NYU and ETS Support Dis-aggregation of AAPI in Admissions — Great Report with Case Studies

I’m grateful to my friends and former colleagues who send me AAPI/Admissions related articles. Today’s update is an important one — albeit it’s a little outdated since it came out this past summer — but is JAM packed with great arguments on why admissions offices / testing organizations/ higher education in general needs to see AAPIs as separate and independent groups. I’ve argued before that clumping all AAPIs makes no sense when they have historical/immigration/income/educational attainment differences (just to name a few).

This article from Inside HigherEd gives a succinct summary of the full report. I am really impressed that Educational Testing Services, home of the GRE and TOEFL, supported this research. I have to call out the College Board SAT Test and ACT Test for stubbornly using “Asian American Pacific Islander” as one group to ID students. I think the years when I was working at Stanford, even ASIANS FROM ASIA (ie, international students) were clumped in to that data. How stupid is that? Let’s hope further research will encourage organizations to be more sophisticated about our populations.

Below are two graphs with the differences in Median Household Income for Asian American Sub-groups, and their educational attainment in the next graph. Thanks to the NYU CARE report for the data.

As always if you have comments or questions, email me at asian.am.education[at]gmail[dot]com



“Personal Statement”- Hilarious YA Novel About Admissions Arms Race


Screaming “Let Me In” at the top of your lungs….

Thanks to the generosity of Ms. Saira Rao over at In This Together Media, I spent the last three days engrossed in Personal Statement, a hilarious young adult novel about the perils of the college admissions arms race. The author, Emmy-nominated Jason Odell Williams, has the keen ability to climb into the minds of over-stressed, competitive teenagers in a privileged suburb of CT as they plot and plan their way into their perfect “personal statement” scenario: natural disaster volunteering. On their journey, they discover that perhaps they’ve lost their way, and question whether or not the stress they face is worth the battle! I commend Mr. Williams for taking often ignored but bubbling under the surface topics like race (Asian American stereotype – one of my favorite topics), class, privilege, the technology revolution and its impact on education and pressure to succeed by any means necessary(!!!) all in this short novel targeted toward young adults getting ready for the college process!

The four characters, Emily Kim, Robert Clinton III, Alexis J. Could, and Rani Caldwell, all read like familiar applicants…probably because I read personal statements from many students like them during my former career as an admissions officer at Stanford University. The four of them are highly motivated, academically excellent, cut-throat competitive and don’t take “NO” for an answer. They are also personifications of privilege and wealth, and aside from Emily and two romantic interests that come and go, almost all benefit from their parent’s educational background and societal know-how. I was impressed how Mr. Williams can ferociously mock Asian American stereotypes (with the Korean American immigrant parents dressing Emily in Ivy League one-zies) as well as wealthy legacy African Americans (using “summer” as a verb and trying to keep connected with their “folks in the community”), while at the same time keeping up with teenage tech and lingo…I would recommend it to parents just that they can get a primer on the newest app that their kids are using! (While at the same time, I worry that the technology citations will make the book lose it’s “newness” as trends come and go…)

For me, two things really stood out: the parents who don’t listen to what their kids want, and the kids who are “racing to no where” with their ambitions in hand. All of the main characters are balancing their genuine and sometimes desperate need to please their parents and their own intellectual curiosity and desire to make a difference. Everyone sees college as an end goal – from the kids who want to post their acceptances on social media to the parents who can’t wait to brag to their gym buddies about the future of their offspring! I saw so many parents just like this in information sessions at Dartmouth and Stanford, raising their hands high Tracy Flick style and asking questions about “HOW WILL MY SON MAKE FRIENDS HERE?” while their child was slumped to the side taking a nap. Lady, chill, it’s not about you. I especially loved the dialogue by parents who talk like they themselves work in the admissions offices (ex. “I know for a fact that XXX got your sister in to Princeton”), even though when they applied most of these universities were letting one out of every three applicant in. The main take away from me was that parents should focus on the kid in front of them rather than wishing for someone else, and for students to take a moment to truly reflect on what will make a satisfying and meaningful college experience that will contribute to their growth and happiness. Of course, that’s easier said than done. All in all, I couldn’t put this novel down, and the first few chapters were especially hilarious that I laughed out loud. Thanks and congrats so much for your debut novel and hope to see more of your writing in the future!

One last word about In This Together Media — which I think is a wonderful publishing organization (started on Kickstarter? How cool is that!) that supports authors who write novels that focus on girls’ empowerment! I was even excited to see one of my former colleague’s books on the site as a Amazon best seller! Keep up the great work! If you’re ever looking for non-fiction about college admissions, please let me know! I’d love to work with you!

Education Arms Race: Don’t Spend $2M on Tutoring to Get In to Harvard…Oh Asians…

Sharing a little bit of crazy sensationalism today…apparently a Hong Kong family paid $2 million dollars for private admissions consulting in the hopes of their son’s admission to Harvard. Big Fail. He didn’t get in…and now there’s a law suit over the $$.

Remember, no private consultant can guarantee your admission to Harvard. Money or no money.

