By Tara Yarlagadda, Field Associate
On November 17, 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., an advocacy group opposed to affirmative action, launched lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill). Students for Fair Admissions is the offspring of the Project for Fair Representation, headed by Edward Blum, the driving force behind the controversial U.S. Supreme Court case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.
In Fisher, Blum sought out a White candidate – Abigail Fisher – who had been denied admission to a highly accredited university. Fisher challenged the constitutionality of the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT-Austin) admissions policies, which considers race as one factor out of many to create a highly qualified and diverse student body. The Supreme Court did not rule on the use of race in admissions but ordered the lower courts to reconsider UT-Austin’s policy to make sure that its consideration of race as a factor was “narrowly tailored.” In July, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of UT-Austin.
The lawsuits against Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill allege that applicants, particularly Asian students, are being denied admission to universities on the basis of their race or ethnicity due to affirmative action policies requiring stronger qualifications from Asian Americans than other minority groups. Those initiating the lawsuit claim to speak for the entire Asian American demographic, even though Asian Americans constitute a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life. In fact, the majority of Asian Americans favor admissions policies that expand diversity in universities.
In similar news, a small, but vocal group of Asian Americans recently succeeded in blocking State Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA-5) – a measure intended to restore affirmative action in higher education in California – believing the proposed referendum would adversely affect all Asian American students.
But such efforts have not gone unnoticed by the Asian American community. Asian American students and civil rights groups are fighting back in full force. The UNC Asian American Students Association (ASA) recently issued a statement opposing Students for Fair Admissions’ claims, stating that “UNC ASA favors admission policies that ensure diversity, which is integral for the learning experience on college campuses. … Additionally, the filing fails to present a holistic portrayal of UNC’s Asian student community, which is comprised of diverse ethnicities and spans an array of socio-economic backgrounds.” In response to the Fisher case, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and 70 other Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations filed a legal brief in 2012 to voice their support of UT-Austin’s admissions policies.
Furthermore, the hashtag #IAmNotYourWedge has gone viral as Asian Americans, frustrated with their community being co-opted by the mainstream media and other prominent figures, are speaking out.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison could be the next target of Students for Fair Admissions’ strategy. With such a barrage of attacks on access to higher education, we need a solid show of support from all groups to weather these attacks and come out stronger in the campaign for equal opportunity and diversity in colleges across the United States.