No Excuse for Discrimination

Are people with good grades and test scores really nerds who have no life?  That’s the impression left by some affirmative-action defenders — even though it happens to be false.

A typical (and misleading) defense of college affirmative-action policies — recently made by USA TODAY — is to claim that they are not really as discriminatory they seem.  When students of disfavored races express dismay that they have been rejected, despite having excellent grades and test scores (even as students of other races with poorer grades and scores are admitted), they are told that this is because grades and test scores are not the only thing colleges are looking for, but rather things that contribute to a well-rounded class, like extracurricular activies.

Factually, this is misleading, since extracurricular activities don’t usually count for much in admissions, compared to grades and test scores.   (Nor do other characteristics, like leadership activities or economically-disadvantaged status.  Those factors pale in importance compared to grades, test scores, and your race in determining whether you get into a selective college).

But it also rests on a stale, baseless stereotype: that people with good grades and scores are actually nerdy dweebs who spent all their time studying, to the exclusion of extracurricular activities (the way the bright kid in a sitcom is often caricatured as being wimpy, bespectacled, and unpopular).  

Asian students are particularly subject to this stereotype.  Every time an Asian student complains about Asians being rejected at higher grades and test scores than most admitted applicants, defenders of affirmative action respond by claiming that grades and test scores aren’t everything (even though no one ever said it was).

The reality in statistics is that good things usually go together.  For example, people who are smarter tend to be physically in better condition than people who are dumb. 

Similarly, people with good grades and test scores tend to have more extracurricular activities and leadership experience than people with bad grades and scores.  So when an admission system systematically turns away people with high grades and scores to make room for people with low grades and scores, it’s usually because of discrimination, not because the college is looking at the “whole person” or seeking a class with diverse interests.  I know this because I’ve read countless college applications in my lifetime.

But USA TODAY recently defended affirmative action by claiming the fact that “High-scoring Asian students face higher admissions hurdles . . . does not necessarily prove discrimination. Test scores and grades have never been the sole basis for admission to college.”

As I noted in a letter in response (“All-Around Applicants Disprove Asian Stereotypes,” USA TODAY, July 11, Pg. 8A),

“That statement is misleading because it implies that Asian Americans only have good test scores and grades, and not other characteristics sought by colleges. From having read thousands of applications, I can tell you that Asian students participate in just as many extracurricular and leadership activities as the average student. The fact that they are being rejected despite high grades and test scores can’t be justified by saying those aren’t the only factors.”

There is absolutely no evidence that Asian or white applicants participate less in extracurricular or leadership activities than applicants of other races. 

We wrote earlier about other weird racial stereotypes being promoted by defenders of affirmative action (such as claiming that planning ahead and individualism are racist white characteristics, claiming that minorities are “emotional” while whites are “impersonal” and “task-oriented,” and arguing that only whites can be racist), both at this blog, and in the Washington Post and a Supreme Court brief.