AILSA CHANG, HOST:
A lawsuit accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian-American applicants has once again brought affirmative action to the fore and thrown its future into doubt. Among those closely watching for the judges' ruling are Asian-American high school seniors. They're applying for college now. And Kat Chow of NPR's Code Switch team reports on how some of them are feeling.
LARRY YAN: Start with profile.
YAN: OK, keep going.
KAT CHOW, BYLINE: It's a Saturday morning in Queens, and 17-year-old Jerry is at the GPS Academy. That's an education enrichment center which offers a wide range of services, including tutoring. He's on his laptop, scrolling through his college application with Larry Yan, who heads the center.
JERRY: So this, I just put Asian.
JERRY: I didn't put...
JERRY: ...The specific background. That's fine.
YAN: Yeah, no religion. No - yeah, don't put any religion.
CHOW: Jerry is Chinese-American. We're not using his last name or any of the last names of the students we talked to because they're applying to get into highly competitive colleges. Jerry goes to an elite public school in New York City, and he really wants to study business at the University of Pennsylvania. But Jerry believes if he tells colleges he's Chinese-American or that his family is Buddhist, it will make it harder to get in all because of this thing called affirmative action.
JERRY: I mean, I think obviously I'm going to be against it because, you know, it's directly - I mean, I wouldn't say harming 'cause that's, like, a strong word but, like, not to my advantage.
CHOW: While Jerry is against it, a majority of Asian-Americans support affirmative action according to analysis by AAPI Data. But Asian-Americans - that's a very broad racial group that's hard to define. And one of the largest demographics of that group are Chinese-Americans.
Between 2012 to 2016, support of affirmative action from Chinese-Americans dropped from 78 to 41 percent. Experts on race and higher education say this drop is due to the activism of a small, relatively new faction of Chinese-American groups that have campaigned against affirmative action, pushing the idea that there's a so-called penalty in admissions for being Asian-American. Affirmative action was designed to help alleviate some of the effects of racial discrimination, but there's this stereotype that Asian-Americans are high-achieving and that affirmative action could actually hurt them.
TYLER: White people are trying to use this example to destroy affirmative action.
CHOW: That's Tyler in Newport, Calif. He's also a high school senior. He wants to study political science at George Washington University, and he supports affirmative action.
TYLER: I personally don't think that it will harm myself as much as, let's say, a lot of the national rhetoric is really claiming it will.
CHOW: Tyler identifies as queer, and his parents are Chinese and Korean-American. His mom and dad met at college at UCLA. Tyler says he supports affirmative action because it's important to have diverse, inclusive spaces.
TYLER: There's definitely some talk about, oh, like, as an Asian-American, like, a 30 on your ACT is like a white 25 or something.
CHOW: Another student at that center in Queens is Anne. Her top-choice school is Brown University. She says talk about affirmative action is everywhere in her competitive public high school.
ANNE: One person sends it in one group chat, and we start arguing about it and, like, how...
CHOW: Anne says a lot of her classmates don't seem to support affirmative action. As for her...
ANNE: I feel like my feelings for affirmative action are kind of all over the place.
CHOW: She believes that diversity and being surrounded by different people is important.
ANNE: You get exposed to so many, like, different cultures and different experiences from, like, all these different groups. And I definitely think that's important. But, again, like, you should get into schools based on merit.
CHOW: What Anne says echoes in part the broader debate about affirmative action. As a Harvard case awaits a decision, one thing's for sure. All these students will be anxiously awaiting their decisions whether or not they got in. Kat Chow, NPR News, New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "A WALK")
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