Painting a Fuller Picture on Affirmative Action (你我他都能有夢: 了解平權法案)

The following piece appeared in a World Journal special issue on August 8, 2015, in a shortened version in both English and Mandarin Chinese. Scroll down to find the English version.

全面入學評估(holistic admissions practice)是美國大專院校廣泛採用的一項入學評估標準,強調除了學業成績之外,同時將申請生的各項背景納入考量。今年初,超過60個亞裔社團合力向教育部暨司法部門提出控訴,指控哈佛大學的全面入學方案對於歧視亞裔學生,導致許多符合入學標準的亞裔學生被摒除在大學窄門之外。

多年前,我的父母從台灣移民來美。 跟所有離鄉背井移民一樣,他們為的是開創一個更好的將來,不單是為了自己,更為了後世子孫。美國之所以成為無數移民共同的落腳處,第二個家鄉,是因為它象徵一個理想。每一個人在這裡都可以能到公平機會追求成功。「書中自有顏如玉,書中自有黃金屋」,單從這句的古諺,就可以看出學問本來是中國人心中功成名就的敲門磚。在異鄉土地落地生根之餘,要出人頭地,接受高等教育幾乎成了移民父母認定的成功之鑰。

我在美國出生,在一個以亞裔占多數的環境中成長。從第一天入學直到高中畢業,就背負父母深切期望,不單是我,周遭的同學在內,我們求學生涯就是以進入理想大學為終極目標。除了正規的學校教育,課外時間多半用來上補習班,課後輔導。還要培養音樂美術體育等等多項才藝,不一定為了興趣,更重要的是為了能夠在大學申請時脫穎而出。

我現在是個大學生。當初申請大學過程的瘋狂忙碌沈重壓力,依然記憶猶新。這整個過程,絕對不是僅僅是11年級下半學期的填申請表,寫作文,而是入學以來,校內校外的每一堂課,每一次考試,每一個活動都是每一個學子為進入理想大學這個目標一步一腳印的成功之路。所有的付出都希望得到回報,也應該得到回報。然而生命中不變的真理卻是,不是只要努力盡力就一定可以如願。身為一個過來人,從自己跟周遭朋友的親身經歷,我很肯定,未能入取理想的大學,對每一個學生來說,絕對是一個殘酷打擊。但這不代表求學生涯從此終結。那或許是一次失敗,卻不是世界末日。而且這個失敗不應該歸咎於全面入學評估。實際上,亞裔學生的這個背景在我申請大學的過程中,並不見得是阻力,有的時候反而是加分。

由64個亞裔社團共同簽署的控訴中強調,跟符合入學標準的亞裔學生比率相比,實際入取進入哈佛大學的亞裔學生比率偏低。這個不合理的現象顯示哈佛大學入學方案對亞裔有差別待遇。但事實卻並非如此,在2015學年的新生為例,申請的學生當中亞裔占21.2%,入取的學生當中亞裔也同樣占了21%。統計數字明白顯示,在學生背景列入考量的情況下,亞裔學生沒有遭受差別待遇。也就是說全面入學評估方案並沒有特別歧視或排除亞裔學生。

全美大專院校之所以採用全面入學評估方案,是因為校方認為,入學評選是選才舉才,而不是一項單純競賽。每一個學生都是一個獨立的個人,而不是一組數字。GPA,SAT,AP…這些高分固然重要難得,但是不能做為評選的唯一考量。大學申請競爭激烈是不爭的事實。僧多粥少的情況下,總是有人歡樂有人愁。不是每一個優秀的申請生都一定能進入他理想的學校。尤其想要擠入一流學府,憑恃的絕不僅僅是漂亮的成績單而已。

現行的入學標準,在成績之外,同時將社會背景(不僅僅是族裔),成長環境,人格特質,學業以外的興趣才華…通通納入評估。這種種元素加在一起,才能全面呈現出一個申請生的樣貌。各大專學校也才能依此評選出適合自己學校的學生。這跟就像你我在挑選伴侶時,除了收入年紀身高這些明顯的外在條件,還會衡量個性是否適合,觀念能否相通,是同樣的道理。高等學府是培育人才的搖籃。這個社會需要的是能獨立思考,解決問題。發現真相,創新的人才。哈佛這樣一流的學府有社會責任,培養一流的人才,而不是會讀書考試的好學生。

儘管抗議書中一再重申,這64個亞裔社團針對的是大學全面入學評估,但是在字裡行間仍然透露著,他們真正反對,期盼終止的其實是平權法案(Affirmative Action).

