Do Asian Americans Face Discrimination in Higher Education? (Full Transcript)
In this episode, I sit down with Swan Lee, the co-founder for the Asian American Coalition for Education who along with Students for Fair Admissions, are on the forefront of suing our nation's top universities amid allegations of discrimination against Asian American students in the admissions process.
Kamran: Hi, Welcome back to Let's Talk About Race, the show where we look to do away with yelling in favor of in-depth discussions on the nuance of race in this country.
Kamran: Today, we're going to be talking about admissions of Asian-Americans in higher education and potential discrimination they may be facing. To discuss this, I'm being joined by Miss Swan Lee, the co-founder for the Asian-American Coalition for Education, the organization whose complaint resulted in a recent investigation and finding by the Department of Justice that alleges Yale University had discrimination based on race and national origin in their admissions process. Swan, thanks so much for being with us today.
Swan Lee: Thank you so much, Kamran. Glad to be with you.
Kamran: Excellent. So before we get into everything, can you just briefly give us a summary of who you are, who the A.A.C.E is is in terms of their membership size, how broad you guys are? And, you know, are you students, parents? Just give us a sense of the organization.
Swan Lee: Yes, I'm a co-founder of the Asian American Coalition for Education. We are the Champions Organization for fighting for equal education rights for Asian-American students. So our membership have grown to more than 20,000 people. And we also have affiliated organizations.
As to the our last amicus brief, more than two hundred seventy Asian-American organizations have joined us in this,
Kamran: And when did you guys start?
Swan Lee: We are formally registered in 2015. But we work with a lot of organizations that have have been conducting this fight for way longer, for example, the Asian American Legal Foundation, who has been fighting cases to defend Asian-American students back in the 1990s. We also work with students who have been who have been fighting personal complaints for the government from years ago. So we have a very long history.
Kamran: Ok, so, yes, it's not necessarily a problem that is just arising now. It's something that seems like, you know, at least 30 years there's been organizations fighting this.
Swan Lee: Oh, yes. Yes. The Asian-American Legal Foundation filed this case back in 1990's. But if we look at legal history of America, Asian-Americans have been filing lawsuits to defend their rights back in like the 19th century. So Goldman versus Kearney and a lot of cases.
Kamran: Sure. And let's go back to present day. Now, as far as this particular lawsuit goes in reference to Yale, can you give us a little bit of data or the statistics behind what why you leverage this complaint and what it came from?
Swan Lee: Yes, our complaint was filed in May 2016, not just Yale, but we also filed together against Dartmouth and Brown University. It was a very long document of content, containing thousands of pages. So it had data from multiple researchers like Daniel Golden, Espenshade who have been doing exhaustive studies of elite college admissions. So has a lot of solid data, for example, for Asian-American students to have the same chance to get into these select colleges. They have to score hundreds of points, then dozens of other racial groups just have the same chance.
Also, there are a lot of racial stereotypes that are being pitted against Asian-American applicants. We have internal data from Harvard Case that systemic systemically the Harvard admissions staff, they have been rating Asian-American applicants, low in personality rating, systemically over the years...compared to the personality ratings students of other racial groups get.
So based on the statistics, it shows there is approximate consistent racial quotas going on in these colleges. So students from different racial groups always stay at similar percentages over the years. Regardless how the applicant pool changes in terms of percentages.
Swan Lee: So basically, Asian-American students are suffering from the highest academic standards. The bar is being raised for them. And this produces very drastic consequences, which means they know, they have to score higher to have the same chance. So that produces a lot of stress in students. So statistics show Asian-Americans student have a higher rate of suicide because of all this pressure.
Kamran: Yeah, that's very that's very unfortunate. Now I know one thing that people might ask about is test scores being just a portion of the admissions process. So you're talking about the test scores need to be higher. Is this accounting for other factors like extracurriculars, leadership in organizations, things like that? You know, how do you account for those differences?
