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Voices Of

Voices Of: Heidi Yap on Affirmative Action

Voices Of is a multimedia long-form interview project that explores themes and events in major news through conversations with average people affected by policy. For more information about Voices Of, read our letter from the editors here.

Heidi is a current high school senior from Westborough, Massachusetts. She identifies as Filipino-Chinese.

The Politic: Harvard is currently facing a lawsuit over its admission process in the Boston Federal District Court. Students for Fair Admission, a group of Asian American students who were rejected by Harvard, filed the suit claiming that Harvard discriminates against Asian American applicants in its admissions process. As a current college applicant, have you been following the case? How has it affected conversations with friends, classmates, family, or guidance counselors?

Heidi Yap: I’ve heard about the lawsuit, but I don’t really know much about it; I just know that there are some Asian Americans who are filing a lawsuit against Harvard…. I’ve heard a lot of rumors about what Harvard does, but I don’t really know if any of it is true. I heard they rank Asians as having worse personalities, but I don’t know if that true. I’ve mostly just talked about it with friends when we’re figuring out what colleges to apply to…. People talk about how, “Oh, I wish I was a certain other race,” because [they] definitely think that colleges prefer minorities. I know that definitely because of affirmative action, they want more representation of different races, but none of [that] has affected where I’m applying.

How has race and identity played a role in your own college application process?

I don’t think it affected how I wrote my application. I think I kind of just wrote about how I really am, and hopefully [colleges] see that, and they don’t [let] my race …affect everything. [Though] I guess there is one way that [race] affected [my choices:]  the application asks what race you are, and I answered Asian, but then it asks more specifically, and I chose to write Filipino rather than Chinese, because I feel like they look at Chinese people as more boring and typical.

Normally, elite colleges are purposefully opaque about their methods of evaluating applications, but throughout the trial many documents relating to Harvard’s admission process have been made public. Have you used this newly available information while completing your own applications?

I haven’t read about that. I’ve only barely heard about this lawsuit, so it hasn’t been something that I’ve looked at or that’s helped me.

Harvard has defended its use of race a factor in admissions as essential to the creation of a diverse student body, which the institution says is an important part of the educational experience they hope to provide for students. As you’ve looked at colleges, is campus diversity something you’ve thought about?

For each of the colleges I’ve applied to, I’ve looked at their diversity. I definitely think [it’s] is good thing, because it’s good to be able to be exposed to different cultures and not have friends of only one race. To me, I don’t think that race is really something that should affect who you are, but I do know that being exposed to different cultures can lead to many good things. At the same time, I think [diversity is] a difficult subject, because I don’t think that [colleges] should let race affect whether they accept you: it’s just a matter of [how] you’re born.

As a college applicant, do you have faith that you will be evaluated fairly? What, if anything, would you like to see change?

I think I have faith that I’ll be evaluated fairly, and I think most colleges have enough information about me to make that decision. I guess it depends on the college; I definitely like the colleges that have more supplements that let you showcase your personality. The activity section doesn’t let you write that much: you have something like a hundred characters to write about each activity and obviously each is worth so much more than that. Colleges that have a lot of applicants just don’t have time to really read through every application. I don’t think that my application could be judged completely fairly for every single college, but I do think that a lot of the colleges that do include the personal statement and the supplement will be able to look at my application fairly because they have enough information about who I am.

The plaintiffs submitted as evidence their own investigation of Harvard’s admissions data, which showed that the school consistently rates Asian American students lower on more qualitative characteristics, like personality and leadership. Does this affect your answer?

I still believe that the holistic system is the fairest way to go. Maybe they did find that Asian Americans lacked certain qualities, but I think it all depends on each person. I think that if they ask about leadership… it will show in [a student’s] application, and it really shouldn’t depend on race. I think your personality can show through your essays and through interviews, and also the activities you do…Even if they did find a trend, it doesn’t mean that it’s the fault of Harvard admissions; it could just be an actual trend, and I don’t think [a trend] will affect my [individual] application or anyone else’s [individual] application. The trend suggested by the plaintiffs may fall in line with existing stereotypes of Asian Americans, but there will always be people who fall outside those stereotypes.