許多人都有這樣的迷思,認為在亞裔社群中,平權法案是一項還未能達成共識的爭論性議題。然而亞太裔投票促進會(APIAVote)與亞美公益促進中心(AAAJ-AAJC)在2014的民調中發現,有70%的亞裔支持將平權方案列入大學入學評估標準。其中包括63%的華裔。而華裔正在這64團體中佔多數。而這樣的結果並不是特例,多年的民意調查已經一再顯示,多數的亞裔支持平權方案。

換言之,這一次對哈佛大學的指控,非但不真不實,甚至不能代表多數亞裔的心聲。實際上,已經有超過135個亞太族裔機構公開對平權法案與大學綜合入學評估表態支持。 身為主修XXX的亞裔大學生,我關心一切與我的族裔自身相關的議題,我支持平權法案。所以,他們的意見也不能代表我的個人意見。

平權法案的基本精神來自於保障所有少數弱勢族群,禁止一切針對族裔性別﹑社會階級而生的差別待遇。50年來,許多的年輕華裔受惠于平權法案,才得以踏進當時以白人為主的高等學府接受教育。而如今抗議全面入學評估方案的華裔父母可能正是當年受益的學子。他們或許認為亞裔高中生的成績表現優異,族裔背景不再是入學的保障,反而成為阻力。然而在學術研究﹑公共事務甚至工作職場,亞裔往往仍是處於劣勢的少數,仍會遭遇不公平的待遇,依然需要平權法案的保障。

這次64個亞太裔團體在控訴中,指控哈佛大學以限定名額的方式,壓縮了亞太裔學生入學的機會。但是90年代進行一次長達兩年的追蹤研究中,教育部門不曾發現有任何證據證明哈佛大學歧視亞裔學生。過去這25年來,也沒有證據顯示哈佛大學對亞裔學生有名額限制。另外在1978年Regents of the University of California v. Bakke 一案中,最高法院已經裁定大學入學不得以族裔設定名額。同時最高法院也裁定,依照平權法案精神,以不設定名額,但是將學生的背景列入考量的全面入學評估方案是合法也是合乎社會公益的入學評估方式。

1979年 哈佛大學新生當中有6%是亞裔,到2015年 已經大幅進步到21%。所謂全面入學評估考量的是全面所有條件,族裔只是其中的一個單項。

從另外一個角度來看,亞裔是一個多元化的族群。其中人數眾多的華裔﹑印度裔﹑韓裔有50%的人擁有大學以上的高等學歷。但是來自東南亞的寮﹑柬埔寨,卻只有15%的人口擁有高等學歷。平權法案保障了這些族群就業就學的基本權利。身為亞裔的你我,在為了自己或子弟的利益而反對全面入學評估方案的同時,是否也應該正視這個方案對其他少數族群帶來的保護。隨著全面評估入學方案被剔除,平權法案的精神被推翻,對亞裔可能造成的損害,可能遠遠超過這64個亞裔社團所想像。

反對全面入學評估方案的64個亞裔團體中,有超過40個團體來自華裔,亞裔中的少數族群並未列名其中。這樣的組合,能否代表所有亞裔美國人?當他們指責哈佛大學不瞭解甚至漠視亞裔的權利的同時,是不是也應該反思,他們也同樣忽略了應該被包含在亞裔之中其他少數族群?

控訴書中同時宣稱,平權反案已經提供來自不同社會階級的族群必要的保障,因此族裔大可以被摒除在入學評估之外,無須多此一舉。然而族裔與社會階級之間或有連結影響,卻不是絕對。實際上,一個來自社會底層,貧窮階級的白人學生,往往比一個中產階級的少數民族,有更多更好的機會接受高深教育。所以單憑平權法案,不足以保障所有弱勢族群。

他們卻忽略了族裔與社會階級有著密不可分的連結。歧視排外,是每一個族裔都不可豁免的困境。以非裔為例,自200年前美國建國以來,非裔始終是社會的中堅份子。但不管歷史怎麼演進,地位如何提升,人口不斷增多,直到今日,他們仍然被迫面臨種族歧視的窘境,仍然需要不斷主動積極地維護自身族裔的基本權益。今日的美國社會還不足成為理想的烏托邦。不管是在校園還是職場,差別待遇依然有跡可尋。這樣的現實環境下,沒有一個族群,可以自絕於平權法案之外。

所謂的美國夢,是生活在這片土地上的每一個人都有平等的權利,追求更好的將來。身為亞裔,尤其是來自東北亞的亞裔,我們的努力已經為自己掙得了穩當的立足之地,也開始嚐到成功的滋味。然而在這個追夢的大道上,仍有某些特定的弱勢族群,無論如何奮鬥堅持,仍然要面對比其他人更多更不合理的荊棘與困境。

