How Anti-Asian Bias Came to U.S. Colleges

The playbook is reminiscent of 1920s anti-Semitic admissions policies. A recent Supreme Court case could not only end the practice, but also throw out affirmative action.

Sanchita Kedia

November 16, 2022

How Anti-Asian Bias Came to U.S. Colleges
A woman cheers at a rally in Boston's Copley Square to protest Harvard's alleged anti-Asian discrimination in admissions on Oct. 14, 2018 (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Sangeetha Ramachandran was a star high school student. She received a 1540 out of 1600 on the SAT, had a 4.0 GPA with six AP classes, played on the varsity tennis team, and had over 100 hours in community service. She applied to 13 colleges, including Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. The latter three rejected her and she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2021. “While it is true that I could have done more,” Ramachandran said, “I definitely felt like I should have gotten accepted into more programs than I did.”

Like Ramachandran, many Asian Americans have a frustrating experience with the American college admissions process — despite top standardized test scores, high GPAs, and ample extracurriculars. Though complaints have surfaced since as early as the 1970s, anti-Asian bias in college admissions is again under the spotlight due to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, whose early arguments the nine-member bench heard on October 31. Students for Fair Admissions is suing Harvard College and the University of North Carolina (UNC) for discriminating against Asians in their flawed admissions process, which also includes affirmative action.

The Supreme Court has long upheld affirmative action, the practice of favoring certain groups due to past social injustices. With a 6-3 conservative majority, however, the result of this case might very well end affirmative action. How Asian Americans would fare in a post-affirmative action world — one that still has legacy, athletic recruitment, and dean’s list admits — is still far from clear. And the vast majority of Asian Americans do not want affirmative action to end.