Read: The Supreme Court Justice who forever changed affirmative action
Starting today in federal district court, lawyers for a coalition of Asian American students, brought together by the conservative legal strategist Edward Blum and his group. Students for Fair Admissions, will argue that Harvard unfairly caps the number of Asian American students it admits in order to boost the enrollment of other racial groups. It will also argue that the college has not considered alternative strategies to diversify its campus.
Blum has made a career of challenging race-specific policies. He previously spearheaded a case against affirmative-action practices at the University of Texas at Austin, and before that, he instigated Shelby County v. Holder, the landmark case from 2013 that nullified pieces of the Voting Rights Act. Several students at the rally were aware of Blum and his litigious past, arguing that he is using Asian Americans as a cudgel to advance a personal agenda of ending affirmative action in higher education.
The lion’s share of students who had gathered in Harvard Square were themselves Asian American—including students and recent graduates who will testify in support of the university in court. That includes Thang Q. Diep, a senior who submitted portions of his admissions file to the court in an effort to bolster Harvard’s case.
“As an Asian American, I do not believe that Harvard’s race conscious admissions policy hurt me,” Diep wrote in a statement to the court. “I disclosed my race and I did not have stellar grades, but I was accepted to Harvard most likely based on my personal statement, which reflected the diversity that I brought to campus.”
And on Sunday, he forcefully declared why he was standing up for Harvard. “My stance on affirmative action is a general reminder to the rest of America—and especially to Edward Blum,” he said to a chorus of cheers, “that I, along with so many other Asian Americans, refuse to be tools of white supremacy, and that we stand in alliance with all communities of color.”
Diep’s argument is one that has resonated with Asian Americans: According to a survey by AAPI Data, nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans support affirmative-action policies. Yet specifically among Chinese Americans, support for the practice is substantially lower. And some three miles away, across the Charles River, another group—dominated largely by Chinese Americans—voiced their displeasure with Harvard’s policies.
Unlike the student rally, that event, held in front of the historic Trinity Church, had the markings of a professionally produced rally, such as a surround-sound speaker system, an elevated stage, and metal barriers. And rather than the signs and shirts vowing to “defend diversity,” this rally featured placards decrying affirmative action. “Discrimination in the name of diversity is wrong” was the motto of the gathering, jointly hosted by the Asian American Coalition for Education, or AACE, and Students for Fair Admissions.