Supreme court affirmative action debate captures Asian American fear of bias in admissions programs
The story of Nirmala Sankaran Nair, a rising star in the field of affirmative action, who has twice been denied admission to the University of California at Berkeley, captures the anxieties that Asian Americans feel when they have been unfairly treated on the basis of their ethnicity. A former teacher of mathematics and statistics, Nair was also an honor student, and an avid writer.
Her story offers an insight into what it means to be “Other,” at a time when Asian American Americans in particular have become more visible – and increasingly vocal. With the success of the #AsianPacificPacific, an initiative that has placed Asian American in the spotlight, and that has brought to the foreground Asian American identity, there is a new conversation taking place about what is expected of Asian Americans, and what it might mean for them.
As Nair’s story shows, there is a growing fear that affirmative action is, in some cases, a form of white supremacy.
At the beginning of the spring 2019 semester, the school year for most undergraduate students at UC Berkeley is over. About half of the incoming students have been admitted to the school. Of the approximately 8,500 students accepted, approximately 4,000 are Asian American.
The school has been widely criticized for its admission process. Critics argue that an Asian student is not being offered admission because of race, but because they are more qualified than other applicants.
A 2017 federal lawsuit against the school, which was filed in 2017, alleged that the school’s admitted students were being given preferential treatment on the basis of their race.
The case is still active, and has led to an increasing focus on how the federal government has handled the matter. In early June 2019, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice on the basis that Nair had failed to exhaust her administrative remedy under Section 1983; the claim had been filed as a class action and the students could have brought their claims as individual plaintiffs.
Nair filed a petition with the UC Berkeley Board of Regents, in support of the lawsuit, for affirmative action on the basis of race. But with a petition to be admitted to the school a year in the making, the