The Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Harvard University
NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with Yukong Zhao, Jeannie Park and Jane Mayer about the Department of Justice taking a position in a racial discrimination case against Harvard University.
Now it’s time for the Barbershop. That’s where we talk to interesting people about what’s in the news and what’s on their minds. And today, we’re going to talk about a lawsuit against Harvard University claiming that Harvard’s admissions policies illegally discriminate against Asian applicants.
The lawsuit had been filed some time ago, but, this week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in federal court in support of the complaint and urging Harvard and other schools to adopt so-called race-blind policies. On the other side, a number of other organizations, including Harvard’s Asian American Alumni Alliance and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed briefs or statements supporting Harvard and opposing the lawsuit.
We wanted to talk more about this. Now, this lawsuit has its own unique facts, of course, but it’s also part of a much longer political and legal fight about diversity and race going back many years. So, to talk about this, we’ve called Jane Mayer. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker.
Jane, welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us.
JANE MAYER: Great to be with you.
MARTIN: Jeannie Park is president of the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance.
Jeannie, welcome to you. Thank you for joining us.
JEANNIE PARK: Thank you for having me here.
MARTIN: And Yukong Zhao is president of the Asian American Coalition for Education. That is a group backing the lawsuit.
Mr. Zhao, welcome to you as well.
YUKONG ZHAO: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: And, Mr. Zhao, I’m going to start with you. Forty thousand people applied to Harvard last year. Roughly 2,000 are admitted. That means 38,000 people are going to be disappointed. Now, the class of 2021 was 22.2 percent Asian, which is far above the percentage of Asians in the U.S. population. So what is your argument – what’s your best argument, as briefly as you can, for why you believe that Asians are being discriminated against?
ZHAO: Number one, Harvard University illegally apply racial quota to limit enrollment of Asian-American children. Number two, they put the Asian-American to the highest admission standard. Number three, they use the racial stereotype, intentionally discriminating against Asian-Americans in order to achieve their racial balancing goal.
MARTIN: Jeannie Park, you represent Asian-American students and alumni at Harvard, but you disagree. Why?
PARK: Well, I think what’s important to look at here is who’s bringing this lawsuit. I understand that Yukong Zhao is involved, but, ultimately, this lawsuit was started by a white anti-civil rights activist named Edward Blum who has been trying to end various civil rights protections in American society for years now, and he’s currently been fixated on ending the consideration of race in inclusive admissions practices. He’s been suing various colleges. He’s sued the University of Texas twice. It went to the Supreme Court twice. He lost twice. And then he went and decided he needed more sympathetic plaintiffs. And so he advertised for Asian-American plaintiffs.
So he didn’t start this lawsuit out of a concern for Asian-Americans. He basically went and found Asian-Americans to serve his ultimate goal, which is to end a system that is designed and has proven successful in increasing fairness, increasing opportunity, creating more diversity and a better educational environment that is good for everyone…
MARTIN: So you’re…
PARK: …Including Asian-Americans.
MARTIN: So, Jeannie, you’re stealing a little bit of Jane Mayer’s thunder here because this is actually a subject that she has deeply reported. If you were sort of wondering why she’s part of this conversation, it’s because, in fact, she has reported on this. So I’m going to ask her to pick up the thread there. Jane Mayer, tell us a little bit more about this group. And no disrespect to Mr. Zhao and the other people who support, you know, his position, but where did this come from? And how does this fit into other lawsuits that you’ve seen?
MAYER: Well, so…
ZHAO: I think what Jeannie…
MARTIN: Hold on.
ZHAO: I’m sorry.
MARTIN: I’m going to ask you – I’m going to go to Jane Mayer on this first – Jane and…
MAYER: Hi. So Mr. Blum is a conservative activist who is – has long tried to oppose policies that promote racial diversity in America. And, in order to do so, he’s founded a group called Students for Fair Admissions. And what’s interesting about it is when NPR last week was looking for the students who were part of it, they couldn’t find students who were part of Students for Fair Admissions.
In fact, the organization says it’s a membership group, but it’s – it has very few actual members from what we’re able to tell. Most of the money it gets is dark money. It’s undisclosed. But members are supposed to pay $10 apiece when they join. In the 2016 year, it had $300 from its members, meaning there were 30 members. And so where’s the rest of its money coming from?