The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning that admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina violated the 14th Amendment, but as a board member of Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiff in the case, I know our fight is not over yet. I have witnessed and played an active part in a movement that has become something much more than just a challenge to race-based admissions.
Ever since our organization partnered with the Asian American Coalition for Education to sue Harvard in 2014, Asian Americans have led the charge in demanding the United States return to its defining meritocratic principles. Despite facing enormous and well-funded opposition, they have been successful in many cases.
In 2020, leftists attempted to re-establish race preferences in California — a state which had previously banned them — in the form of a ballot measure known as Proposition 16. My mentor Wenyuan Wu convened a team of grassroots activists in response, and I joined the campaign. We sought the state’s reaffirmation of its long-standing commitment to the prevention of race influence in admissions, public contracting, and government hiring.
The fight for “No” on Proposition 16 encouraged many Asian Americans to get politically involved and spread our pro-meritocracy message to our local communities and national media.
Meanwhile, many Asian Americans took the meritocracy battle to the schools. In Northern Virginia, former reporter Asra Nomani helped lead the charge to restore merit-based admissions at Thomas Jefferson High School — the nation’s No. 1 math and science high school — whose admissions policies were being compromised by the school board’s desire to admit more “diverse” applicants.
The new policy would reject many qualified students, cutting the percentage of Asian Americans from 73 percent to 54 percent on the basis of “diversity.” Asra is in the middle of her lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson for their denial of qualified students in the name of “diversity.”
Others have joined her fight.
In 2018, Asian Americans in NYC led a successful campaign to force then-Mayor Bill de Blasio to reinstitute the standardized test for admissions to specialized high schools. He had threatened to replace these standardized exams with “holistic admissions,” which might negatively affect the enrollment rate of Asian students in these specialized schools.
Asian Americans were among those who planned and participated in protests at town hall, eventually forcing De Blasio to back down. In fact, during his own campaign, current Mayor Eric Adams even ran under the pledge that he would keep the standardized test for admissions in schools. Asian Americans played an important role in Adams’s election — and they will continue to play an important role in keeping him accountable when he backslides.
On the other side of the U.S., Ann Hsu was one of the parents who helped lead the fight against San Francisco’s leftist school board over COVID-19 policies, the renaming of Abraham Lincoln High School, and the denial of Asian students’ admission to the prestigious Lowell High School.
During the key recall election in February 2022, more Chinese Americans voted than in any other election before. They voted out three leftist school board members and restored some semblance of sanity to the 37.3 percent Asian American district.
Clearly, over the past few years, Asian American activism has helped revive a concept previously ill-defended in our culture: Meritocracy.
Meritocracy maintains the idea that America should be a country where people are given similar opportunities to succeed, with accessibility to this success based completely on individual merit. Therefore – when achievement is based on hard work, individual life choices, and innate gifts – equal outcomes should not be expected.
There is a need for continued activism for meritocracy that many Asian immigrants can bring to the table. These immigrants deeply desire the American Dream: The idea that you can come to the United States from any background and be awarded on the basis of hard work and achievement.
Many Asians did not come to the U.S. with money. They came here with skills and a deep desire to raise the next generation to work hard and live well. For many, their skills are how they thrive. They immigrated here because they believed in the opportunities that awaited them. These men and women should be rewarded — not punished — for their efforts to elevate their own status through work and education.
Still, many of them see the perilous path their country is taking – one that subverts the values and ideals they hold dear. They recognize America’s cultural attack on meritocracy.
Clearly, schools like Harvard have already set themselves up for trench warfare in their diversity policies. From making tests optional to failing to release admissions data, universities will fight tooth and nail to not comply with whatever ruling the Supreme Court makes against them.
Asian Americans are defending the American Dream in a time of need. Following the Harvard case, their continued activism will be needed to help push our country along the right path — one that ensures a future with high standards for all.