Swan Lee: Yes, we are very well aware that if the school is just part of the admissions file and the reason these points are mentioned is because it is an objective, statistical data. So it's not subjective. So that's the that's the best for objective comparison, but. Let's take a little bit from Harvard case. Asian American students are not getting lower scores in extracurricular activities or leadership skills or anything else, any other category in the Harvard admission category. They are commensurate with other other students. The only category you consistently get, lower ratings, much lower, is in the personality ratings. So which means Asian students are very competent and just compared to other students, they are at least as good in everything, like extracurricular leadership skills—all these factors. The only area they suffered the most in lower rating is very subjective categories of personality ratings, and these scores are given out by the Harvard admission staff
Kamran: Yes, that's very interesting. I don't know much about the admissions process as far as how it works. And what you're describing for personality is there... Are there multiple, you know, rankings, categories or can you give us a little bit of insight when you say that they are ranked lower? Is that a number? Is that... They're describing a personality? How can we actually get specific with that?
Swan Lee: Yes, so the Harvard admission process, based on their data they give, they divide a few categories for each applicant, for example, Extra-Curricular and leadership skills. So these admissions that they review these files from students and they give a story each category to one of these categories— they have like about four or five categories— One of these categories is the personality rating. So basically the staff, they give each each student a score of personality. And it's a real score, you know, like maybe one or three or five or 3.2 Something like that. It's a real score.
So it is very interesting because a lot of these Asian American applicants, they get very good personality score, like from the people who interviewed them. But somehow when you go to a admission office overall. The group of Asian American applicants, they end up with very low personality rating. Consistently over the years, no, we're not talking about individual cases but systemically, they always get very low personality ratings.
And these from personality ratings Harvard has described it with some characteristics like courage, deserving respect, things like that. So it is very, very discriminatory to be rated lower in this aspect by college.
Kamran: Yeah, I could definitely appreciate that. And one thing I want to ask you about your mentioning very high level institutions of higher education, Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, Yale. I am thinking when you describe the personality stereotypes and the lack of the seeming lack of personality among Asian applicants, I immediately think of broader society wide stereotypes. You know, I think that there tends to be a prevailing stereotype of Asians that being good at the STEM areas that are numbers based, but not necessarily personality based or leadership based. And Do you feel like that what we're seeing, or at least what you're seeing in these cases, is that a results of a broader stereotyping across society, or do you believe it's specific to these institutions?
Swan Lee: Well, based on the information we get from the Harvard case, this is definitely an institutional tool, Harvard uses to achieve a certain racial percentages year after year. Because in the earlier process of admissions, Asian American students get good scores like everyone else in extracurricular activities, leadership and everything.
But at almost the last stage when they are determined whom to admit and whom to not admit and somehow these personality ratings get handed out, and as a result, a lot of Asian-American applicants who get higher scores in categories get rejected because of this slow personality rate score. So this is definitely a tool that the institutions like Harvard useses to control to cap the percentage of Asian-American students
Kamran: Right. Well, so what I'm trying to understand is, do you think that Harvard is saying we want to limit Asian students and they're justifying it through personality and they're saying we hit 20 percent of our student body is Asian. We we're going to not take more than 20 percent. And so they come up with a reason and they use personality. Or do you think it's actually that there is bias in the admissions process where the people looking at the applications genuinely believe Asians have worse personality, you know, based on stereotypes or whatever bias they may have? Do you understand the distinction I'm trying to make?
Swan Lee: Yes, well, for me, I'm not a mind reader of this stuff, and nobody knows exactly what each of them think and actually each of the admissions officer might think slightly differently. But what is alarming is systemically overall, year after year, it's the same thing happening. So that is what matters. It's the reality.
Swan Lee: I mean, when when we talk about, like bigotry or prejudices against asian american applicants, yes, that exists. But it shouldn't that exist slightly differently for each admissions staff. That's not the case here. This is a very stable pattern of low personality rating year after year. So it's not something that's random based on each admission staff, but actually overall that has been used to to regulate to control the Asian-American admissions at Harvard.
