DOJ Singles Out Southeast Asian Students in Attack on Race-Conscious Admissions

For immediate release
October 16, 2020

Media contact:
Elaine Sanchez Wilson
(202) 601-2970

Washington, DC – On Thursday, Oct. 8, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Yale University after Yale refused to end its race-conscious admissions policy. The complaint specifically excludes Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese students from the DOJ’s definition of Asian American students in an effort to establish a manipulative narrative proposing that affirmative action disenfranchises Asian students. The complaint simultaneously ignores the myriad of other ways that connected and wealthy students enter Yale. SEARAC condemns the DOJ’s continued efforts to dismantle affirmative action and its continued usage of Asian American students as a tool to dismantle a cornerstone civil rights policy.

Yale alumnus and former SEARAC immigration intern Trinh Q. Truong arrived to Utica, NY—called by the United Nations as “the city that loves refugees”—at the age of 3 as a refugee in 2001. Attending the local, underfunded public school system, Trinh graduated valedictorian of her class and went on to Yale, where, using full, need-based financial aid support, she earned a BA in political science and a certificate in human rights studies through Yale Law School. “As a first-generation, low-income Vietnamese American refugee student who attended Yale University, I brought unique perspectives to classroom and campus discussions,” said Trinh, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in refugee and forced migration studies at the University of Oxford after spending a year after graduation in Cambodia on a research fellowship. “The DOJ’s exclusion of Southeast Asian students, whose communities experience disparate socioeconomic outcomes, reveals that its lawsuit against Yale is not about achieving racial justice, but rather about reinforcing the “Model Minority” stereotype and existing educational inequalitiesThe DOJ is not the arbiter of my Asian heritage.

A recent study by UC Berkeley found that California’s ban on race-based affirmative action reduced applications and access to educational opportunities for minority students while providing no substantial increase in white and Asian American applications and educational access. These findings suggest that college admissions is not a zero-sum game for Asian American students. Additionally, the fact that the DOJ had to erase SEAAs from its idea of “Asian American” demonstrates that affirmative action does indeed help Asian American students. Southeast Asian students continue to have a significantly lower percentage of individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to the American population, white students, and the aggregated Asian population. According to data from the 2019 American Community Survey, 34% of white and 54% of Asians have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 23% of Cambodian, 24% of Hmong, 17% of Laotian, and 33% of Vietnamese Americans.
“The Trump Administration continues to manipulate and exploit Asian Americans in an attempt to dismantle programs aimed at expanding educational opportunities for all students,” said Katrina Dizon Mariategue, acting executive director of SEARAC. “This lawsuit mischaracterizes the qualifications of students of color without properly addressing the actual systemic educational inequities that Asian American students face, including Southeast Asian American students. Rather than find solutions to these barriers, the Administration has doubled down on its efforts to block schools from considering the full experiences of applicants, including their race, which significantly shape their lives. We urge the Department of Justice to withdraw the suit and for the Administration to focus instead on dismantling the barriers to education faced by students of color.”
The California ban on race-based affirmative action programs continues to harm Southeast Asian and other minority communities. As such, Californians will be voting on Proposition 16 this November to reinstate affirmative action in employment, state contracting, and higher education. SEARAC urges Californians to vote YES on Prop 16 on their ballots this year.

Washington State Postsecondary Education Moves to Disaggregate Data

For immediate release
August 18, 2020

Media contact:
Elaine Sanchez Wilson
(202) 601-2970

Washington, DC – SEARAC commends the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) for providing student applicants with expanded options for ethnic identifiers. The identifiers critically include Southeast Asian American ethnicities that are historically unacknowledged and underrepresented in educational and economic opportunities–Hmong and Mienh, in addition to Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese. This change to disaggregate SBCTC’s student data will ensure that SEAAs are seen and supported by the 34 public community and technical colleges in Washington State, which is home to more than 126,000 SEAAs.

“Disaggregating data is a civil rights issue,” said Katrina Dizon Mariategue, acting executive director of SEARAC. “Southeast Asian American students and their educational needs and aspirations have been rendered invisible for far too long because of the persistent myth of a single ‘Asian’ group. SEARAC applauds the SBCTC for its exemplary action to improve student data and its commitment to educational equity for Southeast Asian American students and all students in Washington State.”

