Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Holistic Review

Affirmative action programs were originally created to address long-standing, systemic discrimination.  

Affirmative action increases opportunities for historically marginalized groups (including people of color and women) in public education, employment, and contracting. These programs were created in recognition that lack of overt discrimination could never be enough to provide equal opportunity to members of groups subjected to long-standing, systemic discrimination. Therefore, in its early manifestations, affirmative action programs designated seats to qualified members of disadvantaged groups (which may explain the common misconception that affirmative action is equivalent to racial quotas). Asian Americans benefited from these set-asides because other communities of color advocated strongly for their inclusion. For example, in 1969, Asian American students weren’t included in UCLA Law School’s affirmative action program and faculty objected to efforts to add them. In response, Black and Latino student associations each gave up one of their “reserved” seats for Asian American students. This powerful demonstration of interracial support opened doors for Asian American students and put pressure on UCLA Law School to set aside additional seats for Asian American applicants.

However, affirmative action today is fundamentally different from the affirmative action of the 1970s.  

Today, it’s illegal to create racial quotas or to have a separate admissions process for minority applicants. (Bakke). It’s also illegal to assign a certain number of “points” for race, or to use race as a tie-breaker. (Grutter)  
Affirmative action programs are more accurately described as race-conscious programs where race is considered as a “factor of a factor of a factor” alongside components such as class, family responsibilities, whether the applicant lives in a single-parent home, the language spoken at home, and how the applicant’s SAT scores compare to those at the applicant’s school.  
In reality, this has made affirmative action much less effective in addressing educational inequality. 
However, despite its more limited role in advancing educational equity, affirmative action is necessary to stop the gaps from becoming wider. As the Supreme Court recognized in Fisher II, the consideration of race had a “meaningful, if still limited, effect on the diversity of the University’s freshman class.” Affirmative action is not a panacea for racism and it will not solve structural inequality or provide every person with a quality college education. But, it is necessary, even if it is not sufficient.

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Our mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society.