Minority Status


To the Editors of The Crimson:

The recent Crimson editorial supporting the demand that Asian-Americans receive full minority status with respect to University programs serves only to undermine further the credibility of the much maligned concept of affirmative action.

The Crimson argues that Asian-Americans be delegated minority standing in accordance with federal definitions of their being a minority group because of "economic and social disadvantage." Yet current U.S. Census figures show that Asian-Americans today penetrate all income levels and, in general, have attained an above average standard of living. The barriers to equality which did indeed exist in the past for this group have largely vanished. That the Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare fails to recognize this change in circumstances is little reason for Harvard to extend the subscription to archaic definitions for the mere sake of bureaucratic consistency. And to insist on special considerations for a group solely because it is a distinguishable minority intimates a new brand of prejudice.

The Crimson also points out that while "Asian-American representation within the University is higher than that nation-wide, these students do not represent Asian-American communities throughout the country." Such a philosophy would advocate a dangerous alteration in the traditional objective of affirmative action from an emphasis upon correcting for underrepresentation to one focusing upon misrepresentation. Furthermore, this argument is difficult to take seriously in that no ethnic, racial or regional group in the nation is fairly represented at Harvard with regard to socioeconomic status. One would, for example, be hard put to find a group more misrepresented at Harvard than white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Contrary to the impression that might be gained by glancing through a Harvard Yearbook, the typical American WASP does not reside in Oyster Bay, N.Y. or Lake Forest, Illinois. Yet surely the Crimson does not mean to include WASPs in its definition of minorities deserving special University recruitment attention.

The final Crimson argument concerns the psychological burdens placed upon Asian-American students at Harvard as evidence of their minority and disadvantaged predicament. However, the case can well be made that an incoming freshman from Ada, Oklahoma or Roundup, Montana faces much greater cultural shock and value conflicts than a Japanese-American from San Francisco or New York. Obstacles such as these should best be overcome by the concerted efforts of groups such as the organization for Asian-American students working in conjunction with the University to ease the assimilation of all incoming students into Harvard life.

In the same issue as the editorial, the Crimson also carries a story depicting the use of Nathan Glazer's book Affirmative Discrimination as a tool of anti-busing and other seemingly reactionary forces. The book, which effectively documents some of the excesses and contradictions of affirmative action programs, should serve as a warning to those who attempt to expand the scope of these programs, such as Harvard's to an extent that they become laughable--but much worse--legitimately vulnerable to the criticisms of those who would have them dismantled altogether.

David A. Karnes '79

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