs which equivocate thus provided no aid for American students of any background or ethnicity, and only confuse the matter further, no less than alienate Asian American students from their cohort.

  4. Yeah, Asian American activists are the idiots, fighting for other POC rights, while being trampled on by said “allies.” You can’t fix stupid.

    This is part and parcel of the woke ideology, and the bigotry of lowered expectations means… I’ll never seek out a black or Hispanic professional in anything below a certain age. Their presence is met with affirmative skepticism, whether they like it or not. They’re in the lower 5th percentile of who I’ll trust for any type of work, and they’ll have to do the work of proving themselves to me that they were able to bypass when younger. Oh well, life is reality, and they should learn that.

  5. Colleges should continue their current practices of targeting students of color (other than asian heritage) for admission, scholarships, etc. It all sounds so fair and equitable. Besides, think of all of the benefits to the student body by having racial/ethnic diversity on campus.

    There are going to be, however, severe long term consequences from such policies. The truth is many (most?) of these affirmative action admissions are, at best, marginally qualified to pursue a college education. Continuing such admissions will result in either dramatically watering down the degree programs to get at least some graduates or the eventual elimination of entire degree programs. Who is going to fill the seats in those engineering classes and math classes and finance classes when a significant portion of your incoming freshman class is enrolled in remedial math and remedial english courses?

    The only way to prevent eliminating STEM disciplines and, I might add, uphold the reputation some of these colleges in the long run, is to go back to merit-based admissions. Admitting qualified, prepared students reduces the requirement (and cost) of providing remedial courses. If merit based admissions means the proportion of asian heritage students on campus increases, then so be it; I’m all for it.

    In the mean time, I will patiently continue to wait for those studies showing how a racially diverse student body, without regard for academic preparation, benefits anyone on campus other than the diversity, equity and inclusion bureaucracy.

    1. That last paragraph. That’s it in a nutshell. The entire policy benefits no-one except that bureaucracy.

    2. How about preference for applicants with lower test scores but DEMONSTRATED mechanical ability, eg repairing motorcycle engines or building networks?

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