August 29, 2018 (email sent to all members)
Thank you for your responses to our last communication, on June 28, about the admissions lawsuit. We appreciate your feedback, as always, whether positive or negative. H4A strives to be an organization that comfortably includes members of varying beliefs and divergent opinions about issues that affect us. When our board takes a position on a specific matter, we don't expect that every one of our 6,000 members will be in agreement. We may have to agree to disagree in the end, but—as long as it is conveyed in a respectful manner—we do take your input seriously. Your input thus far has helped lead us to the actions we describe below.
The very foundation of our organization is the belief that our racial and ethnic background is an indelible part of who we are. As a community of Asian Americans we are highly diverse and yet we have come together first as students and now as alumni through our shared experiences—of immigration, family, expectations, language, food, values and even a Hollywood movie that we thought we might never see. That shared experience, however, also includes persevering in the face of discrimination ranging from everyday slurs and the questioning of our right to belong to American society, to extreme injustices, oppression and hate crimes. Through these, we have often also suffered the offense of being overlooked, not heard.
And that is why we feel we must raise our voice.
The revelations of the lawsuit have raised questions and concerns about how Asian Americans are treated in the Harvard College admissions process. This topic is not new to us, as a number of H4A leaders have been involved in the admissions process for decades. Dean Fitzsimmons, the head of Harvard College Admissions, has also engaged actively with H4A over the years. At the last H4A Summit in 2014, which predated the filing of the SFFA lawsuit, he spoke openly with us about how Asian American applicants fare as a group. In light of the newly released information, we have reached back out asking him to meet with us again to discuss in further detail how issues particular to Asian American applicants are considered. If the federal judge in this case rules that the evidence, not all of which is public, shows that Harvard intentionally discriminated against Asian Americans, then as H4A's president, Jeannie Park, told the Boston Globe, "of course we would oppose that and would fight them hard on it." We are also concerned about unintentional bias, the kind that might creep into a student's high-school record or into other parts of the application process, and we hope to learn about and provide input to Admissions on this as well.
But we strongly believe that any bias or potential bias against any group must be addressed by more and deeper understanding of racial, ethnic and cultural issues, not less. We also believe that race and ethnicity are critical components of the diversity of the student body that enriched our Harvard educations. And thus we cannot support the ultimate goals of the SFFA lawsuit, which seeks as its sole remedy that Harvard "conduct all admissions in a manner that does not permit those engaged in the decisional process to be aware of or learn the race or ethnicity of any applicant for admission."
We believe that Harvard has a responsibility to be inclusive of students and communities whose educational opportunities have been limited by race and ethnicity-related circumstances, and that Harvard must strive to understand those circumstances as it admits each class through a whole-person admissions process. This is not to say that Harvard and like universities bear the primary burden of addressing historical inequities, but they certainly must play a role. Many Asian Americans also confront systemic barriers to education, and we want Harvard Admissions to take those into account too. We believe that all of us are better off when we sit across the dining hall table and the seminar table with both those who can relate at a gut level to our own lives and those whose journeys might be a struggle to comprehend. Race and ethnicity undeniably play a role in defining the spectrum of intellectual and social support and challenge that Harvard seeks to provide. Additionally, we believe that Harvard should build citizens and leaders for all communities—ones who have learned to build bridges to others.
As alumni we know that upon leaving the diverse Harvard campus, the realities of the working world can be a rude awakening, with Asian Americans the least likely to be promoted to management. Here again, the need for diverse leadership and the impact of race on our careers can be confronted only through a heightened awareness of barriers for Asian Americans and the intentional addressing of those.
To ignore our race and ethnicity within the context of education is at odds with some of our core beliefs. It is at odds with our 40+-year movement to push Harvard to establish an Asian American Studies program, which would allow Harvard to build scholarship around these very issues. It is at odds with our support of a vibrant mentorship program, so that Asian American students are connected with alumni who can be role models and relate to their particular strengths and challenges. It is at odds with our anger at Harvard for deracializing the emailed death threat against 400 Asian American women at Harvard in 2014. In our demands that the University acknowledge the significance of our community, we have been joined by alumni, faculty and student groups of many backgrounds, a collaboration that has amplified our voice.
Thus we have joined with 24 other alumni and student groups in signing an amicus brief countering SFFA's demand that admissions become race-blind. The brief is being filed tomorrow on the groups' behalf by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the country's premier civil rights organizations, which has been defending equity in education since 1940, including leading the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.
Our co-signers are: Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association, Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Women’s Association, Harvard Asian American Brotherhood, Harvard Vietnamese Association, Harvard Radcliffe Chinese Students Association, Harvard Korean Association, Harvard Japan Society, Harvard South Asian Association, Task Force on Asian and Pacific American Studies at Harvard College, Harvard-Radcliffe Black Students Association, Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, Fuerza Latina of Harvard, Native Americans at Harvard College, Harvard Islamic Society, Harvard Phillips Brooks House Association, Harvard Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, First Generation Harvard Alumni, Native American Alumni of Harvard University, Harvard University Muslim Alumni, Harvard Latino Alumni Alliance, Harvard Black Alumni Society, Association of Black Harvard Women and 21 Colorful Crimson. All but the last three groups and H4A also signed an earlier amicus brief filed by LDF on their behalf on July 30th.
The latest LDF brief, as well as H4A's declaration, written by H4A VP Mukesh Prasad, will be posted tomorrow at haaaa.net. We are proud to go on the record with our support of a race-conscious, inclusive admissions process that strengthens diversity and educational excellence.
As always, we welcome your response. And we hope you will join us on campus in October, at our Third Global Summit, so that we may discuss this case further with you in person. Some of us also plan to attend the trial, which is scheduled to begin in Boston on October 15th, to hear the arguments and testimony and to provide you some reporting from the courthouse. We encourage your attendance and feedback too. Please feel free to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
H4A Board of Directors
Amy Chu MBA '99
Jinhee Ahn Kim AB '85 (VP)
Athena Lao AB '12 (Secretary)
Alex J. Lee AB '06 AM '06
Monica Lee AB '88
Ed Park AB '97
Jeannie Park AB '83 (President)
Mukesh Prasad AB '93 (VP)
Ivy Yan AB '15, HLS '20