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Gates Foundation announces four priority policy areas on college completion, with data system to come

After seven years and half a billion dollars, the Gates Foundation announces its four priority areas for college completion policies and plans to release a data framework for measuring performance in higher education.

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Researcher Accused of Concealing China Ties Acquitted

A former University of Tennessee, Knoxville, professor accused of spying for the Chinese military and twice prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department was acquitted of fraud charges by a federal judge Thursday, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

Anming Hu, a former associate professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering at the university, had been accused of fraud and lying by the FBI as part of the Department of Justice’s controversial China Initiative to root out suspected Chinese spies working at American universities. The program was launched in November 2018 during the Trump administration and framed as targeting economic espionage, hacking and trade secret theft.

Federal prosecutors had accused Hu of deliberately concealing a professorship he held with Beijing University of Technology on forms submitted to UT Knoxville and to NASA.

U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan wrote in the 52-page ruling acquitting Hu that "the government has failed to provide sufficient evidence from which any rational jury could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant had specific intent to defraud NASA by hiding his affiliation with BJUT [Beijing University of Technology] from UTK [University of Tennessee, Knoxville]."

Hu is one of about a dozen university-based researchers who have faced similar fraud-related charges for allegedly lying about Chinese funding or affiliations on federal grant applications, visa applications or tax forms. His first jury trial ended in a hung jury and a mistrial in June, prompting renewed calls for the department to suspend the initiative and investigate concerns about racial profiling and targeting of Asian American and Asian immigrant scientists. He potentially faced decades in prison on three counts each of wire fraud and making false statements.

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Recommendations for stopping anti-Asian racism on campuses (opinion)

Official statements condemning it ring hollow if they don’t, in fact, stop the anti-Asian racism that already exists within many of these institutions, argue Robert Diaz and Hae Yeon Choo.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021
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Atlanta attacks mark a turning point for racism against Asians (opinion)

For Asian Americans especially, the Atlanta attack of last week marks a turning point as indelibly as the pandemic itself: from now on, there is before and there will be after. A white male has already confessed to the serial murder, six of the eight victims being Asian women.

While a police spokesman shockingly described the homicides as the perpetrator having had “a bad day” and subsequently was revealed himself to have spread the “China virus” meme on social media, people of all identities have come together. Discrimination against Asian Americans dates back to before Asians could become Americans. Awareness of it among others is as newfound as it is welcome.

Since the pandemic started, Asian Americans have been condemned collectively through guilt by association despite, as President Joe Biden pointed out before the massacre, being overrepresented as heroic health-care providers exposed on the front lines. Due to childish slogans aggrandized as conspiracy theories, we have been deemed to be the source of the scourge -- whether we are Chinese or not and even if we are third-generation Americans -- based on the color of our skin, the texture of our hair and the shape of our eyes. Some people have shunned or shied away from us on the street, implicitly fearing the disease. Others have even spat on some Asian Americans or shoved them to the ground with sufficient force to break bones, explicitly blaming them for the virus. The hostility is unmistakable, the cases underreported.

As a kid from Detroit, the cumulative effect of anti-Asian attitudes saddens me. I am not about to abandon my homeland (the United States, it should not be necessary to add). What troubles me most as an Asian American is that Asians abroad, many Asian exchange students and even some Asian immigrants recently arrived are doubting their choice: for them, the allure of America is vanishing. That is a devastating reversal for us -- for all Americans. The ideals that once beckoned the world over, inspiring sacrifice that likely will not be appreciated by the next generation thereby provided opportunities on these shores, no longer compel but instead feel empty. That accounts for Chinese officials displaying their attitude that the America century has come to it close at the Alaska summit just concluded.

Until recently, however, nobody except Asian Americans noticed rampant scapegoating, much less protested it. As the victim of a box-cutter face slashing lamented, “Nobody came, nobody helped.” The hypocrisy has not been lost on Asian Americans. A few have rejected the civil rights movement outright. They have been recruited through fake news on social media invisible to observers without language skills to fight affirmative action and critical race theory or to embrace the Asian nationalism of which they are suspected.

