Today, 18 students from the Asian American Students Alliance — along with 23 representatives drawn from the Native and Indigenous Association at Yale, Black Students at Yale and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán –– rallied at the steps of the Supreme Court to defend diversity on college campuses. Yale’s Asian American Students Alliance, the primary vehicle for Asian American organizing on campus since 1969, unequivocally calls for affirmative action to be upheld, legally protected and respected.
Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiff represented in both of today’s oral arguments, is using Asian Americans as pawns to sow further division among communities of color. The model minority myth comprises a large part of the rhetoric against affirmative action. It homogenizes Asian Americans as a highly educated, hardworking group of mostly East Asians who successfully navigate the American meritocracy. This myth ignores the structural barriers to educational and college preparatory resources that lead to discrepancies in university enrollment rates among subgroups of the Asian American community. Furthermore, the case against affirmative action exaggerates Asian American opposition: 70 percent of Asian Americans support affirmative action, while 16 percent oppose it. The limited opposition in the community follows a generational divide: second-generation immigrants born in the United States are three times more likely to support affirmative action than their first-generation parents. A primary reason for this divide is a misconception known as the false equivalency of nonwhite disadvantage, wherein first-generation Asian immigrants recognize that people of color experience oppression but may not be familiar with the historical nuances that differentiate the mode and magnitude of discrimination experienced by different racial groups. As sociologists Jennifer Lee and Van C. Tran argue, “some Asian immigrants feel like they are both victims of discrimination and victims of affirmative action who are penalized for their race while blacks and other minorities are rewarded for theirs.”
The case exploits these misconceptions like the model minority myth and false equivalency to use Asian Americans as a vehicle for anti-Black and anti-Latinae agendas. It effectively pits minority groups against each other in the perceived zero-sum game of college admissions. In reality, minority groups have historically expanded access to higher education by working in coalition to build power. It is no coincidence that the coalition of Asian, Black, Latinae and Native and Indigenous students in Washington D.C. today mirrors the central organizing groups of the Third World Liberation Front strikes of 1968. This series of protests at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley are the longest student strikes in the United States. They culminated in increased minority representation on university campuses and the founding of Ethnic Studies as an academic discipline. Their work has inspired decades of similar organizing at universities across the country, including at Yale.
For more than half a century, AASA’s central goal has been to advocate for students of color on campus by fighting for institutional support systems, like Yale’s cultural centers and the program in Ethnicity, Race and Migration. Inspired by BSAY, AASA organizers in the 1970s campaigned for years to win their own space to accommodate growing numbers of Asian Americans on campus, and the Asian American Cultural Center was opened in 1981. Nearly fifty years later, members of AASA, BSAY, MEChA and NISAY collaborated in the Coalition for Ethnic Studies to protest Yale’s failure to retain faculty of color and offer meaningful support to the ER&M department.
Affirmative Action is a critical component of our work. We’ve seen that without it, diversity on campus plummets. In 1996, voters rejected the use of affirmative action in the California State University system. Since the 26-year ban, the Black, Latinae and Indigenous student populations in the UC schools have sharply declined. Similarly, University of Michigan, another top public college, was forced to end affirmative action programs when voters decided to ban affirmative action in 2006. In 2021, Black enrollment reached a measly 4 percent in Michigan’s main campus of Ann Arbor. In two amicus briefs published in August 2022, representatives of University of Michigan stated that “despite persistent, vigorous and varied efforts to increase student body racial and ethnic diversity by race-neutral means, the admission and enrollment of underrepresented minority students have fallen precipitously in many of University of Michigan’s schools and colleges.” The “race-neutral” metrics used to make college admissions decisions are not neutral at all. Standardized tests, internship and research positions, extracurricular involvement and more are set up to favor white students over students of color by exploiting the racial wealth gap and failing to account for cultural differences. The “race neutral” admissions processes that University of Michigan and the UC system have been forced to turn to produce racist outcomes. These outcomes offer a sobering glimpse into a future without affirmative action and undermine decades of multiracial organizing to increase diversity in higher education.
Of course, our work does not end with the oral arguments. The Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action is not simply about the admissions process of Harvard or UNC, but a part of a broader right-wing playbook seeking to weaponize diversity measures against racial progress (Edward Blum, the right-wing strategist behind SFFA, gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 using the same arguments he’s using now against affirmative action). The current threats to affirmative action also threaten the precedents that establish considerations within Title VII, which prohibits employee discrimination, threatening diversity measures implemented by affirmative action employers like Yale. These broader implications make it critical that we support affirmative action now.
As Asian Americans, we have a responsibility to talk with our wider communities about how histories of racial oppression necessitate measures like affirmative action. We must present a unified front in the face of future attacks on affirmative action and related diversity measures. If you have no idea where to start, drop by one of our open AASA meetings! Talk with our members — ask them questions, share your own reservations. Above all else, the central mission of the Asian American Students Alliance is to build the biggest tent possible. We hope you’ll join us in our fight to defend diversity and affirm opportunity.
Naina Agrawal-Hardin ’25, Resty Fufunan ’24, Michelle Lee ’26, Jane Park ’26 and Yolanda Wang ’26 are members of the Asian American Students Alliance at Yale.