回顧過去,看著父母自己一步一腳印的奮力向上的足跡,曾經是受害者的你我,如何忍心將歧視排外種種差別待遇加諸在他人身上。展望將來,已經贏得模範族裔讚譽的亞裔,已經成為美國社會的中堅份子,難道不應該適時回饋,對弱勢族群伸出援手。

亞裔在美國社會取得的各項成就值得我們引以為傲。我身屬的台裔更是所有族裔中平均教育水準最高的一群。

當我們一步一腳印奮力向上,已經爭取位置,是不是也應該空出一隻手,扶持周遭同樣懷抱理想奮力向上的人,無論你我有著怎樣的膚色,來自怎樣的文化背影。美國夢,不單單屬於某個人,或某個族群,你我他都能有夢,都能放手追夢,這才是真正的美國夢。


Over sixty Asian American organizations, earlier this year, filed a complaint with the Departments of Education and Justice, alleging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian Americans through its holistic admissions practice. While holistic review is designed to encourage admissions officers to consider all aspects of an applicant’s background beyond just test scores, and is common in many universities across America, these organizations allege discrimination because they believe qualified Asian Americans are being rejected on the basis of their race.

Decades ago, my parents left their homes in Taiwan in search of a better life here in the United States—not only for themselves, but also for their children. They understood the importance of education and equal opportunity as tools for creating a better life, virtues which they have instilled upon me. I grew up in that frenzy of SAT test-prep cram courses, after-school classes, piano lessons, and more. My parents gave me the tools and support I needed to succeed throughout my K-12 career, from my first days in a classroom to my last.

As a current college student, I recently lived through the hectic, stressful, and frustrating process that is college admissions. I know that the work of college admissions does not begin when we open our applications and type away at our essays, instead it begins years earlier—in those very test-prep classes and after-school lessons. And I know the disappointment of being rejected from my top colleges of choice. Yet I also knew that it was not the end of my college career, and I understood the holistic admissions process that, in some cases, worked in my favor, and in others, against.

In their filed complaint against Harvard, these 64 organizations suggest that racial discrimination explains an alleged gap between the number of qualified Asian American applicants and the number of Asian Americans actually enrolled at Harvard. Yet we know this gap does not exist—for the most recent applicant pool of the Class of 2019, 21.1% of all applicants, and 21% of admitted students, were Asian. The same rate of applicants to Harvard corresponds to the same rate of admittance for Asian students—there is no gap, thus no case of racial discrimination in the college admissions process.

Holistic review in college admissions exists because most American universities believe that applicants are not defined by their test scores and grades alone. A near-perfect SAT score does not merit admission. The same is true for a 4.0 GPA, or the number of extracurricular activities that you partake in. This is not to say those achievements are without merit, but elite universities receive thousands of applications from high school students of similarly stellar backgrounds—not all can attend the top school of their choice.

Holistic review provides additional information that helps universities identify out of this large pool of highly-qualified applicants those students who will most enrich the school in question. They consider so many different factors—from what part of the country you’re from, what leadership skills you’ve demonstrated, what you wrote in your essays, and more. Test scores and grades are but two factors—important, for sure, but not the complete story. Colleges are often looking for students that they think will thrive and will fit in well on their campus—an SAT score and a GPA does not paint that entire picture.

The 64 organizations claim the focus of their concern is on the full holistic review process, and the inclusion of race in that process. However the text of their complaint reveals their true intent: buried within its pages, the complaint states clearly that their desire is to end race-conscious affirmative action.

Affirmative action, particularly race-conscious affirmative action, has consistently been depicted as a “wedge” issue in our community. It is an issue that appears to—at face value—divide Asian Americans. Yet, we know through multiple surveys and polls that the majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action. The 2014 Voter Survey conducted by APIAVote, AAAJ-AAJC, and AAPIData finds that 70% of Asian Americans support affirmative action in higher education—a clear majority. Notably, the survey also found that within the larger Asian American population, a majority of Chinese Americans (63%)—who make up the bulk of the 64 organizations—also support affirmative action. These numbers have been confirmed time and time again.

Thus, the 64 organizations who filed a complaint against Harvard earlier this year seeking an end to affirmative action do not represent the opinion of most Asian Americans. And they certainly do not represent me.

Over 135 Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations have since responded in united support of the holistic admissions process and its inclusion of racial information, as well as in support of race-conscious affirmative action. As an Asian American student and activist dedicated to the advancement of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, I firmly support affirmative action.