Kamran: And you you've said that you're just the latest in a long line of organizations that have been asking for fair admissions. So we're just talking about four schools. Do you believe that this is something is found at other schools as well and there just haven't been specific lawsuits? Or what is your what is your view as far as how widespread this is?
Swan Lee: Right. Yeah, it's not just at these selective colleges, but this is a very prevalent problem all through the education system. So and also we have a lot of organizations that are fighting in different areas for equal education rights, for example, in Maryland, Montgomery County, in K-12 education. So the Magnet Magnet School, they change the admission policy and, you know, some some kind of quota to drastically reduce the number of Asian-American students and students of all the other racial groups go up. And in New York, it has been a perennial fight because the administration, the mayor is trying to change the admissions process for the specialized high schools like Stuyvesant, which are schools like science and technology. So they're also trying to drastically reduce the percentage of Asian American students. And also in Virginia, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Right now, they're also trying to change the admissions standards from objective to more subjective and using quotas, and it's better to reduce Asian-American percentage. So this is definitely not just a few colleges, but overall prevalently in the American education system.
Kamran: Now, I want to ask you, as far as so you talk about a numeric standard, right? If we look at SAT scores, that's not subjective. You said that's objective. One of the things that I've heard is that higher education very much looks for diversity in their student body. They think that's a positive for students to interact with other students. So I guess my my question is, do you think that there is a right amount of diversity or do you think diversity should be considered at the macro level for college students in their classes? You know, for instance, if we weren't purely based on numbers and we found a class in college became 90 percent Asian just based on how they tested and all those objective factors, would you consider that a bad thing to lose out on that diversity? How do you actually try and say, OK, this is the right amount of diversity?
Swan Lee: Well, Asian-Americans, only five percent of the American population, so it's quite impossible for Asian students to be 90 percent of each class in America. So that's gonna happen. And we're not against diversity, actually, we have the majority stance among Americans that, clearly, today race should not be a factor in college admissions Diversity can be achieved using socioeconomic status consideration. Because socioeconomic status consideration is not a discriminatory practice. Nobody can see any students socioeconomic status just based on appearance. But a racial factor is very discriminatory and it creates racial stereotypes against African and Hispanic American students because race is something you cannot hide it's in your appearance.
So why do we use something that is very demeaning and discriminatory? Instead of using something that's more personal and not as obvious, like the socioeconomic status consideration. It will be much better.
I think it's actually a bit bigoted for some people to think without racial consideration, there won't be diversity. That perception itself is discriminatory to African and Hispanic American students.
Kamran: You know, I find myself agreeing in concepts, but, you know, before this episode, I made sure to actually go through the facts. And I think what has actually been found is that in a lot of cases when a race is taken out of the equation, you do actually see a significant drop of African-Americans and Hispanic students.
So, you know, UC Berkeley, for instance, they voted in California on Prop 209, which eliminated race as a basis for admissions. And they actually saw that underrepresented groups were 31 percent less likely to get accepted. And they actually saw Black student population decline from seven percent to three percent.
So it's not I think I understand the theory I do think that if we're looking at diversity as a means to help underprivileged groups, groups that have seen traditional wrongs in America, specifically the Black community, I think that the evidence shows that this could actually be detrimental to them. are you not concerned that that's going to be a negative consequence of removing race from the admissions process?
Swan Lee: I think it's misleading to compare the racial percentages at a school to the American population percentage because American population is a general idea for the whole country and each school's applicant pool is specific to the school. For example, to Harvard a significant amount of Asian applicants are applying every year much more than African or Hispanic applicants .
Kamran: Right. But so in this in this specific example, if in one year it went from seven percent to three percent, I doubt that it was that many less black applicants.