Race has always been difficult to discuss, whoever is implicated. But Asian Americans do not register as relevant at all. The black-and-white paradigm has been the problem all along. Yet the example of Asian Americans is useful exactly because of our being neither literally nor figuratively black and white.

Absent From the National Narrative

The great public intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois, a “race man” among the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, championed Black equality within the context of universal norms. His most famous line, penned in 1903 for the canonical essays collected as Souls of Black Folk, is typically misquoted. He is remembered for predicting that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” Students who repeat that phrase in a paper might not have read the passage in full, for he continued, with a comma, “the relations of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, the Americas and the islands of the sea.”

Again and again, the most persuasive activists have enlisted allies. Asian Americans participated in the civil rights movement back in the day. The Japanese American Citizens League, established in 1929, sent a delegation to march alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C., in 1963. King not only said, “I have a dream,” but also, “We cannot walk alone.” Yuri Kochiyama cradled the head of the dying Malcolm X in the Audubon Ballroom two years later.

Framing race as if everyone fits neatly into either a black box or a white box produces a picture of the world that fails to correspond to reality. Out of fidelity to fact and care for accurate analysis, not ideology or acquiescence to the ascent of overseas regimes, Asian Americans ought to be included. A stroll across any college campus or glance at a Zoom class would reveal the abundance of Asian exchange students, Asian immigrants and Asian Americans -- whether South, East, Southeast or Pacific in origin; Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu; Afro-Asian or adopted by white parents; privileged or food insecure. Regardless of academic discipline or policy recommendations, any serious study of racial dynamics that omits 20 million Asian Americans -- or for that matter, Latinos and all who have been conventionally relegated to the status of “others” at the end of lists -- cannot explain what is happening for the deliberate lack of crucial data.

Asian Americans have been around since the United States Civil War but are absent from the national narrative. Hundreds fought in both the Union as well as Confederate armies, a history that is integral but not integrated. Chinese laborers built the western half of the transcontinental railroad, risking life and limb, as in the phrase of the era, “a Chinaman’s chance,” denoting low odds of surviving. None of their faces appear in the iconic photographs of the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869.

Then Asian Americans were driven out of western territories, as white mobs torched Chinese villages and lynched their fleeing residents. The rallying cry of “the Chinese must go!” led to the Exclusion Act of 1882, expanded to an Asiatic Barred Zone in 1917. Asian newcomers and their few American-born progeny fought back against open bigotry, which spanned from reactionary government officials who invoked the fear of “miscegenation” to progressive labor leaders who claimed unfair competition owing to whites needing a diet of meat while Asiatics could subsist on rice. Wong Kim Ark of San Francisco, stopped at the border, hired the best Caucasian lawyers, besting the U.S. Justice Department, which argued that if citizenship were available to persons of Chinese descent, it would no longer be worth possessing. He secured the guarantee of birthright citizenship for all, as promised by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

The literal mistake leads to its figurative counterpart of allowing only interpretations that are absolute and without ambiguity. Almost everyone prefers, as Hannah Arendt explicated, wrongdoing to be egregious and intrinsic to a transgressor’s character. We anticipate apprehending an offender who is malign and wicked, and obviously so. Against such a villain we yearn to juxtapose a victim who is contrastingly innocent and pure. A story that is complicated, involving mixed motives and sexualization, becomes confusing and uncomfortable. Thus, we are distracted by the debate over whether the Atlanta shooter was a bigot through and through, as if his self-serving declaration that he is free of intolerance absolves him and by implication the rest of us, too. Or we propose that racism erases sexism, and vice versa, disrespecting Asian women as much as a fetish for them is the opposite of the love it purports to be.

Racial in Effect

Asian Americans show another possibility. An act can be free of racism in intent but nonetheless be fraught because it is racial in effect. The asymmetry should be apparent. The suffering is disproportionately inflicted. The common cruelty of childhood, the relentless bullying that Asian American kids experience, is racialized. The name-calling humiliates a child into hating her ancestors. As much as it might be protected as free speech, the “ching chong” singsong and eyes pulled back into slants inspire the sticks and stones and portend worse.