Race-conscious affirmative action was first created to address the impact of systemic racism on all minorities—including Asian Americans—by removing barriers that stymie access to tools of upward mobility. For the last fifty years, affirmative action has directly benefitted Asian Americans, including the highly-educated East Asian community that includes many who currently oppose these programs. In the late 1900s, policies that would be described as affirmative action by today’s standards welcomed Chinese American students to many of the country’s predominantly white elite college campuses. Today, affirmative action continues to open doors for all Asian Americans (and other minorities) into spaces where we remain underrepresented, such as in academic graduate programs and in the workforce.

The signatories of this year’s complaint against Harvard base their argument on the assertion that Harvard University has implemented a quota limiting Asian American admissions to the school. Yet, racial quotas have been out of practice since 1978, when the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case. Here the Court ruled against the practice of quotas, but also unequivocally ruled that non-quota-based race-conscious affirmative action is legal and often necessary. That ruling was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in several subsequent decisions, including in the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case.

The complaint filed this year nonetheless alleges that an illegal quota is being employed at Harvard. However, in a two-year review completed in 1990, the Department of Education concluded that there was no evidence of anti-Asian discrimination at the school. There is no additional evidence that an anti-Asian quota has since been implemented at Harvard in the 25 years since.

In fact, Asian American admittance to Harvard University has increased steadily from 6% of incoming freshmen in 1979 to 21% of incoming freshmen in 2015. We also know that an applicant’s race is only a small factor of the school’s full consideration of every aspect of an applicant’s credentials.

We must recognize that not all Americans have the access and opportunity to succeed in high school or in the college admissions process. Some Southeast Asian communities—who are also Asian American—have significantly lower college admission and enrollment rates than other members of our community, and are profoundly underrepresented in public and private universities. Less than 15% of Hmong, Lao, and Cambodian American students hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to Chinese, Indian, or Korean American communities with rates higher than 50%. At many schools across the country, affirmative action helps create access to higher education for deserving Southeast Asian American students as well as other underrepresented minority students. The authors of the complaint against Harvard express no concern for these Asian Americans, or the consequences that will befall them should race-conscious affirmative action be eliminated.

Part of the reason why this point may be lost in the complaint filed against Harvard may have to do with the complaint’s authors: over forty of the sixty-four signatory organizations of the complaint against Harvard are of Chinese or Chinese American origin. Meanwhile, the coalition lacks a representative number of Southeast Asian organizations—if any. This highlights a fundamental problem that arises when the 64 signatories of the Harvard complaint describe themselves as representing “Asian American” interests: this coalition of organizations does not, itself, represent all the different kinds of people who are Asian American. While the complaint claims that the college admissions process has a “lack of understanding of Asian cultures,” I believe it is the complaint itself—as well as its authors—misunderstands the full diversity of the Asian American community.

The Harvard complaint also claims that its authors support class-conscious affirmative action policies over race-conscious programs. But they fail to understand the deep links between race and socioeconomic status in the United States. Poverty certainly hinders many Americans from accessing higher education, but even among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged, racism continues to play its part: even the poorest white students often have better access to educational opportunities and resources than middle-class or wealthy minority students.

Race is a social construction that has been woven deep into the American fabric, and manifesting itself in racism and discrimination throughout American history. Racism afflicts all communities of color, including Asian Americans; but, we cannot ignore its impact on the black community. The foundations of the United States—both physical and economic—were literally built on the backs of black slaves. Anti-black laws, policies, and programs that still torment black Americans provide undeniable evidence that no facet of society—from employment to higher education—is immune to the devastating impact of racism.

I believe that all Americans—and not just Asian Americans—have a right to a better life, and that all should have access to the tools they need to build that better future. Yet, for some, steep obstacles consistently block access to opportunity, regardless of one’s perseverance or grit.

As Asian Americans—and particularly East Asian Americans—climb the ladder of economic mobility in the United States, it is critical that we do not leave others behind. As we advance, we have to help others that are disadvantaged to climb this ladder with us. All oppression is connected—interlinked and interwoven into the fabric of our American society. As Asian Americans, we know this firsthand. And it is with our increasing success in the United States that we must continue to uplift not only ourselves, but others. It is unthinkable and selfish for us as a community to not support the advancement of all those who suffer at the hands of racism and discrimination.

I am proud of the accomplishments of the Asian American community. As a Taiwanese American, my community has the highest academic attainment of any ethnic groups in this country, irrespective of race. Yet I believe, too, that we must lift up those who are struggling, even as we climb.

Chinese Translation by Nora Hsueh. Thanks to Jenn Fang for her insightful comments and edits.