Swan Lee: So, of course, it's a process. It's a process. So, for example, if the educational administrators and the politicians were not paying attention to K-12 education and they consistently use racial factor, to get people in there to create a certain image, and when you remove the racial factor, of course, you're going to see an immediate drop. It's a process. But isn't that the kind of pressure we need to put on these politicians and administrators to improve quality of education? So eventually these percentages will even out.
Swan Lee: So it's not accurate to say diversity is suffering. Also, diversity is a very vague concept. Even each educational administrator or each politician has a different percentage in mind. So whose idea should we follow and should we overlook the quality of K-12 education and just look at a certain image at a college level? I don't think that's a really caring attitude from these politicians and administrators.
Swan Lee: We have a lot of people fighting with us and there are African-American and Hispanic American. For example, the Connecticut Parents Union, they have been fighting with us against racial quotas because these kind of arbitrary diversity, vague diversity narrative had been used to hurt their children in getting into magnet schools. The majority of applicants are African-American, Hispanic, American and very few Asian and European American students. But because of this diversity narrative that they're arbitrary, like twenty five percent of seats are left empty year-after-year. And an African-American students cannot handle seats. These seats are left empty because administrators think those should go to Asian American and European American Applicants, but there are not enough people from this racial group applying. And their children have to take a bus, have to bus to other schools and waste a couple of hours on the road every day while the magnet school is sitting there with seats empty year after year. And administrators don't want to give those seats to them because they don't think their racial identities fit into an arbitrary idea of racial percentages.
Kamran: I'm not familiar with this example if I just to make sure I understand correctly. So you're saying that at these magnet schools, they're actually taking under their capacity for students in order to keep their racial percentages at a certain amount? Is that what you're saying?
Swan Lee: yes, they are they are they are controlling and capping the number of African American students in these magnet schools because they want to leave 25 percent open for Asian and European American students while there are not enough of those applying. So we can see how these kind of overcontrolling attitudes from an administration are actually hurting and, damaging grassroots American children in education, not helping them.
Kamran: So there's a couple of things you said that I definitely agree with and I don't think are presented enough in the media.
I think one is approaching diversity from a socioeconomic perspective, not just from a racial perspective. I think that if you look across racial lines in advancing out of poverty, it's a tremendous barrier to be born poor in this country. I think, I do I do very much support trying to address that. And my understanding is colleges do try and take that into consideration.
I also agree that what you're saying, which is we should reach a point where we are at a racial, racially blind society and I think people thought we were. We're obviously not. And that's something to strive towards.
I think the big disagreement I have is that when you look at the history of this country when you look at the formation of affirmative action and the attempt to get more black and Native American students and Hispanics who kind of suffer traditional wrongs in America, you know, into institutions of higher education, that is, I think, competing with things like legacy students, which tend to have a preference that's much higher than any race just because they had parents that were able to get an institution because they weren't discriminated against. So I think that having a attempt to kind of fix some past wrongs isn't a bad thing. I don't think that it's strictly we can say this, this is subjective and therefore that makes it bad.
Kamran: I think that one of the things that I have seen against both the Harvard cases in the Yale cases is that people are are a little bit concerned that the supporters, not your organization and not, I think Asian-American parents, but a lot of the for instance, the Department of Justice during this administration and the leader of the group, Students for Fair Admissions, are individuals who are known conservatives who don't seem particularly interested in advancing Asian-American rights. They seem more concerned with dismantling affirmative action and dismantling attempts to bring Blacks into higher education.
So if you actually look at how many of those seats, as you say, are taken away from Asians in favor of other minorities, it's very, very low compared to how many of those seats are taken away from Asians in favor of white students. But if you look at the recent finding in the Yale case, it said that there is discrimination against Asian-Americans and white students. That is what the finding found.
And so my concern is not necessarily your specific allegations— I actually believe there's a lot of truth to that. My concern is that the people that might like, you know, align themselves as allies or support this in the media aren't actually true allies of Asian-Americans. They're really just trying to get more seats for their own kids and trying to do away with any sort of affirmative action or redressing of wrongs against black students.
