‘Fat Envelope Frenzy: One Year, Five Promising Students and The Pursuit of the Ivy League Prize’

Book CoverThis past Friday, The Wall Street Journal had a book excerpt from Fat Envelope Frenzy: One Year, Five Promising Students and The Pursuit of the Ivy League Prize and one of the five students the book profiles is an Asian-American high school student named Felix Zhang. Zhang has always dreamed of going to Harvard, yet despite his very, very impressive academic and extracurricular credentials, he is worried that he will be discriminated against because he is Asian:

“On the surface, it might seem that Felix is a shoo-in for admission to Harvard. However, as an Asian American, Felix is also a member of a group that is overrepresented in the Harvard applicant pool, which could be a disadvantage in the admissions process. In the past two decades, selective colleges have been repeatedly accused of a bias against Asian Americans, and several students have gone so far as to file official complaints with the federal government at the Office for Civil Rights. No university has ever been convicted of discrimination, but an investigation into the admissions process at Harvard in the early 1990s uncovered a number of offensive remarks written by the staff in regard to Asian American candidates, including glib descriptions such as ‘he’s quiet and, of course, wants to be a doctor.'”

Obviously, this is a very sensitive topic amongst Asian-Americans. There has always been the myth of the model minority amongst Asian-Americans, but the racial categorization has always been a disservice for those Asians who come from lower-income families. I’m still a proponent of affirmative action for traditionally under-represented minorities, but I feel a tension when I know that with a “fixed” number of admission spots to the best universities in the nation, plenty of qualified student applicants will be rejected to their first choice. And this may disproportionately affect Asian-Americans more than any other racial group.

Instead of “racial profiling” applicants, the biggest factor influencing academic achievement I think is based on family income. One thing that I do admire about countries with one single entrance exam to be admitted for college and universities is that there is a clear criteria for admissions – scoring a certain score to be admitted. Though some countries, like Taiwan, are moving more towards the American model of college admissions – striving for more “diversity” – academically, as well as extracurricularly, since talent and intelligence (in all forms) is simply too difficult to measure in a single exam.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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