Posted on April 5, 2014
Source: Mercury News
The backlash by Chinese-American activists against a measure aimed at restoring affirmative action in the admissions process at California’s public universities has set off political fisticuffs between ethnic groups accustomed to battling side-by-side.
In a state where Latinos — most of whom support SCA5, the proposed constitutional amendment — are about to become the largest ethnic group but where Asian-Americans take up nearly 40 percent of all University of California slots, the clash puts a spotlight on an evolving political landscape in which members of minority groups now overwhelmingly make up the majority of the state’s population.
There are even schisms within the Asian-American community, where anger is directed at Chinese-Americans who say they support affirmative action in hiring, but fear its application at elite UC schools such as UC Berkeley and UCLA, which now admit fewer than one in five in-state freshman applicants. They say the policy will take precious university spots from their children and give them to Latinos, blacks and students from other Asian and Pacific Islander groups who currently have difficulty gaining access to state schools.
Last year, 78 percent of Chinese-American students applying to a UC campus landed a coveted spot in the freshman class, according to fall 2013 data from UC. However, just 57 percent of Filipino-Americans and 48 percent of Pacific Islanders were admitted, rates similar to those of blacks and Latinos.
Fifty-five percent of Latino and 45 percent of African-American applicants were admitted to UC last year, compared with 65 percent of white applicants.
California Democrats clearly are worried that the controversy might cause significant numbers of Asian-Americans — who now vote solidly Democratic — to turn to the Republican Party. And the GOP has extended a welcome mat.
“Morally inconsistent” is what Karin Wang, of the Los Angeles civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice, calls the embrace of affirmative action in hiring, but not admissions. Supporters say affirmative action will only help others, but it will not hurt excellent students. “It shows self-interest operating above shared societal interests.”
But that position is rejected by the 80-20 Initiative, whose fiery website blasts affirmative action in college admissions. Last month, the site urged California members to register as Republicans “to scare the (Democratic) Party.”
It’s part of the group’s plan to “play one party against another,” said S.B. Woo, who co-founded the nonpartisan Asian-American political action committee. “I want the Democratic Party to know that if they keep on pushing SCA5, then lots of people will be voting on the Republican side.”
The group points to Princeton University research that found Asian-American applicants need much higher SAT scores than all other groups to gain admission to elite universities.
“The way Asian-American students are treated … is a gross violation of the 14th Amendment,” which requires equal protection under the law to all people, Woo said. “Is it a surprise to you that in 1965, when affirmative action first came out, every minority supported it? I did, too. But as used in college admissions, it’s hurting everyone.”
If passed by voters, SCA5 would repeal parts of Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative that banned affirmative action and was at the time panned by Asian-American voters.