Do you have any concerns about that?
Swan Lee: I think that's a misconception to think. For example, the organization Students for the Admissions want to keep that. See, that's a false narrative that some of the special interest special interest groups have been pushing around. But that's not the case.
Swan Lee: The truth is, Students for Fair Admission actually filed a lawsuit against Harvard to ask Harvard to do away with legacy admissions. And Harvard declined.
Students for Fair Admissions also filed motions to ask her to at least—Even keeping African Hispanic American applicants constant, at least putting Asian-American applicants in the same group as European American applicants and considers them on equal footing and Harvard declined that.
So it's absolutely wrong to say students for fair admissions is trying to help legacy and actually that's not true and we we don't support legacy either, but it's wrong to put legacy and the racial factor in the same basket. There are different things. We oppose racial factory admissions because it's wrong. It's race is inborn, immutable genetic factor we're born with. And our law Civil Rights Act 1964 Title six expressly forbids treating people differently based on race, and our Constitution also has equal protection clause. So it's just simply wrong to consider students based on some genetic factors they are born with, that they have no personal choices and they have no capacity to influence and change.
That creates a very despairing, hopeless situation for a lot of Asian-American students, especially those from lower socioeconomic status families. And I know personally, firsthand students in these conditions, their life is really damaged by this kind of discrimination based on identity.
Kamran: So I guess you're saying on one hand that race is something that cannot be controlled, that you're born with. But on the other hand, you seem OK with reaching out based on socioeconomic status, which I think you could also argue a lot of students are born into poverty. They didn't choose that as well. So it seems like you're saying that we, Harvard, can try and achieve diversity through one type of factor that you're born with, but not another type of factor.
Swan Lee: There is no law forbidding using socioeconomic status factor in admissions, but there is a law forbidding using race.
Kamran: Sure. Well, let's look outside the strict legal basis. But as far as just how you feel for what in an ideal world, how admissions would work, it seems that you are morally OK with using socioeconomic status, you know, but not race, you know, just outside of whatever is legal. Is that correct?
Swan Lee: So I think talented students from poor families should be helped with special consideration.
Kamran: So when I hear from that, why is why is it that you believe that students from poorer socioeconomic status deserve to be helped, but not students from racial groups that might be discriminated against? Why is it that one of those seems deserving of getting an extra boost and not the other?
Swan Lee: Because socioeconomic status is a individual factor. If you're from a low income family, then you are. But using race to assume somebody is poor, that is wrong and racially discriminatory. So the assumption out there is, assuming all of African-American students are poor, their parents are poor, and that is very racially discriminatory.
Kamran: I don't I don't know that. I don't know that that's the assumption, though. I really don't. I don't think that the reason otherwise.
Swan Lee: Why do they say they want to help poor families and instead of using socioeconomic status? And they use racial identity to achieve that. That is dishonest, Every racial group have Americans of all kinds of socioeconomic status. So I'm OK with actually using accurate socioeconomic status of the applicant instead of assuming his family's economic status with his racial identity, which is something he's born with. and cannot change
Kamran: I think the language I hear a lot is "underrepresented minority". And I think that the attempts to take race into a factor, I don't think it's just saying that, you know, black people are poor. I think it's saying that black people are underrepresented relative to their population in this country, their presence in the country. They're underrepresented in higher education. That's a statistical fact.
So I think that when you look at why admissions might consider that, I think they're saying there's a benefit to trying to give exposure to students that might not otherwise see blacks in higher education, to give exposure to black students themselves who might not see exposure to higher education. I do agree with you and I do really believe that we should consider socioeconomic diversity. I think that that does not get enough attention. And it is very important. I don't know that that also makes racial diversity unimportant .
Kamran: I think that there is a tremendous value. If you look at how people undo their bias, let's say even against Asian-Americans, there's a tremendous amount of stereotyping against Asian-Americans. And I think that if you were to get exposure to other Asian-Americans, you would see their leadership, you would see their personalities that break outside that mold of someone who's just good at math and doesn't have any of the other personality factors.
