Op-ed: Admitting students for more than their race


Schools should judge students on the qualities they can control and nothing else. / Illustration by Ally Rzesa

By Ziqi Wang

Last August, several Asian-American students who Harvard rejected during fall 2018 filed a lawsuit accusing the institution for discriminating against Asian-Americans. They claimed Harvard holds higher standards for Asian-Americans than other racial minorities. According to the Boston Globe, Harvard gives each of their applicants a personality score based on essays, interviews, and school recommendations. “Enthusiasm, effervescence, and a chipper disposition” are some of the most important personal characteristics the admissions look for, according to Harvard officials.

However, it seemsHarvard’s personality scores don’t have much range, as the scores for many Asian-American applicants were very similar. According to a 1990 investigation of Harvard’s admission process by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, Asian-Americans are often stereotyped as “being quiet/shy.” This view instantly disadvantages the community. Although the OCR claims these comments or stereotypes don’t discriminate against the applicants, they still imply  Asian-American students lack dimension.

When writing college admission essays, counselors may often recommend using small details to catch the admission office’s eyes––something not widely-known like interesting alumni or the school’s colors. They believe mentioning these facts helps the applicant stand out because it may show they have a unique personality.

I do believe universities prefer students with interesting personalities and backgrounds that bring new perspectives and energy to the campus. But when they start looking for certain kinds of uniqueness, they create a lack of diversity by pigeonholing students through an unfair and non-inclusive system.

I am very aware of my identity at Emerson, that I am an international student from China who wants to study journalism––a major which requires me to write in my second language and a profession that is seen as limited in my country. I remember when, during a first-year class, my professor asked us why we were there. I said that as an international student I aspired to bring a different voice and a different point of view to the class. But this lawsuit makes me think—am I here for my voice? Or am I here because of my race?

I don’t want to attend this school to fulfill the diversity standard. My race is a very important part of my identity. When I introduced myself to other people, I mention I am an international student from China. I correct people when they mispronounce my name. I amproud international student and Asian—but not all the time. Sometimes I introduce myself only by my name, because I am not just my race and I don’t want people judging me based solely on it. When I speak in class and when I interview people, my race doesn’t really matter, but my voice does. I like pitching stories about issues related to international students because I feel very passionate about them and think they’re very important to address. At the same time, however, I’m very hesitant to pitch them because I worry that I’ll only be seen as the reporter of international student affairs due to the fact that I am an international student.

16 percent of the class of 2022 are international students, a 5 percent increase from last year’s 11 percent. It is the highest number in the school’s history, and I notice the difference around campus. Schools should recognize different races, religions, sexualities, and cultural backgrounds, but they shouldn’t limit what students can do, or place standards on how students should behave. Schools should clarify how they admit students. Admission emails and letters should differ from student to student, instead of one, templated facsimile. This way, students can see why schools accept them and feel more confident. Emerson shouldn’t mirror Harvard, where students worry about their personalities more than their academic prowess. Schools should judge students on the qualities they can control and nothing else.