“I feel honored to be part of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical College (SBCTC) system in bringing us closer to our equity, diversity and inclusion goals,” said Ay Saechao, president of the Southeast Asian American Education (SEAeD) Coalition, a SEARAC partner. “As a Mienh American and also through my roles as the President of SEAeD and Dean at Highline College, I personally and professionally understand the importance of visibility and representation in increasing student learning, success, and completion for marginalized communities. A few months ago, it came to light our Southeast Asian ethnic groups – Mienh and Hmong – were not included in the list of ethnic identifiers. Our leaders from Seattle Central College (Dean Kao Lezheo and ctcLink Project Director Daniel Cordas), Highline College, and SBCTC (Ha Nguyen, Carmen McKenzie and Jan Yoshiwara) came together to address the matter swiftly and intentionally to include the two ethnic groups in our system data. I know we will continue to march forward pushing for change and initiatives that support inclusion for all of our students.”
“The Southeast Asian American community represents important ethnic and cultural diversity,” said Jan Yoshiwara, executive director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “By adding Hmong and Mienh as distinct ethnic groups in our statewide data system – ctcLink – colleges can better understand key challenges that inform how best to serve Southeast Asian students and staff. The Washington state community and technical college system leads with racial equity to maximize student potential and transform lives, and this will help us make sure we achieve our vision.”
Postsecondary data continue to fail to represent diverse communities, inhibiting efforts to support all students to learn and thrive. While the US Census Bureau reports data on at least 25 distinct, self-identified Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups, data collections at most institutions of higher education aggregate AAPI communities under a monolithic “Asian” or “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander” category. By failing to account for the unique linguistic, cultural, and historical differences that influence educational and economic outcomes and opportunities, postsecondary data mask inequities such as those experienced by SEAAs.

For more information on how policymakers and institutions of higher education can disaggregate postsecondary data, read the joint report by SEARAC and the Institute for Higher Education Policy, “Everyone Deserves To Be Seen.”

Department of Justice Again Attempts to Drive Educational Inequity for SEAA, Underrepresented Communities

Washington, DC – SEARAC condemns the Trump Administration’s ongoing attacks on affirmative action, a vital policy that reduces deep, systemic gaps in educational attainment and employment opportunity for Southeast Asian American (SEAA), Black, Latinx, and other historically marginalized communities. We challenge the administration’s latest accusation of discrimination toward Asian American and white Yale University undergraduate applicants.

“These findings are yet another politically motivated attempt by the Trump Administration to dismantle civil rights protections and, in the process, divide communities of color,” said Katrina Dizon Mariategue, acting executive director of SEARAC. “In the wake of a great uprising for racial justice that has mobilized marginalized people across the country, the Trump Administration is wielding the harmful model minority myth to undermine Black and brown communities, as well as Asian American communities including Southeast Asian Americans. We reject these divisions and refuse to allow Asian Americans to be manipulated to deny others educational access and opportunity.”

SEAAs’ refugee legacy has challenged and unfairly limited our students’ opportunities in higher education. Census data show that 68.5% of Cambodian, 66.5% of Lao, 63.2% of Hmong, and 51.1% of Vietnamese individuals have not attended college. Affirmative action acknowledges that race limits opportunities for underserved students of color, like SEAAs, because of long-standing discrmination and structural inequities in the US educational system. Race-conscious admissions policies enable institutions to consider students’ unique backgrounds and the inequities they have faced as a factor among many others that shape the whole story of who they are. These policies expand educational opportunities and infuse into classrooms the diversity of perspective and life experience that enriches the education of all students, who will shape a more inclusive, equitable America that has long been denied to communities of color.

Second Largest School District in the Country Takes Bold Steps to Disaggregate Data

Washington, DC – On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education unanimously passed the “Everyone Counts: Increasing Equity for All of Our AANHPI AMEMSA Students and Employees” resolution. The resolution, authored by Board President Mónica García, makes LAUSD the largest school district in the country to disaggregate race and ethnicity data to ensure that all communities are seen and accounted for by policymakers.

The resolution, which is the product of more than 40 community organizations working powerfully for educational justice for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) students, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) students, and all students of color, will:
  •  affirm AANHPI AMEMSA students as an important community with unique and important needs;
  • meaningfully collect and disaggregate data for all students and employees of color, including AANHPI AMEMSA students and employees;
  • establish an AANHPI AMEMSA Steering Committee for Educational Equity that issues recommendations for the implementation of the resolution;
  • provide annual updates on the state of AANHPI AMEMSA students and employees during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May) each year; and
  • advocate at the state level and with other California school districts for similar practices, especially data disaggregation, to duplicate efforts throughout California.
“Disaggregating data is a civil rights issue,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC. “Without detailed data, Southeast Asian American communities are made unseen, and our needs are ignored in critical policy decisions. SEARAC applauds the Board of Education, Board President García, and the many community advocates who fought to pass this historic civil rights milestone. We now call on LAUSD to implement the resolution fully and expediently to make educational equity a reality for all students of color.”
While our country has made significant strides in collecting data about student achievement for the major race and ethnic groups, data policies in most states and districts continue to fail to represent our diverse communities accurately. The monolithic “Asian” or “Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander” categories gloss over the immense variation in outcomes for different AANHPI ethnic groups, such as for Southeast Asian Americans (SEAAs). In the aggregate, only 14% of Asian American adults have less than a high school diploma. However, disaggregated data show that 34% of Cambodian, 30% of Hmong, 30% of Lao, and 28% of Vietnamese American adults have less than a high school diploma – twice the percentage or more of Asian Americans overall.
California is home to more than 1 million SEAAs, including more than 764,000 Vietnamese Americans, more than 118,000 Cambodian Americans, more than 101,000 Hmong Americans, and nearly 83,000 Laotian Americans. LAUSD alone educates 85,000 students-or 18% of the district-who are AANHPI. This incredible diversity underscores the absolute importance for education data to reflect all communities accurately. SEARAC thanks the LAUSD Board of Education and strongly urges districts nationwide to follow in its steps.