So I think that the what people would say is that it's not bad to try and diversify a group to kind of break away from stereotypes, to give students that chance to learn from other students, from different racial groups. And so I think that's my biggest concern with the way that the findings or the arguments are phrased, is that it's saying this type of discrimination or this type of oppression is not worthy of, you know, looking into but being poor is. So what are your thoughts on that?
Swan Lee: My thought is that if an African American students is suffering from discrimination and is from poor families, of course he can benefit from socioeconomic situation.
But if he's from a family of Wall Street brokers and, you know, from elite family, then why shouldn't he be treated in the same way, in the same way, you know, usually with students from other racial groups? Why specifically change the standard for him just because of racial identity?
I think socioeconomic status is the only morally valid factor to be considered, not something that's very generalized, such as racial identity. And also it's a misconception that racial factor is used to address past discrimination. It is not. Based on the Supreme Court case, the Berkeley case from like 40 years ago, the height the Supreme Court Justice Powell already said this is not about discrimination, because that is that has been endangering the equal rights of all of the Americans. But instead, this is for diversity. And we already have in 10 states that don't use racial factor and they are OK with diversity. So I see there is no morally sound defense for using a genetic factor in college admissions. And I have the same stat, 72 percent of Americans who also believe we should not be a factor in admissions.
Swan Lee: And I think if administrators really care about African American students, then why don't they pay some attention to K-12 education? For example, in New York City, a lot of African-American students are kept away from succeeding and excelling academically because they cannot get into charter schools. They're stuck on long, long waiting lists and cannot get into those schools.
So the problem is these students are kept from excelling and getting opportunities to excel. But politicians are looking past that. I see video Of African students protesting outside of New York City Hall asking for their charter schools. But Mayor de Blasio saw them and just walked past them, and if they were invisible to him. So I believe racial factor is a crop to measure used by politicians and administrators to dress up their own failing performance. To cover up the fact that they are not giving African Hispanic American residents in some areas proper K-12 education, so instead they want to behave like movie directors and just use racial identity to get students in colleges to produce a certain image to cover up their own failings, their own dysfunctional work performance. And it's not morally sound.
Kamran: So so you're saying that in a world in which there was an effective way to actually help black and Hispanic students get into higher education, that would be it's not it's not that you're opposed to that. You just actually think that the way affirmative action is being used is, a dress up. It's not actually helping. It's just kind of inflating numbers to make administrations look better.
Swan Lee: Yes, So I just hope these politicians, educational administrators, to see African, Hispanic American children as their own children. I think what's best for them, and that is to improve k-12 education. Give more charter school opportunities for them and there are a lot of African and Hispanic students, they are really desperate for those opportunities to excel. They have the capacity to excel. They just don't get the opportunities. And I see this troubling turn for from some politicians are vowing to remove funding from charter schools. They're vowing to remove standard tests from K-12 education so parents will be no longer able to even notice if their children are getting adequately educated. So that's the larger background for our fight. We're not just taking over some racial percentages, but this is really a fight of educational belief that children should get the best education they can. Not just getting standard tests removed to hide the disparities between students achievements and not just getting what they need to create certain superficial image, we want children to get real education.
And another interesting, interesting phenomenon to notice is that immigrants from Africa, like Nigeria, they are excelling academically. So what exactly is going on in American education system that keeps American born African Hispanic American students in some areas in lower performance performances based on data? That's what these politicians, I mean, should really investigate and try to address.
Kamran: I do agree that a lot. I think that a lot of times I think the the comparison I make is you see the Academy Awards get a lot of criticism for not having enough diversity in their selections. And I always say it's you can't blame the Academy because the entire industry is not diverse enough. Right. It's like kind of the last stop in the road. I say if you want to address the problem, you need to go Hollywood producers, the script writers diversity needs to start much earlier on, then when it reaches the selection process of what's already out there. And it sounds like you're saying a similar thing with K through 12 education where you can't just come in at the last step after 12th grade and say, OK, now we're going to be addressing diversity that needs to be addressed at a much earlier phase, you know, from early K through 12 education.