A sophomoric version persists into college with the theme of Asians “taking over,” with the irony that those who have offended arguing that they in turn have become ostracized. The University of California, Los Angeles, student who went viral with a video about “hordes of Asian people” who refused to follow American manners, and then uttered gibberish as mock Asian speech, dropped out following what she called “harassment.”

Slurs, obscenities and challenges to kung fu contests are all funny enough and trivial indeed to those who administer them without remorse. To the butt of the joke who is subjected to a daily ordeal, it holds no humor but only trauma for life. The Chinese phrase for the anguish is “to eat bitterness.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing “China Initiative” suggests even a number of professors of Chinese ancestry who have achieved distinction are sleeper agents of an enemy power. According to all the ongoing investigations, they belong en masse to a conspiracy of espionage or theft of trade secrets, to be rooted out. The prosecution has turned into persecution, as partnerships promoted by universities and funders alike less than a decade ago pass into disapproval and criminality.

Perhaps Asian Americans, at least those in the predicament of “doing science while Chinese,” will come to sympathize with African Americans, who are aggrieved to be arrested for “driving while black.” The excuses of racial profiling are less denials of the prejudice than assertions about the superficial plausibility of generalizations. Accusers rationalize their strategy by noting someone else of the same heritage has already pleaded guilty, and it would be common sense anyway to recruit operatives by appealing to ethnic affinity.

The narratives about the pandemic and espionage blend together in the thesis that a cataclysmic “clash of civilizations” is imminent. The “Thucydides Trap” has been set, a scenario pitting the rising power, China, versus the declining power, America. Eschatological conflict will escalate from cultural rivalry and trade disputes to actual military maneuvers.

Asian Americans who identify by the term are joining a coalition with those whom their forebears fought total wars for the sake of civic engagement here. However clichéd, the heckler’s jeer awaits.

The perpetual foreigner syndrome recurs as the demanding question “where are you really from,” with a tone incredulous of your sincere answer to “where are you from,” and the dubious compliment, “My, you speak English so well.” The insinuation is an Asian American belongs in Asia, speaking with an accent. An Asian American who insists they are who they say they are seems preposterous, trying too hard to fit in and in the process confirming the futility of assimilation. The subtle bias comes out in the assumption that all Asians are sojourners and well-to-do, or in that pejorative phrase finally reappropriated by a hit sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat. The Asian American from California or New York City, who has never visited Asia, is not immune to the racism that expresses itself toward her grandparents in the form of xenophobia.

I continue to believe in the American dream. That is why I yearn for us to live up to our principles as a diverse democracy. Institutions of higher education will always have an important role to play as civic institutions where people who might not encounter one another elsewhere live together and work together as equals. The numbers of Asian Americans at most colleges and universities offer an opportunity not available in other contexts. May the Atlanta tragedy lead to American progress. Our shared future is at stake.

Frank H. Wu is president of Queens College, City University of New York. He is author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White.

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Asian Solidarity March after Atlanta shooting rampage that left six Asian Americans and two others dead.
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The recent case at Harvard University reinforces the need for holistic admissions (opinion)

When someone asks me to introduce myself, I don’t tell them my SAT scores.

Instead, I say that I was born in New York City, the daughter of working-class Chinese immigrants, who grew up in public housing and attended public schools.

I didn’t have my heart set on going to college anywhere in particular. During my junior year of high school, in 1979, I was recruited through Harvard University’s undergraduate minority recruitment program when I met Asian American student recruiters at a college fair in New York City’s Chinatown. Mind you, this was three years after Harvard began recognizing Asian Americans as a racial minority in admissions. I embraced opportunities to connect my identity with my education. My extracurriculars were excellent, but my SAT scores were not particularly outstanding. I was both excited and nervous about applying to such a prestigious school.

Well, I got in. At that time, Asian Americans made up barely 3 percent of the Class of 1980. My Class of 1984 had about 6 percent Asian Americans according to data compiled by the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, of which I am a board member. Today, Asian Americans make up just over 25 percent of the Class of 2023 at Harvard. The importance of affirmative action clearly continues to this day, despite the ongoing concerted and disingenuous efforts to destroy it with Students for Fair Admissions’ pending cases at the University of North Carolina and the University of Texas and its appeal of a recent, highly publicized case at Harvard.

