Overlooked: Federal Agencies’ Failure to Address Anti-Asian Discrimination in Education

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Fairfax, Virginia, defendant in a lawsuit claiming discrimination against Asians. (NA)


My wife, Alison Somin (an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, and former special assistant at the US Commission on Civil Rights) has an article about anti-Asian discrimination in education, and how federal agencies have mostly ignored it:

What can be done to address this problem? As Alison suggests, a valuable first step would be for federal officials to deal with anti-Asian discrimination in education the same way they would with any other discrimination targeting racial minorities. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in SFFA v. Harvard is the first Supreme Court ruling to take account of anti-Asian discrimination in higher education, and will make it easier to pursue remedies against it.

In previous writings about this issue, I and others have compared today’s anti-Asian discrimination in education with anti-Semitic discrimination practiced by many elite educational institutions in the early to mid twentieth century. Recent outbreaks of anti-Semitism on campus in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war further highlight parallels between the two cases.

The distinctive left-wing version of anti-Semitism—focusing on the economic role of Jews—has some obvious parallels with left-wing rationales for anti-Asian discrimination. Both groups are stigmatized for their relatively high levels of success in education and business. Far-leftists tend to look on such success with suspicion, and this ideology has disproportionate sway in many educational institutions. On top of that, any group with a disproportionately high representation at elite schools (relative to their percentage of the population) makes it harder to achieve the goal of proportionate representation of all ethnic groups, an objective dear to hearts of many left-wing university officials.

The political right has its own awful history of both anti-Semitism and anti-Asian bigotry. But that in no way justifies the left-wing variants of these phenomena or vice versa.

As Alison notes, she is co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the Coalition for TJ case. I previously wrote about that case here and here.

Skeptics and conspiracy theorists (thought not Volokh Conspiracy theorists!) may discount what I say on this topic because my wife is involved. But, for what it’s worth, my interest in both anti-Asian discrimination in education and the more general issue of the use of “facially neutral” policies for discriminatory purposes long predates Alison’s work on the TJ case. I first became interested in these problems when I attended a high school with a large number of Asian students, in the late 1980s and early 90s (graduating in 1991). Classmates were worried about discrimination in elite-university admissions even back then.