Swan Lee: Yeah,
Kamran: Yeah. And I think that it is something that is being addressed by some. I think it's not being addressed enough by politicians. And I don't have the data and I don't know that anyone does to say that conclusively, you know, the reasons for politicians doing these are to, you know, make themselves look a certain way, you know, look progressive or addressing diversity. In the absence of having concrete data, I will entertain it as a possibility.
The one thing that I do have a little bit of a discrepancy with what you're saying is that, you know, you're saying seventy two percent of Americans agree with you. Based on the data I've seen that I haven't seen that to actually be the case. The most recent Gallup poll that I see says that 61 percent of Americans favor affirmative action in favor of minorities.
Kamran: So that's the one thing I'm curious about where you got that information, because I do think that there are a lot of black parents who are in favor of affirmative action and Hispanic parents are in favor of affirmative action. And even some Asian-American parents and academics that I've spoken to are in favor of it. So do you know where that number comes from or. I'm just that's the one thing I think factually we disagree with.
Swan Lee: Yes, I'm quoting very, very authoritative sources.
One is Gallup survey, the other Pew Research Center survey results, and also another study by PBS, WGBH station. They all show like more than 70 percent, 72 percent of Americans clearly oppose using race as a factor in college admissions.
Swan Lee: But if you change the question to affirmative action, then you will get more vague results because the idea of affirmative action itself is vague. Nobody has clearly defined it. And many people don't even know that means using race. They thought it just means something general, like diversity, diversity or something. So that is not a very accurate reflection of people's attitudes, you know, because in fact, if you try to look for a piece of legal document with the title Affirmative Action on it, you won't find it.
Swan Lee: Affirmative action is only for President Kennedy's executive order, one zero nine two five in 1951, and it clearly says Americans should not be discriminated against based on race. So I think it's very wrong for some of these groups, special interest groups, to steal the title of President Kennedy directive order and put it on the kind of practice that exactly discriminates against people based on race
Kamran: Right. I don't know that we can assume what people think when they say affirmative action.
But I will say actually in researching before this episode, you are you are right. The definition of affirmative action has changed over time. It appears to vary region by region, even between schools. It's not a very static definition. And per your point, the original definition of it was specifically to prevent discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin.
So I do think that there's a possibility for what you're saying. I'm hesitant to be so conclusive in saying that this is the reason why people are more in favor of affirmative action, but not using race selection. So I'm going to reserve my right to to make assumptions about people's reasons there.
But I do think that there's you know, your logic might have some some backing to it. And I appreciate you bringing that point. I think that this is a topic really that does not get spoken about enough. Personally, my views are that there is there are many types of discrimination in America, and I agree with you that race should not be a factor. What I've come to believe over time is that us wanting race not to be a factor does not make it true immediately. I think if you look at the statistics across a number of things, you know: police brutality, coming up out of poverty, medical care, there are a lot of reasons and factual backing that show that African-Americans are still dealing with a very long legacy of oppression that doesn't just disappear overnight. The Civil Rights Act, when it was done, was was still very recent. There's a lot of racism still happening. And I think that the tale of of African-Americans and I would actually add in Native Americans to that story as well, has been one that's it's been centuries long oppression.
Kamran: And so I think that from a moral standpoint, I understand and definitely appreciate the desire to fix that wrong and to really consciously try and help those that we did so much harm against. And I don't mean to exclude Asian-Americans from that. And I'm actually having a couple of episodes about how much discrimination Asian-Americans have faced from the early Chinese railroad builders to the Japanese internment camps. There has been discrimination. America's legacy is one of discrimination against all races. So I don't mean to discount Asian-Americans at all in that.