My father also sent me this gem regarding high power celebrity tutoring in Hong Kong. I love how the comments section has students celebrating that it’s no longer pop starts and movie actors that are in the spot light…but tutors. I suppose that’s one way of saying that education is honored in Asia…but mostly I think it’s just crazy. These tutors have tv shows and have fan clubs…what?

I’m so glad that my parents didn’t pressure me to kill my self over grades and test scores…and neither should y’all! If you need 100 hours of tutoring a week to get into these schools…you probably shouldn’t be going there, because you can find a school that is better suited for your academic needs and goals…but that’s just my two cents. Trust me, you don’t want to go to college and have to have an army of tutors helping you all the time…enjoy college! Relax everyone…please stop perpetuating Asian stereotypes by going crazy with the academics! (Although I recognize that these articles are about Asians…but I know there’s crazy tutoring in NYC and the Bay Area too with Asian Americans!)

Enjoy a pic of my young dad holding me as a baby:)


Lost in the Message – 3 Myths About Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action in education. I’m not sure there is a more contentious topic in the world of education these days, especially given that the Supreme Court is weighing in with the Fisher v. University of Texas case on the future of race-based affirmative action.

The debate with affirmative action tends to be very black and white, and there is not a lot of space for Asian Americans within the dialogue. So, when the NYT recently took up Asian Americans and their views on affirmative action in their reporting, I was intrigued.
Let’s take a look at some of their analysis, while at the same time breaking down some of the myths that continue to come up with this subject. I’m writing from a perspective of an Admission Officer from a highly selective school (less than 8% of students are admitted) in my role as an Asian American community liaison.

Myth Number 1: Asian Americans are all the same and and feel one way about affirmative action.
The no 1 myth that bothers all Asian Americans is that we are all the same, originating from the same country, and have the same ideas about certain things. It was great that the NYT tried to break that down with the article above, explaining that Asian Americans are diverse and represent many nations and have different languages, religions and values/traditions. Students interviewed in the article expressed differing opinions regarding AA, and how it may affect Asian American students. I feel really frustrated that Ms. Fisher insists that Whites and Asians are hurt by race-based affirmative action, because that is not always the case. Ever since college, I’ve worked hard to explain to people that race-based doesn’t just mean that a minority applicant takes the spot of a “well qualified white student.” That always seems to be the scenario that is used to argue against AA, but in truth, there is never any scenario when we would sit around in the admissions office and compare a non-white student against a white students and say “They are both well qualified, but we have to admit the minority.” That.never.happens! In general, 2/3 of Asian Americans support AA, according to AALDEF, and ther are close to 100 Asian American orgs that have signed on to amicus briefs supporting the University of Texas, citing that the lawful practice of AA does not discriminate against Asian Americans.

Myth Number 2: Asian Americans don’t benefit from Affirmative Action Here’s another myth that is just wrong. When I worked at my university, we had a position that was focused primarily on ensuring that there was diversity represented within Asian American populations and communities. The conversation had to be a lot more nuanced because within immigrant groups and nationalities, Asian Americans have very diverse levels of educational attainment. I’m always explaining that there are groups like Lao, Hmong, Pacific Islanders (also considered in the same category when they are taking the SAT, etc) who are sometimes graduating less than 10% of their students from BA programs. These are really important communities that have been historically under-represented in our classrooms, but have perspectives that need to be heard. A discussion about the Vietnamese War in a college history class would be so much richer if there were students from Hmong refugee families or Vietnamese American students whose families saw the war from an entirely different lens. My university understood that there are also families that are low-income and are linguistically-isolated (by definition, no one older than 14 years old speaks English well in a household). A friend of mine did her senior thesis on Chinatown in San Francisco, and found that significant numbers of families are linguistically isolated…meaning that students not only have to do their homework and be students, but also serve as translators and interpreters for their families…if bills come, if letters are sent home to parents, etc. These students shoulder so much responsibility, and their voices should be part of the discussion in our history, literature, anthro, and policy discussions. My university would act affirmatively for these Asian American students who were politically active and/or connected to their communities.

Myth Number 3: Affirmative Action Should Just be Based on Socioeconomic LevelsAnother argument that seems to gain traction whenever there is a discussion about affirmative action. Sigh. People argue that they should just scrap race all together and just do it base on socioeconomic levels. Today’s NYT opinion article cites why that would be a really bad idea – severely decreasing the number of black and Hispanic students from our universities (it already happened @ UC Berkeley). Consider this:
“Harvard’s Thomas Kane found that selective colleges and universities using class-based admissions would have to save six times as many places for low-income students to maintain the same level of black and Hispanic students.” (NYT, 11/19/12)

In addition:

“In 2004, they were 14.5 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of those graduating from high schools, but only 3.5 percent and 7 percent of those enrolling in selective colleges and universities. The underrepresentation has gotten worse over the past generation.”(NYT, 11/19/12)

I know the article does not address Asian Americans directly, but taking away policies that look at the diversity within the Asian American community will not help small, underrepresented groups that have been traditionally hurt by inequality in education.

