Successful Victimology

Two years ago, a student named Jian Li was rejected at Princeton, Harvard, and MIT despite stellar grades, scores, and so on. He was accepted at Yale and Cal Tech, and matriculated at Yale. But for what he says were “kind of arbitrary” reasons, he decided to sue Princeton for racial discrimination, claiming that it rejected him because he’s Asian American.

Well, boo-hoo, Mr. Li. First of all, what harm have you suffered? In your own mind, perhaps you saw yourself as a Tiger and not an Eli, but that’s not relevant. You claim to want to make the case for Asian Americans, but if you look at the Ivies’ acceptance rates (7.2% this past year) you’ll realize that everyone is “discriminated against” no matter what their makeup or grades and scores.

This is old news now, I guess, but it reminds me of the U of Michigan cases and others where students sue because they aren’t accepted, basing their cases on anti-discrimination principles. But that’s what college and graduate school admission is, isn’t it? It’s all about discrimination, if you remember to think of its basic meaning of making distinctions among many choices. And it’s not the same thing as the nasty discrimination that has surrounded county clubs, board rooms and so on in ways that prevent certain groups, despite their demonstrated talents, from participating fully in society. If you don’t get into Princeton and “have to” go to Yale, is that harmful?

Having been on the admission side of things at a highly competitive college, I know that admission committees bend over backwards to consider every aspect of students’ lives when they apply. Unlike the bad old days of Ivy admission that Jerome Karabel describes in “The Chosen,” no one sits around and worries that Jews, or balcks, or Asians are “taking over” from “decent” white kids. Just the opposite.

So Mr. Li, it seems to me, conducted a high-profile, high-gloss form of pouting, clothing it in the mantle of fighting against discrimination. By his own admission what he did was arbitrary, so what’s the point? And since he wasn’t really harmed in any way, he doesn’t have a case. I hope by now he’s accepted his fate at Yale and will be a faithful Eli in the coming years. Or will he visit Princeton occasionally to moon over the ivied walls of Nassau Hall and, Dickens-like, sit just outside the gates of the University wanting more?

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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