A coalition of more than 100 Asian-American organizations filed a federal complaint Monday with the civil rights offices of the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education, imploring officials to open an investigation into the admissions practices at Yale and two other Ivy League schools.
The Asian American Coalition for Education has also called for investigations at Brown University and Dartmouth College over claims that the institutions unlawfully discriminate against Asian-Americans in admissions. According to the organization’s website, Brown, Dartmouth and Yale have the lowest acceptance rates for Asians and have seen declining Asian enrollment since 2011, despite the demographic’s growing college-aged population.
“As studies demonstrate, these Ivy League Colleges have been and are engaged in systematic and continuous discrimination against Asian-American applicants during their so-called ‘holistic’ college admissions processes, and have denied and deny admission to many Asian-American applicants solely because of their race,” the complaint read.
Many similar complaints have been filed against selective colleges on behalf of Asian-American students in the past, but none have yielded findings suggesting discrimination against any particular ethnic group. In 2015, a federal investigation into admissions procedures at Princeton University found insufficient evidence to substantiate claims that the school had discriminated on the basis of “race, color or national origin.”
On Saturday, in anticipation of the complaint’s filing, University Spokesman Tom Conroy defended Yale’s use of race as a factor in admissions in order to create diverse classes of students. He declined to comment further once the complaint was released Monday morning.
“All relevant factors are considered in the context of the application as a whole, and the decision on any applicant does not turn on any one factor alone,” Conroy said. “In conducting a holistic review, applicants are not disadvantaged in the admissions process on the basis of race or national origin.”
But the authors of the complaint, as well as representatives from its 132 signatory organizations, agree that selective colleges’ emphasis on holistic application reviews has allowed them to justify discrimination against Asian-Americans.
Frank Xu, president of San Diego Asian Americans for Equality, one of the organizations that endorsed the complaint, said colleges like Yale should be more transparent about the criteria they use to accept applicants.
“I firmly believe that in the current admissions procedure, Asian-Americans are experiencing reverse racial discrimination and we hope the schools can make their admissions procedures more transparent so that every student has the equal opportunity to get into these top schools,” Xu said.
Still, the complaint has been divisive even within the Asian-American community. Christopher Lapinig ’07 LAW ’13, an attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, called AACE’s complaint an attempt to capitalize on people’s anxieties about the accessibility of higher education in order to attack race-based affirmative action, which he said has historically benefitted all students — including Asian-Americans.
In response to AACE’s complaint, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles invited organizations on Monday to endorse an open letter affirming race-conscious admissions as a way of promoting equal opportunity. The letter also directly refuted the claim that using affirmative action policies is comparable to following racial quotas — a charge the AACE leveled at Yale in its complaint.
“I really hope that [the holistic] approach to admissions — thinking about each applicant as a person — continues in the future because it serves not only the students themselves but also the student body as a whole,” Lapinig said.
AACE filed a similar complaint against Harvard in May 2015, but it was dismissed two months later because a lawsuit by a different organization, which is still pending, makes similar allegations. The AACE’s most recent complaint is the first of its kind against Yale.