Heated talk on college campuses across the nation attest to the fact that many students believe affirmative action plays a pivotal role in the college application process, and this discussion includes the uncertain role of the policy on the admission prospects of Asian-American college applicants.
Although Asian Americans make up 5.6 percent of U.S. population, students of Asian descent comprise 21 percent of Duke’s undergraduate enrollment. The overrepresentation of the Asian population at many universities may reinforce the Asian stereotype of the “model minority,” a term used to describe an ethnic group that achieves a higher degree of success than the general population. Popular culture has often viewed Asians as a monolithic community of model minorities. This stereotyping has led many to argue that Asians have it harder during the college application process, some students said.
Eileen Chow, visiting associate professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, said she supports affirmative action; however, it should be practiced intelligently and factored alongside regional and socioeconomic factors.
Duke, along with other top private universities, has a holistic admissions process and considers much more than just test scores and grades. Chow said that Asian Americans at private universities are not held by higher standards but by different standards.
“People think of it as a way of praising Asian Americans.” Chow said, “It hasn’t particularly benefited Asian Americans and instead homogenizes them.”
Timothy Wong, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin who was waitlisted and eventually rejected by Duke, did not believe his ethnicity played an important factor in his rejection.
“I don’t think it’s something they really judged me on. If it came down to it, the odds wouldn’t be in my favor though,” Wong said, “There’s always that hinge that ‘He’s Asian.’ They might not be conscious of it—a little coloring in the back.”
The idea that being Asian hurts an applicant’s chances fails to take into account the implicit advantage of growing up in a culture that promotes education as the currency of success, sophomore Vijay Menon said.
Sophomore Ray Li noted that affirmative action is well-intentioned, but he said he believes race should not be the sole determining factor if colleges are striving to create a diverse campus.
“If an affirmative action program values diversity, it should encompass all spectrums of diversity including socioeconomic status, religion, geographical region, sexuality, and political views,” he said.
Even though he may not benefit from affirmative action, Menon said he fervently supports the policy because it helps promote diversity among university campuses.
“Regardless of whether or not you believe affirmative action hurts Asian Americans, I feel that this question is ancillary to the more relevant question of whether or not you believe diversity is critical at Duke.” Menon said. “I have been enriched by my black and Latino friends on campus, and diversity is one of the main reasons I chose Duke over [the University of California at] Berkeley.”
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag could not be reached for comment.