In that case, the Massachusetts federal court affirmed the legal use of race as a factor in college admissions and ruled against SFFA and its president, Edward Blum, by siding with Harvard. The ruling supports the holistic admissions process, which considers applicants as whole human beings, rather than merely an accumulation of data points. This suit was the Asian American sequel to Blum’s past unsuccessful challenge to race-conscious college admissions with white clients, specifically Abigail Fisher at the University of Texas. However, this case proved that Asian Americans can’t be used by Ed Blum.

In October 2018, I testified as one of eight representatives of student and alumni pro-diversity organizations that filed briefs in support of Harvard's admissions process and affirmative action policies nationwide.

The lawsuit has made me reflect on my time at college and my identity as an Asian American and a first-generation college student. As a student, I helped Harvard recruit more students of color and worked to educate admissions officers about cultural issues, language barriers and immigration experiences that would affect the education and evaluation of minority applicants. I learned about the value of solidarity and affirmed my belief that we are all much more than the sum of our parts -- and certainly more than the total of our standardized tests.

Advocating against discrimination toward Asian Americans and for increased representation must be done with and within communities of color that have suffered and still struggle with oppression, state violence and bias, both explicit and implicit. Asian Americans still confront systemic biases, from guidance counselors in school to managers at work.

In 1983, I co-wrote an article in Bridge magazine that examined the challenges Asian Americans were facing in college admissions. Our survey of 25 universities indicated that the admission rate for Asian Americans lagged behind the rate for all other ethnic groups, including white applicants. But rather than demanding the elimination of race as a consideration in admissions, we urged colleges, including Harvard (which already had an affirmative action program) and many others, to more actively advance their own affirmative action policies: to set up minority recruitment programs, to hire Asian American admissions officers, to increase training on cultural bias and to become educated about stereotypes that worked against Asian American applicants. We concluded that it is better for Asian Americans to be recognized as distinct individuals than to be unintentionally excluded, and we decried insufficient financial aid and other barriers that kept out applicants who were poor or from inner cities.

The report found that, because “education is one of the prime movers in our struggle for minority rights,” it is essential that marginalized communities demand access to opportunities often deliberately and systemically denied to them. But we were clear that this access is not zero sum. Better access to education overall, along with affirmative action programs available to more students is not zero sum. In fact, our society will be better off with more college graduates.

The lessons that I learned at Harvard about embracing difference, identifying shared values and considering other perspectives during discussions in the classroom, dining hall and late nights in the dorm transformed me and still shape my work today. It was important that I met black, Asian, Latino and white students from all political and economic backgrounds, and especially from wealthier ones. As an associate professor of sociology, I continue to study and teach about issues of equity and equality that stem from my experiences as a Harvard undergraduate.

As I wrote in my second book, Stuck, about second-generation Asian Americans in the corporate world and the diversity programs that help them achieve success, I am reminded of the words of legal scholar Mari Matsuda nearly three decades ago. “When Asian-Americans manage to do well, their success is used against others,” she observed. “The success that is our pride is not to be given over as a weapon to use against other struggling communities.”

“I hope,” she added, “we will not be used to deny educational opportunities to the disadvantaged and to preserve success only for the privileged.”

Again, success is not a zero-sum game. If I succeed, it doesn’t mean that you fail. Neither is identity. My identity is unique, and so is yours.

This case has taught institutions of higher learning to do more to fully respect and represent their students and recognize them as whole people, not just test scores on a screen or even their personal ratings. Colleges and universities can ensure that affirmative action and diversity programs are working by implementing implicit bias training at all levels of the institution. Getting rid of bias allows diverse groups to be welcome at all levels.

In addition, universities should reflect on how much of a role legacy and athletics have on offering higher educational opportunity and how they affect racial diversity on their campuses. The Massachusetts court decision found in the Harvard case that race-conscious admissions should remain and be strengthened because, among other reasons, getting rid of legacy and athletic admissions is not a race-neutral alternative means to achieve diversity. Other institutions’ legacy and athletic admits may have a very different racial makeup, so a straight-out elimination may have unexpected consequences on racial diversity. Finally, legislatures should also be flexible and recognize that affirmative action may need to be put back in place or strengthened to sustain diversity in universities. A whole-person admissions process that takes into account many factors, including race, should always be considered.

