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Federal judge in Boston expected to settle Harvard 'racist' controversy


Federal judge in Boston expected to settle Harvard 'racist' controversy
(Image Credit: Twitter)

A federal judge in Boston is scheduled to hear closing arguments Friday in a highly publicised lawsuit alleging that elite Harvard discriminates against Asian-Americans.

Much of the spotlight has been on affluent Chinese-Americans with stellar academic scores who say the college rejects Asians in favour of lesser-qualified applicants. They say factoring in race hurts Asian-Americans.

But others in the Asian community say that a race-blind process relying solely on academic scores would also hurt Asian-Americans. Southeast Asians, for example, who largely came over as refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, are under-represented in higher education.

"The narrative right now is very focused on a very specific segment within the Asian-American community that does not represent the larger Asian-American community," said Quyen Dinh, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Centre.

The centre signed on to a "friend of the court" brief by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, siding with Harvard's use of what the university calls a "holistic" review of an applicant.

The case brought by Students for Fair Admissions could wind up before a newly re-constituted and more conservative US Supreme Court, which only narrowly re-affirmed the use of race in college admissions two years ago.

There are at least 18 million people in the US who are of Asian descent from about 20 countries. Asian-Americans are about 6 per cent of the US population, but make up nearly 23 per cent of this year's freshman class at Harvard, 22 per cent of the same class at Princeton, and are the fastest growing minority in the country.

Chinese-Americans are the largest sub-group with at least 4.3 million people, followed by Indian-Americans at 4 million and Filipino-Americans at 3 million.

Chinese started migrating to the country in the 19th century as labour for the growing West. More recent waves include refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, as well as highly skilled workers from China and India.

Overall, the numbers look good for Asian-Americans. Their household median income is USD 83,000, compared with USD 60,000 for the US. More than 50 per cent have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 32 per cent for the country, according to the 2017 American Community Survey put out by the US Census Bureau.

But there are large disparities within the group.

For example, while 75 per cent of Indians held a bachelor's degree or higher, only 16 per cent of Laotians and 20 per cent of Cambodians had done so. Among Chinese, the figure is 55 per cent.

Indian households have the highest median income at USD 114,000 while at the other end are Burmese households, at USD 40,000. About 6 per cent of Filipino individuals lives in poverty, compared with 21 per cent of Nepalese and 31 per cent of Burmese.

(With inputs from agencies.)


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