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Texas and SFFA: Right Problems, Wrong Solutions

By Jacqueline S. Chea
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

On March 30, the state of Texas filed an amicus brief supporting the anti-affirmative action group Student for Fair Admissions in its latest attempt to have its twice-lost lawsuit challenging Harvard’s admissions process retried. The filing, put out by the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, emphatically supports SFFA’s call for the Supreme Court to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, a landmark 2003 case that sanctioned affirmative action.

Students for Fair Admissions, which first filed suit against Harvard in 2014, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 25 to review a pair of lower court rulings that decided in favor of Harvard’s use of race in admissions and, conversely, against SFFA’s assertion that the College illegally discriminates against Asian American applicants. This assertion is the lever by which SFFA aims to dismantle affirmative action nationwide.

While we are disappointed by Texas joining SFFA’s ongoing assault on race-conscious admissions, we are not at all surprised by it. In less than five years, SFFA has led two unsuccessful challenges (one which the Supreme Court did weigh in on) against the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions process. Now, having failed to dismantle affirmative action within the state of Texas, SFFA has shifted its focus to Harvard. Ken Paxton, for whom this cause hits geographically and ideologically close to home, has naturally and opportunely hopped on the bandwagon.

Inevitably, this move by Ken Paxton — which is by no means out of character — cannot be taken at face value. The Texas attorney general has a penchant for intervening in national lawsuits and making dangerous and dubious legal claims. This past December, Paxton was involved in a lawsuit challenging U.S. presidential election results in four battleground states. The high-profile, toothless case was quickly thrown away by the conservative-majority Supreme Court, which affirmed that Texas had no standing to bring about the case in the first place. To that end, Paxton’s history of intervening in affairs in which he has no business or basis for involvement makes it difficult to take his current claims all that seriously.

Beyond that, Paxton’s decision to write an amicus brief in support of SFFA seems likely driven by his own political incentives. Opposition to affirmative action has long stood as a rallying point within our nation’s culture wars, and it has thus been wielded by politicians to generate political fervor and energy amongst Republicans. Paxton’s current support of SFFA positions him at the heart of such cultural tides, and clearly maps onto this time-tested and troubling political tact. To that end, Texas’s support for SFFA proves nothing about the veracity of the lawsuit. Instead, it seems to embody a self-motivated attempt to energize supporters by giving credence to a voice that weaponizes the very real racism endured by Asian Americans, while simultaneously furthering a nefarious agenda that seeks to upend affirmative action.

In the wake of last month’s shootings in Atlanta, we find SFFA’s exploitation of Asian American narratives to be particularly egregious. Using Asian American students as a token minority to advance the claim that race-conscious admissions are not only unnecessary but harmful perpetuates the model minority myth — a societal fabrication that not only characterizes other minority racial groups as less capable than Asian Americans but also blatantly paints the Asian American community as inherently successful and devoid of struggle. This myth has contributed to the time-tested, troubling silence on anti-Asian racism that continues to pervade our society — and in reinforcing this myth, SFFA is inevitably fueling the flames of a troubling blend of societal oversight and hatred that has proven to be not only depraved, but deadly.

Portraying affirmative action as uniformly damaging to Asian American students also perpetuates further disenfranchisement of Asian Americans who don’t fit the model minority stereotype. Indeed, the Asian American community’s relationship to affirmative action varies greatly along socioeconomic lines — for instance, sub-groups at a greater systemic disadvantage, such as Southeast Asians who arrived as refugees, often directly benefit from affirmative action. In light of rising attacks on Asian Americans due to this same dangerous monolithic characterization and erasure, we all must pay greater attention to the varied experiences of Asian Americans in this country — including their relationship to higher education.

Texas and SFFA have posited themselves as allies in identifying the wrong solutions to the right problems. If the state of Texas is truly worried about college accessibility, perhaps it should focus on improving its own internal, bleeding education system — the state ranks 43rd nationally in educational attainment — rather than hollowly casting the admissions processes of another college over a thousand miles away. And if SFFA is truly worried about racism in higher education, perhaps it should stop contributing to it.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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