I can tell you what I got on the SATs, but it won’t tell you who I am or what I am capable of.

Margaret M. Chin is associate professor of sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center in New York City. She is the author of Stuck: Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder (NYU Press, forthcoming 2020) and Sewing Women: Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry (Columbia University Press, 2005).

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The recent challenges to race-conscious admissions are either mistaken or malicious (opinion)

By now, we know that we all learn better, and even think better, in diverse educational environments. That’s why it’s deeply disturbing that law professor Richard H. Sander filed suit two weeks ago to compel the University of California to provide access to its admissions documents, in the process accusing the system of violating state law banning the consideration of race and ethnicity in admission. Recent challenges to race-conscious affirmative action like this one are at best mistaken and at worst malicious.

Here’s how they are mistaken.

Sander supports the lawsuit against Harvard University, brought by Students for Fair Admissions, alleging that discriminatory negative action -- where race counts against an applicant -- is being used against Asian American applicants and that race-conscious affirmative action is to blame. It goes without saying that highly selective colleges should not discriminate against Asian American applicants. But what Students for Fair Admissions -- and now Sander -- are missing is that Asian American students who feel wronged by admissions processes should not scapegoat race-conscious affirmative action for any negative action that may be part of selective college admissions processes. There are widespread misconceptions about affirmative action and its relationship to merit and discrimination.

The statistics often cited to “prove” that Asian Americans are discriminated against in highly selective college admissions mischaracterize research. The complaint against Harvard cites research from 2009, finding Asian American applicants accepted at selective colleges had higher standardized test scores than other accepted students. However, the “holistic” admissions processes the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed in its 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision acknowledged that test scores are not the only, nor the primary, criterion for admission. “Holistic” review takes many relevant factors into account -- not only academic achievement but also factors like public service, overcoming difficult life circumstances, achievements in the arts or athletics, and leadership qualities. Here, Asian Americans are being exploited as a “model minority” whose high test scores are used to uphold a narrow definition of “merit.”

And here’s how the recent challenges to affirmative action may be malicious.

Affirmative action is not the reason some academically accomplished Asian American applicants are rejected from highly selective universities like Harvard or the University of California, Los Angeles. Although Students for Fair Admissions claims to champion wronged Asian American applicants, in actuality, they recruited Asian American plaintiffs to foster resentment among different groups of people of color. Blaming affirmative action plays into a divisive politics that serves to deflect from Students for Fair Admissions’ or Sander’s primary aim of dismantling affirmative action so as to protect elite college and university spots for students who are already advantaged.

The bottom line is that critics like Sander and Students for Fair Admissions are using racial politics to pit racial groups against each other. Their attention to possible negative action against Asian American applicants wrongly targets affirmative action, overshadowing the real issue of inequality of access and opportunity in higher education: historical preferences that selective colleges and universities have displayed for legacy applicants, affluent applicants and urban/suburban white applicants. Those are the groups whose advantages have compounded over the years in K-12 schools, college entrance examinations, leadership and community service opportunities, and special “talents.” Institutions of higher education can then incorrectly point to those students’ “merit” to justify racial and ethnic disparities in admission and retention -- and to challenge the fairness of affirmative action policies.

Yet affirmative action is one modest policy that promotes equality of opportunity. Because selective institutions of higher education have a social mission to educate professionals, artists and leaders in a multicultural society, students need to be educated in diverse, integrated contexts. Research on the educational benefits of diversity provides strong evidence that we generate ideas and knowledge, solve problems, and think critically much better when we learn in environments rich in diversity. Research also shows that without race-conscious affirmative action, selective colleges and universities are much more segregated. Race-conscious affirmative action is crucial for higher education to be able to fulfill its social mission in an increasingly divided nation.

Michele S. Moses is a professor of education at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Making Race-Conscious Affirmative Action a Scapegoat

A white performer of Hindu chants creates controversy at Brown

Why did Brown students protest a white person doing Hindu chants?

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