Janine Jackson interviewed Coalition for a Diverse Harvard‘s Jeannie Park about affirmative action at Harvard University for the November 4, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: You’d have to read the news fairly closely to know about the Supreme Court case about Harvard, where the college is defending its ability to consider race as a factor—among many—in admissions, in an effort to address decades in which simply being Black was enough to deny you admission.
The group called Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., founded by white male conservative activist Ed Blum, sued Harvard on the pretense that its effort to end discrimination against African Americans was discriminating against Asian Americans.
Two lower courts ruled for Harvard on all counts, rejecting SFFA’s arguments, before the Supreme Court accepted the case.
Jeannie Park is founding president of the Asian American Journalists Association in New York, and she’s co-founder of the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, advocating for diversity and inclusion in higher education. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Jeannie Park.
Jeannie Park: Thank you so much for having me here, Janine.
JJ: Let’s just be a little basic. Can you set us up on why there was a presumed need for Students for Fair Admissions, and the whole context of this idea that Asian Americans in particular should not just be mad, but should be the most aggrieved by the idea of affirmative action in education? What is the storyline there that you think needs countering?
JP: Yes, this narrative that SFFA has set up has been very difficult to counter, but there is so much disinformation out there that I really appreciate this opportunity to talk about it.
The case is brought by someone named Ed Blum, as you mentioned. He has an organization, but the organization, we don’t even really know how many members there are; none of the plaintiffs in this case have ever been named. They did not testify in court. They are all a complete mystery.
But what’s important to know is that he has been bringing cases against affirmative action, and against race-conscious policies, for decades. This is a mission of his, but not just his. It is a mission of the right wing.
So he first went after it in a big way with a case called Fisher v. University of Texas, 10 years ago, where he sued the University of Texas with a white plaintiff.
He lost. He got all the way to the Supreme Court and essentially lost twice, and he then decided that he might have a more favorable case if he used Asian-American plaintiffs.
So he went advertising for Asian Americans who didn’t get into Harvard and UNC [University of North Carolina], because he is also doing UNC right now; that case is also at the Supreme Court.
And he is really preying on a lot of stereotypes, a lot of model minority stereotypes, about how Asian Americans get really high test scores and grades, and trying to essentially use them as a wedge to divide communities of color, and to reduce equity opportunities for all people of color.
And, as an Asian American, I completely reject this attempt, as do many Asian Americans, most Asian Americans, in this country. So this is the fight that we’re in.
JJ: I think it’s so important to realize that Ed Blum didn’t have folks knock down his door and say, “We feel that we were unfairly treated on the basis of our race, in terms of admission to colleges.”
In other words, the idea that it isn’t that there’s a large body of harmed people who are seeking redress, but instead a lawyer who is seeking something else. I just feel that that is not necessarily the idea that you would get from news media coverage.
JP: Yes. I think people have this idea that it’s some big class action lawsuit, and in fact it’s not. In fact, there’s a videotape of him speaking to, I believe, a Chinese-American group in Houston, and he says, I failed with Fisher v. University of Texas. And so I “needed Asian plaintiffs.”
“I needed Asian plaintiffs,” said Edward Blum the force behind several failed lawsuits challenging the consideration of race in university admissions by pitting #peopleofcolor against one another. #NotYourCover #HarvardLawsuit pic.twitter.com/L2okJsTSgu
— Legal Defense Fund (@NAACP_LDF) August 2, 2018
He actively goes out and seeks people from a certain race and, in the original trial, in the suit against Harvard, he and his team had access to the data from 150,000 admissions cases, and actual files from hundreds of actual admissions cases. They did not introduce a single file or a single case where they pointed to discrimination.
So this is all very manufactured. Again, there is this stereotype out there, and so people have bought into it. And so when he feeds this information, people tend to believe it.
But the thing is, all along, this case was never about defending Asian Americans. Never. In his case that he filed, the remedy that he sought was not to, say, make sure the admissions offices had more Asian Americans admissions officers, or to make sure that the admissions office had training in implicit bias, or how do you counter implicit bias against Asian Americans.
Nothing that was specifically about Asian Americans. All he asked for was that he wanted the admissions process to be completely devoid of race. He did not want admissions officers to even know the race of any student who applied.
And can you imagine how that would work? That would mean that, essentially, you wouldn’t be able to know the student’s name. And let’s say a student was a head of the Black Students Association at their high school, or the Chinese Students Association at their high school, or let’s say they worked on behalf of immigrant rights, or wanted to talk about the struggles of their community of color, or their family’s immigration story.
You wouldn’t be able to do that as a student. And so that would mean that students could not bring their whole self to the admissions process.
JJ: Let me ask you: It’s such a deep narrative conversation, and news media aren’t good at having it. The very thing that you’re talking about, about people being able to bring their whole selves to conversations—it’s not the kind of thing that news media are great at representing.
And I just want to ask you, if you were trying to talk in a positive way to reporters who were trying to present the idea of affirmative action, in higher education and elsewhere, but just the whole idea of seeing the Ed Blums for what they are, and looking towards a positive future, are there things that you would ask reporters to do or to not do, or stories you’d like them to cover, or things you’d like them to avoid? Any thoughts about media?
JP: I think certainly the media need to do a better job of covering the solidarity among Asian Americans and other communities of color in standing against this lawsuit, and in standing against all sorts of efforts to hold back racial justice.
And this is very much an effort to roll back rights, as we’ve seen over and over again with the Supreme Court. Affirmative action has been legal and affirmed by the Court numerous times for more than four decades.
And so this is, again, a retrenchment, a rolling back. And I think it’s important also for the media to not just take things that are fed to them by one side, and not dig deeper into seeing what is misinformation versus what is truth.
And I have to say, another part of this story that’s been really overlooked by the media is who is behind this lawsuit. So a piece that I and my colleague, Kristin Penner, who also works for the African American Policy Forum, wrote recently exposes who’s behind the lawsuit.
So Ed Blum has made himself out to be the face of this effort, and the media have really covered him as being sort of a “one-man band,” a “one-man legal factory.” You know, just a guy who’s doing this in his living room.
In fact, he’s been funded with millions of dollars from the far right, and he’s been supported by lawyers and think tanks and media that are also connected to other fights. He also is responsible for the gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which has led to all this attempted voter suppression. That happened, I believe, in 2013.
And so he is connected to a lot of concerted efforts to take back the rights of people of color, or just to not even allow them to fully enjoy the rights that they’re promised in the first place.
And by attacking voting rights, it leaves us with no way even to address the other attacks, because if we don’t have representation in our government, we then don’t have representation on the Supreme Court, or…. You see the direction in which the Supreme Court has turned.
So I think it’s digging deeper into understanding that a lot of these fights are connected, these fights for climate justice, environmental justice, LGBTQ+ rights, rights for people of color, and movements for racial justice, reproductive rights, immigrant rights.
It is a very connected conservative movement, and if we’re not aware of that, we can’t fight it properly and as fiercely as we need to.
JJ: We’ve been speaking with Jeannie Park, founding president of the Asian American Journalists Association in New York, and co-founder of the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard. Thank you so much, Jeannie Park, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
JP: Thank you so much, Janine. I really appreciate this time.
The post ‘This Case Was Never About Defending Asian Americans’ appeared first on FAIR.
This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Janine Jackson.