Asian Americans are the fastest growing immigrant population in the nation (see map below from 2010), so this discussion affects us greatly. I’m glad that most Asian American support the lawful practice of affirmative action.

Please Let My Asian Americans Vote…Seriously.

While the election results have come in and the news cycle has moved onto other events, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and and the Advancement Project as well as other legal watch organizations are reporting that many Asian Americans faced discrimination at their voting cites.

What is this, 1952? After spending my summer learning about election and voting laws and registering people to vote, this news enrages me. The fact that Korean American seniors were made to prove their CITIZENSHIP (something that poll workers have NO rights to do) in GA, or that Vietnamese Americans did not have interpreters in PA when they are legally entitled to have them for voter assistance is beyond ridiculous.

AALDEF Democracy Program Director was quoted: “What I’ve seen so many times is when you have a community that’s growing and excited to participate in American democracy … you often see a countervailing force that pushes them down or pushes them back,” Magpantay said. “It’s heartbreaking. These are Korean grandmothers. They want to vote. They are proud to be Americans.”

More examples:

Korean American Voters Turned Away 

Asian Americans are making up more and more of the Democratic base, and are proving to be a strong political force as the nation’s fastest growing immigrant group. While African Americans and Latino were also targeted for voter intimidation, the status of Asian Americans as the “perpetual foreigner” makes them sadly an easy target. The fact that at some voting stations Asian Americans were made to wait while Whites voted or intimidated from voting makes me so angry. Elections are the one time in America where your voice is equal to every other person in this country, and Asian Americans were not allowed to exercise their right.

I applaud organizations like AALDEF who sent over 800 volunteers to many locations around the nation to monitor polls. I participated in my neighborhood (DC Chinatown), and being informed of what polling workers could and could not do made me feel better about ensuring that people who were facing problems would be able to report it and have legal investigations enacted on their behalf.

Hint to high school students: this would be an excellent volunteer opportunity to show civic participation. I worked with many high school students over the past summer, and let me tell you, it’s an amazing opportunity to work on a political campaign. Two of them got to attend the DNC and see President Obama speak…what an inspiration!


Diverse Opinions for Asian American Groups Re: Affirmative Action

I am so thankful for @AsAmNews on twitter because I get so much of my Asian American related news from him! What a great resource for those of us trying to stay up to date on various topics ranging from education, sports, arts, and politics! (I wish I knew how to do a better job of pasting media/pics…sorry for the janky image below).

Today’s topic is on the diverse views on affirmative action by the Asian American community. I’d like to share two articles and then offer some comments from the perspective of an admission officer that used to work with Asian American students.

First, the Houston Chronicle has an article that outlines some of the views represented by the As. Am community re: Fisher v. UT. There is an overwhelming number of AAPI groups that support affirmative action and say that the Fisher decision describes the AsAm population as a monolithic model minority population. Readers of this blog should know that this is just not a fact. I’m glad that Professor Teranishi from NYU was able to clear up this common misconception:

“The debate reflects the diversity of the country’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander population, which encompasses 48 ethnic groups and includes highly educated, upwardly mobile communities as well as struggling immigrant enclaves, said Robert Teranishi, a New York University professor and principal investigator with the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education.”

Second, CNBC also profiled different groups that support and oppose affirmative action for Asian American students in schools. It’s really interesting to me that there are a few advocacy groups that are opposed to aff. axn citing that Asian Americans should be admitted to schools at higher rates because they are academically high achieving.

Here’s my take on Asian Americans and admissions: when I worked in admissions, we acted affirmatively for certain groups that were traditionally under-represented in higher education, especially groups that came to America as refugees. We also acted affirmatively for first generation college students and low income students (no matter what their background). Since my office had a liaison for the Asian American community (my role), I would argue that they were aware that Asian Americans were a minority group that should be acted affirmatively upon.

On the flip side…and I worry a little about writing this, because I really want to make sure that it does not get taken out of context…if you were an upper class Asian American student with good grades and test scores….but you were average in other ways, it would be a tough sell for the committee process. I think you have to understand that this is not that it was working AGAINST Asian Americans…but that it is simply really competitive to get into many schools these days. If you are not showing extraordinary talent – academic and otherwise, it is really hard to stand out in a pool of 32,000+ applicants.

I’m glad that most of the groups profiled support affirmative action!

Minorities Face More Discrimination @ Less Diverse Schools

“Students from minority racial and ethnic groups at colleges where minorities are underrepresented experience more stereotyping, harassment, and other forms of discrimination than those on campuses that are more diverse, according to a recent report from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.”

That’s a blurb from this article in the Chronicle explaining why it is important that institutions of higher learning continue to become more diverse places! I remember going to a small private school in Arizona and being the odd one out…I faced a lot of bullying my senior year, and it was NOT fun. It’s hard, especially when you are younger, to be the only one of any group at a school.

I’m interested to see how race-based affirmative action/preference in admissions will play out in the court cases coming up later this year.

People seem to really like these retro pics of my parents…so I’ll post one of my mom and dad at Stanford in the late 1980s. This is the day before I was born. Image