Anti-Asian Discrimination in College Admissions


Have you heard of the saying “history always repeats itself?”.  Although America is one of the most liberal and open nations in the world, it still is guilty of not learning from its past. While a problem may turn up again in different forms, the root of the problem still remains. The cycle of racism seems to never end in this country, and it will forever continue unless we educate the population and show them that discrimination ultimately hurts a society rather than strengthens it.  Too bad today’s education system also discriminates, right?

The Problem and My Interest in It:

Currently, controversy surrounds top Ivy League colleges like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton for their alleged discrimination against Asian Americans in admissions. When I first heard about anti-Asian discrimination in colleges, I immediately thought back to the Chinese Exclusion Act and Angel Island. The way Asians have obstacles to get into colleges is in a way just like how the the United States government put restrictions on Chinese immigration in the 19th century. My grandfather had to go through Angel Island as a teenager, and it was a grueling experience for him. He had to sail on a boat for weeks from China, just to arrive in a land where he wasn’t necessarily welcome. The current-day issue of Asian discrimination definitely applies to me, as I am an Asian-American in high-school who not long from now will apply to college, and it reminds me how I may have to go the extra mile in order to get into a school I’m qualified for. It is a little hard for me to grasp why I possibly have a disadvantage in college admissions; I have had many conversations with my mother, and she has said that there is more to it than just blatant racism. Colleges use a process that tries to creating a diverse learning environment, and I should gain a fuller picture of how this system works. If it turns out I do not get into certain colleges that are purported to hold this bias against Asians, then I will at least have a good understanding why. 

The Past:

In 1848, gold was discovered in California; the news quickly spread to Asia, attracting the attention of many Chinese in poverty. These Chinese journeyed to the American west coast to seek prosperity that they could not achieve in their homeland. They were welcomed at first as a new source of labor for California. However, the Chinese quickly became the target of discrimination, as “gold-seekers”, or Americans who migrated from the east coast, accused them of stealing their fortune (Norton). The Americans began to pressure the federal government into limiting the rights of the Chinese.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, which established a “temporary moratorium on Chinese labor immigration,” marking the first time the U.S. denied the entry of a specific foreign group (Chinese Exclusion Act 1882). This act also affected the Chinese who were already in America, as they all had to obtain a certificate for re-entry into the country. The act was extended another ten years after it expired in 1892, and Chinese immigration continued to be regulated until the 1920s (Chinese Exclusion Act). One way the government controlled Chinese immigration was the establishment of Angel Island.  


                                                                      (Yellow Peril)                                         ( The positives and negatives in the U.S. during 1880-1920)                         (Chinese Exclusion Act)

These pictures are a variety of propaganda that angry Americans used to sway the population into scapegoating the Chinese for all of their problems

The immigration station on Angel Island was built in 1910, which was known for overseeing the immigration of thousands of Chinese and Japanese (Su). After the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, a loophole was found: any Chinese who could prove their citizenship by means of “paternal lineage’” would be admitted into America (Su). Many of these who were allowed to come to America had to pass through Angel Island first. Within 30 years, as many as 175,000 Chinese were detained in Angel Island for up to six months (Su). While they waited to be identified as  legal immigrants, the Chinese lived in bad conditions, with few working toilets and cramped spaces. Angel Island overall was a brutal and somewhat futile process for immigrants, with harsh living conditions and long waiting times. Some unfortunately were even deported back to China if they did not have the proper papers (Su).  Thus, the Chinese had to meet a higher bar than other groups in order to enter the U.S.


                              ( H.M. Lai, Detained on Angel Island)                                                             (Ying Diao, Echos of History)

To the left is a picture of young Chinese men getting inspected on Angel Island, and to the Right is an outside view of one of the barracks

Today’s struggle:

As stated above, Asians still face discrimination, one source arguably being admission into certain colleges. Specifically, many Ivy league colleges and other prestigious institutions are being accused for adding quotas to the number of Asian Americans allowed in. Harvard University, one of the most prestigious Ivy League schools in America, is being sued by a group of Asian Americans claiming racial bias in the college’s application process. Backed by their policy on affirmative action (which supposedly helps minorities to combat discrimination in jobs, education, etc), Harvard argues, “[I]f [our school] wants to achieve true diversity, it must pay some attention to the numbers… abandoning race-conscious admissions would diminish the ‘excellence’ of a Harvard education”(Hartocollis and Saul). Currently, Harvard’s class of 2021 is 14.6% African American, 22.2% Asian, 11.6% Hispanic, and 2.5% Native American and Pacific Islander (Hartocollis and Saul). When comparing the numbers to UC’s, like UCLA and UC Berkeley, where it is illegal to add quotas for certain races in admissions, the percentage of Asians jumps to above 30% (Hartocollis and Saul). While the Asian admission ratings of these state colleges are rising, private Ivy-league institutions are limiting how many Asians they will let into their doors. Asians are undervalued and held to unfair standards by these colleges, and this bias needs to be changed. What’s more, even though statistically Asians are not gaining the number of admissions they are qualified for, some blame Asians for having an “advantage” over other races. According to an article in The Harvard Crimson written by Asian student Christina Qiu, “Anjali Enjet, who penned an essay on a neighborhood [in Johns Creek, Georgia]… [found] white neighbors [who made] statements [like], ‘Asian parents take their kids for extra tutoring. It’s not fair for the ‘regular’ kids,’ and, ‘My kids won’t get into a good college because of all of the Asians’”(Qiu). It is truly a lose- lose situation for Asian Americans, and while many are advocating for an unbiased admission process, a solution that satisfies everyone is hard to accomplish. There are many moral values that have to be weighed as well as the legal issues, and the path to please everyone is yet to be found. Overall, the college admissions process is quite flawed, but it is not yet clear how to fix it.



