The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT-Austin) race-conscious admissions policy that promotes equal opportunity and diversity for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Eighteen AAPI education and youth-serving organizations, and 52 higher education faculty and officials have joined AALDEF as amicus curiae.
“AALDEF has supported affirmative action and equal opportunity for Asian American students for over three decades,” said Margaret Fung, Executive Director of AALDEF. “Race-conscious admissions policies, such as UT-Austin’s, benefit Asian Americans, especially Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders from disadvantaged backgrounds. Diversity in higher education has educational benefits for all Americans.”
The Supreme Court ruled that diversity in higher education is a “compelling interest” in the case Grutter v. Bollinger, so long as a race-conscious admissions policy only considers race and ethnic origin as one modest factor among many others.
AALDEF’s amicus brief demonstrates that UT-Austin’s individualized review of applicants is narrowly-tailored to achieve diversity. Under UT-Austin’s admissions policy, the vast majority of freshmen are admitted based on GPA alone. Fisher v. UT-Austin only challenges the “individualized review” process used for the small remainder of applicants, which considers a wide variety of individual characteristics to determine each applicant’s merit. These are “an applicant’s culture; language; family; educational, geographic, and socioeconomic background; work, volunteer, or internship experiences; leadership experiences; special artistic or other talents, as well as race and ethnicity.” Race or ethnicity can benefit any applicant.
“Every applicant has a different story to tell, and race can be a part of that story. We deserve the opportunity to be recognized for it,” said Jennifer Tran, UT-Austin undergraduate student and Director of Operations at UT-Austin’s Asian Desi Pacific Islander American Collective.
AALDEF’s amicus brief supports diversity as a compelling interest for all Americans, including AAPIs. AAPIs need interactions with a diverse student body to become leaders. In a study of over 3000 undergraduates, when Asian American students interacted more frequently with other minority students, those students reported more positive perceptions of Asian Americans as a whole. In a study of top law schools, Asian American, Black, and White students reported learning from interracial conversations, with Asian Americans reporting at the highest percentage.
AALDEF’s amicus brief challenges the notion that AAPIs are harmed by race-conscious admissions. AAPIs are admitted at higher percentages under UT-Austin’s individualized review than Black or Latino students. In both the six years before UT-Austin began considering diversity and in the six years since, Asian American enrollment has continued to be 17-20%. UT-Austin’s admissions policy specifically rejects the use of quotas or caps on enrollment of any racial group. Nor does UT-Austin try to match its students to the population of the state: the Asian population at UT-Austin is increasing at a faster rate than Texas’s Asian American population.
“Our admissions policy at UT-Austin acknowledges and values the experiences of Asian Americans, who reflect a range of ethnic heritages, immigration histories, socioeconomic backgrounds, and family education levels,” said Dr. Madeline Hsu of UT-Austin’s Asian/Asian-American Faculty and Staff Association and Director of UT-Austin’s Center for Asian American Studies. “When admissions processes at world-class universities like UT-Austin take into account the full range of each applicant’s potential and attainments, it benefits individuals, the university, and American society as a whole.”
AALDEF’s amicus brief affirms that race-conscious admissions increase equal opportunity for AAPI applicants. The long history of racial discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continues to reduce their equal access to higher education, both in Texas and across the United States. Asian refugees who immigrated to Texas through the Gulf Coast faced harassment by White supremacists in the 1980s. Today, in the nearby school district of Arlington, Texas, the average SAT score of Asian American high school students is 1056 (450 points below the national average). Nationwide, only 18% of Vietnamese Americans, one of the largest Asian American subgroups in Texas, have achieved an undergraduate degree compared to 27.5% of all Americans.
“Asian Americans have been regarded as either perpetual foreigners or model minorities. We are neither,” said Frank H. Wu, Chancellor and Dean of UC Hastings College of the Law. “We are equal citizens who have achieved success yet continue to struggle against discrimination. We must continue to make efforts for race-conscious policies that have long been recognized as constitutional and proven to be effective.”
The amicus brief was prepared by AALDEF and pro-bono co-counsel Foley Hoag LLP.
Download the brief
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.
Image via University of Fraser Valley/Flickr