Kamran: But I do think that when trying to talk about this sort of subject, the sensitivity begins to emerge because there has been, I think, such a specific, violent history against Blacks in America.
Kamran: You don't want to compare suffering because that's a race to the bottom and no one wins. So I don't want to compare anyone suffering. But I do think that if I were to try and strike a middle ground between what I'm seeing come out of these cases, which is race can't be a factor at all. And what we see in allegations of your case, which is at a certain point, affirmative action can almost become inverted, where we say this minority is too represented, you know, we got to cap them and it becomes unfair. I disagree with that on both spectrums.
I don't know that I have the perfect answer for it, but I think that in talking with you, that's where a lot of my questions come from is, OK, we want to help Asian-Americans, we want to help black Americans. We want to help everybody get their fair shot. So that's that's just my opinion on it. So that's my my long winded way of of thanking you for coming on the show.
The last question I have for you, it's a question I ask for all guests that come on is this podcast is called 'Let's Talk About Race'. And the belief is that the best way to try and address a lot of the racism that's going on this country is to have conversations with one another. You representing a group of Asian-Americans in this country, What would be a conversation you'd like to see my listeners, as well as Americans at large be having about race.
Swan Lee: I believe that we should look at our present day society and our students were born in the 21st century, so we I think we need to think twice before teaching them a lot of racial hatred against people based on their skin color. I see on social media and also a lot of the media children are being taught to have very angry attitudes towards other Americans simply based on their skin color, you know, and not because of how that person behaves exactly. So I believe we should put emphasis on education and try to build merit education in America because knowledge is power. Education is one of the best ways to empower people and lift them out of poverty. And we should do that with solid measures in K-12 education, instead of focusing on cosmetics only at a college level, which is too late. That's the conversation we should be having.
Swan Lee: And results after was a temporary crutch from many decades ago, and it was never meant to be permanent. And Supreme Court Justice O'Connor already said in the beginning of this century that we should ending about 25 years and that time is here and we see no extra measures being taken.
Based on internal data from Harvard actually uses racial suffering. Admissions are not helping lower income African and Hispanic students. More than 70 percent of African Americans who got into Harvard or from wealthier families, they're not from poor families. So as a matter of fact, the racial factor in college admissions are often used to favor upper class African American students over working class African American students. And that is not right.
Using socioeconomic status factor is the best, more accurate way to actually help students in need of help. So I believe I believe racial factor is so vague and it's so generalized with a racial group that has hundreds of millions of people, so it's easily abused and used to favor students who are actually from wealthier backgrounds and and actually overlooking better performing students from lower class background.
And a lot of these grassroots working class African Americans who support our fight. They also see they are being victimized in this kind of generalized racial factor practice.
I watched one NBC interview, actually, one African American student who is from inner city schools. Because he doesn't want to suffer from the stereotype that he needs so-called affirmative action, actually the racial factor he intentionally self identifies as white and he got into Yale. And that's the kind of that's the kind of that's the kind of mentality a lot of grassroots African-Americans have. They don't want to be negatively stereotyped as needing something like racial factor consideration, see, while those factors actually don't benefit them, but instead of benefit upper class.
Kamran: So you think affirmative action almost has a harmful effect of giving them the stereotype that they need it to get in?
Swan Lee: Yes, exactly, and that's not just from you. He's actually from a lot of African-Americans and actually many African-Americans have spoken up about this. They they don't want their children to suffer from this stereotype that they need something like Affirmative action to to be able to have the same opportunity
Kamran: Sure, um, well, Swan, I really appreciate you coming on our show today, I appreciate you presenting your perspective, one that I've not heard as much in the media and one that I think speaks for a group that I have not, you know, taking the time as much as I should to understand the perspective from Asian-Americans. So, again, I really appreciate your time and coming on and again, you know, I wish you the best with with everything.
Swan Lee: Thank you for inviting me to share the perspective. And I appreciate that you have a very objective and neutral perspective on this. And I think that's great. That's what makes this program special. Thank you very much.