Will the Supreme Court Ask Harvard How it Justifies Treating “Asian Americans” as a Homogenous Category?

There are many ethical, legal and political issues that arise from affirmative action in higher education. Particularly in the context of Harvard University discrimination against Asian students. This case is currently before the Supreme Court. I wonder if Justice will inquire about Harvard University’s legal reasoning for classifying Asian Americans as an homogeneous category.

For argument’s sake, let us assume that legal and non-legal preferences for African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans can be justified. We can also presume, though this is not a simple assumption, that it is reasonable to treat everyone of European, North African or West Asian descent as “White.”

Harvard, in its attempt to keep track of students’ race/ethnicity in order to “diversity,” classifies as Asian American students who have ancestry from the rest of Asia. All Americans are included, including Chinese and Pakistani as well as Filipinos and Indonesians. The appearances, religions, cultures, and cuisines of these diverse groups are very different. All three groups, South Asians and East Asians and Micronesians are included in the “Asian American”, but they have different genetic origins and anthropologies.

Consider that Harvard admits 20% of Asian Americans. Now they are considering admitting the first Hmong student. Is it reasonable to treat this person, in order to “diversity,” as an “Asian” of 20% or more, rather than the first Hmong applicant?

While “Asians”, despite their reputation of being economically prosperous and overrepresented, are primarily Indians, Chinese, Japanese and to a lesser degree, Korean Americans. Hmong, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians, Cambodians, Hmong, and others from Asia aren’t “overrepresented” at elite education institutions. Many of these subgroups have low socioeconomic indicators. While Filipino Americans are able to achieve a high degree of economic success on an average basis, they still rank among the lowest-income ethnic groups in America as of 1970.

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders were previously classified under the “Asian American/Pacific Islander” category. They successfully lobby for their own category when they discovered that admissions to mainland universities were denied because of discrimination.

Harvard follows the Department of Education’s classifications and that of the entire government. To pass the Court’s “strict scrutiny” on racial classifications one might think Harvard would come up with something more than “we use this category for diversity purposes because they are in our reports to Department of Education.” This is especially true, given that, as I have noted, the categories weren’t created with affirmative actions in mind.

In Fisher v. University of Texas, Justice Alito observed that “it would be absurd to suggest that all.” [students classified as ‘Asian’]They have similar experiences and backgrounds. This “crude and simplistic” classification of raciality cannot be used as a basis to decide how individuals of Chinese, Japanese Korean, Vietnamese and Cambodian backgrounds (roughly 60%) would benefit from a college campus.

Harvard’s lawyer may not be able to answer my question about why the applicants for the Philippines, Nepalese and Mongolian categories are in one “diversity”, especially considering that only a small percentage of those assigned to this category can identify as Asians or Asian Americans. JANELLEWONG ET AL. ASIAN AMERICAN POLITICAL PICIPATION: EMERGING
CONSTITUENTS & THEIR POLITICAL IDEA 162 (2011). (finding that less then 40% of Indians, Chinese, and Filipino respondents identify as Asian or Asian-American even as secondary identities. Without one of the Justices asking, we will not know.