Jan Freeman writes The Word column for Ideas.
Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, editor, and multimedia producer.
Christopher Shea writes the Critical Faculties column for Ideas.
Send the Brainiac bloggers a comment on a post.
See the latest Ideas stories that appeared in The Boston Globe.
Visit the Ideas section
Week of: November 11
Week of: November 4
Week of: October 28
Week of: October 21
Week of: October 14
Week of: October 7
Mind the gap
What he learned in the newsroom
Mr. Boffo lays an eggcorn
Curse of the mummy's tummy
More in Word Watch
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
More on Asian Americans and admissions
Jian Li, the focus of my column this week -- he filed a complaint against Princeton, which rejected him, charging that the university discriminates against Asian Americans -- was away from his Yale dorm room last week, and unreachable, but I finally connected with him yesterday.
He said he's "not happy" that some students, in the Princeton newspaper and elsewhere, have attacked him in personal terms -- claiming that he's a bitter, SAT-score-collecting nerd who just can't accept that he's failed at something. But he stressed that he has gotten a number of supportive emails as well.
I was struck by how well Li knew the history of discrimination in elite-college admissions. He's read at least parts of Jerome Karabel's book "The Chosen," for example.
I asked him whether he thought there might be any truth to the claim, voiced by some admissions officers, that while Asian Americans surpass white students in grades and test scores, they tend to be slightly weaker when it comes to extra-curricular activities -- a pattern that might explain the 50-point SAT gap between Asian Americans and whites at elite colleges (with Asians scoring higher), as well as lower admission rates for Asian Americans. "If there is some disparity," he said, "I think the disparity is magnified by stereotyping." In other words, admissions officers enter the process "knowing" that Asian Americans don't do much outside the classroom, he suggested, so they fail to see what's actually on the c.v.'s
It's often said that no one is entitled to a spot at an elite college, and Li did not dispute this. "It's not that I deserve to be admitted to Princeton," he said. "It's that I deserve to be considered without regard to my race."
Asked to characterize himself, politically, he said: "This is very strange. I'm a very liberal person in terms of gay rights or whatever." Just not when it comes to affirmative action as currently practiced. In fact, he said, "I think that having the belief that race shouldn't matter [in admissions] is a liberal view."
When Li said it was common knowledge that colleges compare Asian American applicants to other Asian Americans only, whites to other whites, and African Americans to other African Americans, I stoppped him and said college admissions people would deny doing any such thing. He replied, "That's [not a credible claim]."