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Two students challenge Asian American admission discrimination

Many may pass over the question without a second thought, but identifying race or ethnicity on Brown's undergraduate admission application has become a concern for Neil Vangala '09. Vangala has started a group on campus called Asian Equality in Admissions, which will address discrimination in admission against Asians and Asian Americans.

Vangala and Jason Carr '09 started the group last month after learning of a recent case of supposed discrimination against Jian Li, currently a freshman at Yale University. Li filed a civil rights complaint against Princeton University, alleging that the university had discriminated against him during the admission process.

"Stereotypes are ingrained in the admission process," Carr said. "Like (Asians) are too studious, or they lack extracurricular activities."

"I think we have a right to know if (admission officers) discriminate against us after reading our names," Vangala said. "On paper, simply because they're Asian, you assume certain things about them."

Carr said many students at Yale think Li shouldn't complain about where he ended up. "(Li) was such a good student, so he got into one of the Ivies that he applied to," Carr said. "We fully realize that his complaint won't fully change anything."

"We think this is indicative of a trend," Vangala said. "Jian Li is trying to identify a trend, but the response is that Asians should accept less."

This general ambivalence towards Li's case was reflected in an op-ed published in the Daily Princetonian, the school's student newspaper. The op-ed mocked Li's complaint against the university, stating, "I so good at math and science. Perfect 2400 SAT score. Ring bells? Just in cases, let me refresh your memories. I the super smart Asian. Princeton the super dumb college, not accept me."

Chanakya Sethi, the editor in chief of the Princetonian when the op-ed was published, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald, "The piece should be judged in context with due consideration of its intent. It was run in a joke issue full of parody and satire, and our intent was to mock stereotypes."

"It's not appropriate. It doesn't matter who perpetuates the stereotypes," Carr said.

Vangala and Carr's concern follows in the footsteps of a 1983 report conducted by various student groups at Brown, including the Latin American Students Organization, the Asian American Students Association and the Organization of United African Peoples. The groups used information given to them by the admission office to conclude in a 43-page report that the University had discriminated against Asians.

"As a matter of fact, they even convinced the Brown Corporation to admit that forms of inadvertent discrimination were working to preclude Asians from Brown," Vangala said. "They then said that if this type of prejudice went 'unrectified,' the discrimination would be intentional. It is a major aim of our group to publish a similar report. If our report proved discrimination, then these prejudices would be, by past admission of the Corporation, intentional."

Vangala is hoping to work with other campus groups to establish the group's goals and to provide fair representation of their interest on campus.

"We want to work with different groups, other multicultural groups on campus," Vangala said. "Each of us will have a vote. Our first question will be if (we can) ask the admissions office for data, and we will ask a representative from each organization to vote."

Dean of Admission James Miller '73 told The Herald that the admission office is ready and willing to discuss these issues with Vangala and Carr. They have scheduled a meeting for later this month.

"I think it's absolutely appropriate to talk to anyone who wants to discuss this issue," Miller said. "However, it's against University policy to release individuals' data. For one thing, the admissions process looks at a myriad of variables, and to look at one factor makes no sense."

"We have an increasing amount of students not reporting their racial or ethnic identity out of principle or because they no longer fit into a certain category," Miller said. "Our priority is to build a community intellectually and culturally diverse and to put together the most vibrant and diverse group of students."

Li's hope in filing his complaint against Princeton is that he will be able to bring awareness to the issue. In an e-mail to The Herald, Li wrote that he "expected to see a surge of criticism after these discriminatory admissions policies were revealed, but there was none."

"I am very glad that Neil and Jason have taken the steps to start AEA - this is precisely the kind of activism and consciousness-raising that I hoped to encourage when I filed the civil rights complaint," Li wrote.

Don Joe, a Florida lawyer and an activist for Asian Americans, started an online petition calling on Princeton to release its admission statistics.

"Part of Princeton's response was that 'We don't release information on our ethnic groups because no one in the public has asked,' " Joe said. "We decided to start this petition - Jian Li and myself and some other people - trying to put pressure on Princeton to release statistics."

"My personal viewpoint is that they should eliminate race. If they want to recruit disadvantaged students, they should use family net worth to make the distinction," Joe said. "I don't think people should discriminate against Asian Americans in order to increase the number of black and Hispanic students."

"You can look at test scores, they're easily obtainable and objective ... There was a Princeton professor (who) looked at it, and he determined that Asian Americans need to score at least 50 points higher than whites to have the same chance of admission," Joe said, referring to a 2005 study by Princeton researchers Thomas Espenshade and Chang Chung, who analyzed data from three selective private universities.

When asked about what he thought of the group started by Vangala and Carr, Joe said, "As far as I understand, their goals are similar to mine - to achieve equality in education for Asian Americans."

Belinda Navi '09, who coordinated Southeast Asian Week in November, said she was ambivalent when asked about the group and its goals. "I think equality is subjective. It's hard to pinpoint discrimination," Navi said. "It'll be a challenge of this group. But I think starting dialogue with the admissions committee is vital."

Navi said she was wary about simply not checking off ethnicities on her college application. "My ethnicities are definitely a part of who I am, and inevitably what you communicate in your application is who you are," Navi said.

"I think the purpose of checking ethnicity is to understand the environment that an applicant comes from," Navi said. "I think that if people didn't check their ethnicity (on applications), those who are privileged with the parents who have the money to pay for a violin, cleats, to pay for debate trips - those will be the ones who are going to be at an advantage."

Navi said affirmative action is a necessary evil and that students should focus on the lack of equality in public schools around the country rather than affirmative action.

"(Public schools) are the reason why these race quotas exist," Navi said. "Affirmative action wouldn't be necessary if the government would look at racism in public schools today. It's trying to correct for past injustices in a somewhat unfair way."

Vangala and Carr said they are not opposed to affirmative action. "Policies like affirmative action and other forms of positive racial preferences were introduced for the very same reason that we constructed our group," Vangala said. "By fighting such policies, we would therefore be implicitly encouraging the very discrimination that our group is trying to stop."

"I do believe in affirmative action. There are people who have fewer opportunities to educate themselves - those people tend to be of a different racial background," said Soyoung Park '09, the Asian and Asian-American student services programming assistant for the Third World Center.

"(Asians are) constantly grouped with white Americans, but when it comes to admissions, I think it's unfair to group us with minorities then," Park said. "All I can say is that until we become a society that's non-discriminatory, we'll never really have 'fair' admissions."

Vangala said he wants to be clear about what he is trying to do with the group. "We're not arguing for the University to change the definition of merit. We're not arguing against racial preferences. We think a diverse community is important," Vangala said. "We're arguing solely against Asian Americans being discriminated against in the college admissions process."



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