     (“最高法院门口示威照片”, Asian American Coalition for Education)                                                     (Chris Fuchs)

Above are pictures of a protest outside the Supreme Court in Washington, fighting for equal college admittance in Ivy League Colleges, and below is a video on Asian American College Students and their take on Affirmative Action:

      (Asian Americans weigh in on Affirmative Action)

My Thoughts and Experiences:

For addressing Asian discrimination in college admissions, I was able to come up with one solution: Currently, Asians have a harder time getting into the top colleges of the US, having to get higher test scores than other ethnic groups. Some go as far as changing their last name so they don’t appear Asian on their college application. I believe that we should educate families on colleges and their almost fiendish procedures of tricking thousands of people into applying to them. In my opinion and my parents’ opinions, Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Princeton have too much power. Just a couple days ago, I got a letter from Princeton which asked me to “consider them” as one of my colleges picks to apply to. According to, Princeton only has a seven percent acceptance rate, and they really want me? I quickly realized that they don’t actually have an open spot waiting for me to take, as  I am not one of the best students in the country and I don’t believe that I am fit to go to one of the “best” schools, but they want me to apply anyways so their application percentages will go up and they can collect more application money. Others who are not as aware of this marketing ploy may fall for this ruse and think they have a chance of getting into a college like Princeton, only to get shattered when they get rejected a some time later. To help combat this problem, I encourage you to educate parents that you don’t have to go to the top colleges to be happy and prosperous. There are hundreds of colleges in the United States alone, and a handful of exclusive colleges should not be getting a vast number of applications if they are only going to accept a minuscule amount. Many (Asian) students aren’t meant for these elite colleges anyways, but society pressures them into thinking that they will only be successful if they get in. I myself have felt this pressure and it has created much anxiety for me. If we can take the power away from these colleges and even perhaps stop applying to them (I understand if you are against this), then Asians won’t have to feel the negative effects of applying in the first place. Finally, the more we talk about it, the more ingrained it will be in people’s minds, and maybe we can get more Asian American content into the history books so that in the future the same discrimination doesn’t resurface again (This doesn’t just apply to Asians, but all minorities. The more we talk about an issue about racism and prejudice, the more we can learn from it). 

Interactive Survey: What is Most Important in College Admissions?

Feedback Survey: What Did You Think About My Website?

Works Cited:

“最高法院门口示威照片.” Asian American Coalition for Education,

“Asian-Americans Weigh in on Affirmative Action.” Winsdor Star, 10 July 2013,


“Chinese Exclusion Act.” Samanthahertzog, 25 Apr. 2016,


“Chinese Exclusion Act (1882).” Our Documents – Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), National Archives and

Records Administration, 1989,


“Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882.” Center On Congress, 2011,



Fuchs, Chris. “Complaint Filed Against Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown Alleging Discrimination.”, NBCUniversal News Group,


Hartocollis, Anemona, and Stephanie Saul. “Affirmative Action Battle Has a New Focus: Asian-Americans.” 

The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Aug. 2017,



Kahan, Michael. “Angel Island’s Dark History | Perspectives | Perspectives.” KQED, KQED

Radio, 31 Jan. 2017,


Lai, H.M. “FoundSF.” Detained on Angel Island – FoundSF,


Norton, Henry Kittredge. “The Chinese.” Gold Rush and Anti-Chinese Race Hatred – 1849, Virtual

Museum of San-Francisco,


Qiu, Chistina m. “Asian Americans Are Not Tools | Opinion.” The Harvard Crimson, Harvard

University, 4 Aug. 2017,


Su, John. “About Angel Island.” Modern American Poetry, Angel Island Association, 1997,


“The Postives And Negatives In The U.S During 1880 1920 – Lessons – Tes Teach.” Tes Teach with Blendspace,


“Top 100 – Colleges with Lowest Acceptance Rates for 2018.” Top 100 College with Lowest Acceptance Rates,


“Yellow Peril.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Mar. 2018,


Ying Diao Comments. “Echoes of History: Chinese Poetry at the Angel Island Immigration Station.” Smithsonian Folklife Festival, 2 May 2017,

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  1. April 27, 2018 by Jason.Haas

    This is a very interesting project. I knew that some colleges had racial quotas, but I always thought it was meant to increase diversity, not decrease it like they are doing. Thank you for educating me on the truth of colleges’ racial discrimination.

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