Last December, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Greater New York (CACAGNY) filed a racial-discrimination lawsuit against the city after Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza announced changes to admissions to New York’s specialized high schools, eight of which measure academic ability only through the SHSAT, an objective, competitive test open to every student in the city. Wai Wah Chin, the president of CACAGNY, explains why she’s determined to fight their moves, which she says discriminate against Asians …
In the 1920s, Harvard’s president A. Lawrence Lowell felt that the university, nearly 30 percent Jewish, had “too many Jews.” He wanted to solve this “Jewish problem” with an enrollment cap of 15 percent.
To achieve this, Harvard instituted a policy of “geographic diversity,” accepting “top-ranked” students from around the nation. Jews, of course, were concentrated in a few cities. This, along with judicious use of “multiple-criteria,” “holistic” admissions, reduced Jewish enrollment to the targeted 15 percent. It was Lowell’s successor, James B. Conant, who ended the odious “geographic diversity” program and required all applicants to take the SAT.
The parallels with Mayor de Blasio’s racist targeting of “overrepresented” Asians at New York’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech, are all too obvious.
In 1971, New York state mandated an admissions test to the city’s specialized high schools to ensure meritocratic admission. Called the SHSAT, the test knows no race or ethnicity; privilege and wealth count for nothing. All that matters is each student’s own ability.
Because of this, a Holocaust refugee who arrived in America with no English, no wealth and no privilege could take the test two years later, enter Stuyvesant and go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981. His name: Roald Hoffmann.
Chancellor Carranza says no other high-school admission system in the country relies on a single test. Well, no other admission system produced 14 Nobel Prize winners in science either.
Because of the test, no single ethnic group “owns” the schools. In 1971, Jews made up an estimated 90 percent of Stuyvesant. From the mid-1970s to mid-1990s, for about 20 unbroken years, Brooklyn Tech was majority black and Hispanic, something de Blasio and Carranza never mention. Then came East Asians, from China, Taiwan, Korea. Today, the fastest growing ethnicity is Bangladeshi, though you’ll hear Russian accents among the staunchest supporters of the SHSAT. Over half the students qualify for federal free/reduced price lunch.
Which ethnicity will come next? Who knows? Who cares!
That’s the beauty of the SHSAT. To de Blasio, who talks about how wrong Stuyvesant “looks,” I say, such ever-changing faces is exactly what meritocracy looks like!
But de Blasio holds that meritocracy must have a predetermined, racially balanced outcome. So when East and South Asians get 50 percent of the offers to the specialized high schools while making up 16 percent of the students, he cries “Stuyvesant doesn’t look like New York City” and devises schemes to exclude them, his Asian Exclusion Act of the 21st century.
In one scheme, he arbitrarily takes 20 percent of the seats away from each Specialized High School to limit seats available to Asians. Then, he sets aside that 20 percent for students who took the SHSAT but failed to get into any of the eight schools, and applies eligibility criteria carefully crafted to exclude as many Asians as he can.
In another scheme, he brings back Harvard’s odious “geographic diversity,” limiting admission from each middle school to just 7 percent of its students, knowing full well that Asians are concentrated in a few middle schools.
These schemes impose a targeted racial balance. What’s more, they would lead to a significant portion of the student body being unprepared for the pace and levels at which the Specialized High Schools currently operate. Such social reverse engineering is the opposite of meritocracy.
Last fall, a city official said to an auditorium full of parents, describing these Asian parents scrimping and saving to put their kids through test prep: “That’s crazy!”
No, we call it “studying,” and we do not apologize for it. We believe in studying, and studying is especially necessary when so many of the mayor’s schools teach to ever-lowered standards to meet ever-more contrived metrics.
We Asians are fighting back against de Blasio’s attack on our race and ethnicity. It is not just unfair and reprehensible; it is also illegal. It violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which forbids the government from discriminating on the basis of race, regardless of whether the discrimination is overt or covert.
The arc of justice is long. If it takes many years and many courts to win the fight, that’s what we’ll do.
Our American dream, earned fairly and squarely, must not be denied. But ours is also a universal dream: to be recognized by one’s own hard work, achievement and merit, not to be judged by one’s race.
Today we are the target; tomorrow it could be you. Our fight is everyone’s fight. Please join us.
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