New Affirmative Action Cases Say Policies Hurt Asian-Americans : Code Switch The same man who helped bring a suit against the University of Texas at Austin a few years ago is back, with new cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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New Affirmative Action Cases Say Policies Hurt Asian-Americans

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New Affirmative Action Cases Say Policies Hurt Asian-Americans

New Affirmative Action Cases Say Policies Hurt Asian-Americans

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In 2012, a white woman sued the University of Texas at Austin. She claimed she was denied admission there because of the school's affirmative action policies. Her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Well, the advocacy group that supported her has filed two new suits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. But there's a new twist. These cases argue that affirmative action doesn't just hurt whites, but Asians too. NPR's Sam Sanders reports.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: The Project on Fair Representation has been looking for students to fight affirmative action policies for years. It's led by Edward Blum. This time, Blum used three websites to recruit students. One of them reads, were you denied admission to Harvard? It may be because you're the wrong race.

They also targeted UNC. Both sites featured young Asian people looking either deep in thought or a little sad, with their heads resting pensively on their chins. Two cases were launched from those sites. The one against Harvard has an Asian student plaintiff and the one against UNC has a white one, but both claim that those schools' policies hurt whites and Asians, especially Harvard. Here's Edward Blum.

EDWARD BLUM: Harvard has a hard, fast quota limiting the number of Asians it will admit. In addition to that, Harvard has a racial balancing policy that balances the percentages of African-Americans, Hispanics, whites and Asians.

SANDERS: In a statement, Harvard says their admissions policy is legally sound and looks at the whole student. The UNC case claims the school has already found a way to achieve diversity without using race by admitting the top 10 percent of graduates from North Carolina high schools. But the case claims UNC doesn't want to do that because it would lower the university's average SAT score. UNC also says their policy is legal and that diversity benefits all of their students. Blum says the students in his cases aren't talking to press, but minority students at UNC Chapel Hill were happy to.

CECILIA POLANCO: It's offensive. It's offensive to many groups of students.

SANDERS: Cecilia Polanco is the head of UNC's Hispanic Association. She says the cases imply that blacks and Latinos at her school don't really deserve to be there, and she says that hurts.

POLANCO: Well, who are you talking about? What are you talking about? I'm not lesser qualified. I worked just as hard as everyone else to get here, to stay here and to graduate from here.

SANDERS: Polanco says the school's black student group and native student group and Asian student group have come out against the cases. Jasmine Huang heads the school's Asian Students Association and says the cases are bad for Asians too.

JASMINE HUANG: And it kind of perpetuates this model minority myth that all students of Asian descent are high achieving or come from affluent families when that really isn't true.

SANDERS: Huang says she supports policies that ensure diversity. But in California recently, Asian-American opposition killed a push to bring back affirmative action in the state's universities. Steven Rich studies affirmative action at USC's law school. He says it'll be hard for Blum to force big change with his lawsuits, especially at Harvard.

STEVEN RICH: I think it's hard to imagine the Supreme Court, in particular, striking down the Harvard policy because it has for so long invested in what it's called the Harvard plan, as a model of constitutionality or a model of what it calls individualized consideration or holistic review.

SANDERS: As for UNC, Rich says Edward Blum and his team will have an uphill battle with that case too. Though, he says, winning it is, quote, "difficult but not impossible." Sam Sanders, NPR News.

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