As admissions officers at America’s elite universities post #stopasianhate on social media, it seems like an opportune time to discuss the history of discrimination against Asian American applicants in the admissions process. And while many are already quite familiar with the implicit bias Asian American applicants face in admissions thanks to the testimony and discovery in the high profile Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University case, there has been no better time than now to shine a light on one particular point of hypocrisy: the dearth of Asian American admissions officers at America’s elite universities. But why does it matter? Because, historically, admissions officers have a tendency to admit students like themselves.
Admissions Officers Create Incoming Classes in Their Own Image
In his recent book Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, Jeffrey Selingo vividly — and correctly — detailed the typical profiles of admissions officers and how their own profiles often influence their decision-making. The admissions officer who is a former college athlete has a predilection for going to bat for athletes. The admissions officer who is a musician has a predilection for — you guessed it — going to bat for musicians. So if admissions officers are, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, creating incoming classes in their own image, then why is there not more Asian American representation on the staffs of our nation’s elite college admissions offices? If there are former athletes and musicians and Black and Latinx admissions officers — as there certainly should be — then why are there not more Asian American admissions officers on these staffs as well?
Why the Dearth of Asian American Representation in Admissions Matters
One might question why this matters if the representation of Asian Americans on America’s elite college campuses already far outpaces the representation of Asian Americans in our nation’s population — as it does. The answer is simple. Even with significant representation in the incoming classes of elite universities, scores of Asian Americans, who would have otherwise been deserving of admission, are not earning admission based solely on their race. In fact, when admissions officers admit applicants blind to race — as they do at the University of California schools — Asian American applicants stand a far higher chance of earning admission. At the University of California – Berkeley, as an example, Asian Americans constitute about 42% of the Class of 2024. The percentage of admitted Asian American students is less than half this figure at many of our nation’s top universities, all of which consider race as a factor in admissions. It seems, in a word, unfair.
Asian Americans Lead Zero Ivy League Admissions Offices
With this sense of unfairness in mind, coupled with the notion that admissions officers so often admit students in their own image, we decided to take a look at the number of Asian Americans on admissions staffs at elite universities. At the eight Ivy League universities, there are currently zero Asian American deans of admissions. White men lead the admissions offices at Harvard University, Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Cornell University. White women lead the admissions offices at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Princeton University and Brown University are the only two Ivy League schools with people of color as admissions leaders, although neither is Asian American. Among the other top 25 universities as ranked by US News & World Report, Stanford University, Duke University, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, Vanderbilt University, Emory University, the University of California – Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California are all seemingly led by white men. White women lead the admissions staffs at Northwestern University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Notre Dame. The admissions czars of Rice University, the University of California – Berkeley, and the University of Michigan are not white, but none, by our count, are Asian American.
In Fact, Asian Americans Lead Zero Admissions Offices at America’s Top 25 Universities
Surprisingly, Asian Americans lead zero admissions offices at America’s top 25 universities. White men seemingly lead 15 of these 25 admissions staffs (60%). 20 of the 25 top universities in America are seemingly led by either a white man or a white woman (80%). And still zero are led by an Asian American person. Despite the fact that large cohorts of each incoming class at all of our nation’s highly selective universities are Asian American (e.g., 20.8% at the University of Pennsylvania, 20% at Yale University, 19.8% at Cornell University, etc.), these Asian American young people don’t see people who look like them atop the admissions staffs at their dream schools.
Asian Americans Are Few and Far Between on Admissions Staffs at Elite Universities
Unfortunately, there isn’t only an underrepresentation of Asian Americans among undergraduate admissions deans. Asian Americans are few and far between on the full-time undergraduate admissions staffs of these institutions as well. Have a look for yourself. At Dartmouth College, we count one Asian American admissions officer on a team of 22 publicly listed admissions staff profiles. By our count, that’s 4.5% representation at a school in which about 14.6% of its student body is Asian American. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just like at Dartmouth, we count one Asian American on the admissions team out of a staff of 22 publicly listed admissions staff profiles (and MIT’s Dean of Admissions is not listed among the profiles, though he is white). Approximately 42% of members of the MIT Class of 2024 are Asian American, yet only 4.3% of members of the admissions team at MIT are Asian American. That’s 37.7% less representation for Asian Americans on the MIT admissions staff than in the MIT Class of 2024.
The Time Is Now to Increase Asian American Representation on Admissions Staffs at Elite Universities
The lack of Asian American representation in admissions offices can and must change. With our country’s longstanding discrimination against Asian Americans finally capturing our national attention, now is the time. Asian Americans deserve to be better represented in undergraduate admissions at America’s elite universities. Just as life imitates art, these institutions should create admissions staffs that mirror the wonderful diversity of their student bodies. It’s wonderful that these institutions preach the beauty of diversity, but until institutions hire more Asian American representatives on their admissions staffs, they are failing to practice what they preach. It’s no wonder that Asian Americans continue to face discrimination in admissions. If admissions officers really want to #stopasianhate, they can start by looking within because these admission staffs truly are the gatekeepers to America’s meritocracy.
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