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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Applying while Asian: No violin, no chess, no math club

Asian-American students are advised to be "less Asian" when they apply to selective colleges, reports Amy Qin in the New York Times.

Photo: U.S. Chess Federation

Don't admit you play the violin, compete at chess, belong to the math club or went to Chinese language school. If you join a cultural group, make it LGBTQ, not Vietnamese or South Asian.

"In October, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by Students for Fair Admissions (SFA) that accused Harvard of systematically discriminating against Asian American applicants," writes Qin.

Most predict the court will tell universities they can't discriminate by race in admissions.

In its brief, SFA wrote that “an entire industry exists to help (applicants) appear ‘less Asian’ on their college applications.” Asian hardship doesn't count, students are told. Don't bother writing about your family's immigrant story. It's same old, same old.

Sasha Chada, the founder of Ivy Scholars, a college admissions counseling company based in Texas, said that while his company’s Latino clients often emphasized their ethnicity and their engagement with Hispanic cultural organizations on their college applications, his company frequently gave Asian American students the opposite advice, urging them to shift away from “classically Asian activities” to improve their chances of getting into the country’s elite universities.

Ivy League schools, including Harvard, limited the number of Jewish students in the 1920s, SFA notes.

“The same stereotypes used to grade down Jewish applicants in the 1920s — that they were nerds or grinds, that they would spend too much time studying to be ‘well rounded’ — are being used against Asian American applicants today,” said Mark Oppenheimer, the host of Gatecrashers, a podcast about the history of Jews in the Ivy League.

Photo: MART Production/Pexels

Some students are changing their names to hide their Asian identities report Teresa Watanabe, Anh Do, Jeong Park in the Los Angeles Times.

Asian Americans are seen as "counterfeit kids" driven by ambitious parents, said Leelila Strogov of AtomicMind, which offers college counseling. Applicants can "confound stereotypes that Asian Americans aren't intellectually curious or are more interested in making money than improving society by reading literature and philosophy, for instance, or launching activities to help communities."

Vijay JoJo Chokal Ingam, a college advisor with the Los Angeles Resume Service, tells Asian (and white) applicants to hide their race and "showcase interest in broader diversity goals," such as joining an LGBTQ club rather than an Asian American one.

I can see colleges deciding that they're overloaded with neuroscience majors and need more students interested in philosophy or poetry. Perhaps they want more musicians for the jazz band and fewer for the orchestra. It's likely they need an offensive line more than they need really good badminton players.

But there's something deeply offensive about rewarding some students for celebrating their cultural heritage while penalizing others. Hip hop and mariachi good. Raga and taiko bad. Beethoven and Mozart good for some, bad for others. Be yourself. But with a weird hobby. And ix-nay on the ath-may. It's "too Asian."

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