Elaine Sanchez Wilson
(202) 601-2970 /

SEARAC Joins AAPI Groups in Support of University of North Carolina’s Race-Concious Admissions Policies

Washington, DC – The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) alongside Asian Americans Advancing Justice and more than 60 Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups and 25 professors, with Fox Rothschild LLP filed an amicus brief earlier this week in support of race-conscious holistic admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Participants in this brief whole-heartedly attest that race-conscious admissions policies result in more equitable and integrated universities and enhance the educational experiences of all students.
This amicus brief opposes the lawsuit filed by conservative activist Ed Blum and his group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) to end race-conscious admissions at universities. In its briefing, SFFA suggests that in addition to whites, Asian Americans are also supposedly disadvantaged by UNC’s race-conscious admissions policy.
“SEARAC proudly stands with our AAPI community members today, to once again state our resounding support for race-concious admission policies that work toward racial and social justice for all students,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director at SEARAC. “Southeast Asian American students, like many students of color, continue to face systemic barriers to accessing post-secondary education. Instead of eliminating race-concious admissions policies that work to combat education inequity in institutes of higher learning, we must support these policies that rightly urge colleges to evaluate students holistically.”
The consideration of race in university admissions, one of many factors in the admissions process, has been critical for many schools to understand fully an applicant’s background and experiences beyond test scores.
“The data show that these policies help all students of color, including Asian Americans,” said Dr. OiYan Poon, assistant professor of Higher Education and director of the Race & Intersectional Studies for Educational Equity (RISE Center) at Colorado State University. “Removing the consideration of race in admissions would hurt the most marginalized of AAPI students and be detrimental to the educational climate and environment, from which all students benefit.”
Race-conscious admissions policies have been credited with negating the inherent racial biases of other admission factors, such as SAT/ACT scores. They are also a factor in creating more diverse student bodies on university campuses that more closely reflect regional or national demographics. Studies show that colleges and universities that reach the highest levels of diversity have fewer incidents of racial hostility. Students report having a more positive learning experience in schools with race-conscious admissions processes.
“Removing the consideration of race at UNC would be a disservice to all communities of color, including the diverse AAPI subgroups in North Carolina,” said Chavi Khanna Koneru, executive director of North Carolina Asian Americans Together. “Our state is home to significant ethnic minority communities from Southeast Asia who experience varying economic and educational barriers. Saying that Asian Americans are not underrepresented minorities at UNC only obscures the needs of underrepresented Asian Americans.”
“The growing Southeast Asian community in our state is not a monolith; each student deserves the holistic review long prized by our state’s flagship university,” said Matthew Nis Leerberg, North Carolina-based partner at national law firm Fox Rothschild LLP.  “We are proud to have had the opportunity to work alongside Asian Americans Advancing Justice to speak for that community on an issue critical to the future of our state and the nation.”

SEARAC stands firmly in support of UNC, race-conscious admissions policies, and all students of color. We will continue to fight alongside other communities of color for greater equity and justice in this country.


SEARAC advocates for affirmative action and data disaggregation, but what do these two policies entail?

We’ve broken them down in this brand-new education fact sheet. Have a look and learn more!

Data Disaggregation Versus Affirmative Action

This fact sheet examines the differences between data disaggregation and affirmative action, two policies that SEARAC supports.

Click here to access.











Life lessons

I learned to speak English twice a week during pull-out ESL lessons. It didn’t matter that I missed part of Kindergarten for it. I didn’t understand what was happening in the general classroom anyway.

By the next year, I was flipping through English chapter books. My mom majored in Korean literature and taught language arts, and she knew the success to learning was through the first “R,” Reading—even in this new country whose libraries and letters were foreign to her.

By 4th grade, my mom struggled to get me to read—but not in English. She used all of her instructional tactics on me. She made lesson plans, assigned me homework, made flash cards for Korean words and grammar. She had flown here with volumes of Korean histories and biographies and folk tales that she imagined I would read when I grew older, but I wouldn’t touch them. The letters looked weird (why were they so square?!). Instead, I buried myself in the adventures of children with names like Harry, Ramona, or the Baudelaires. Adventures written in letters that were once unknown to me.

Years later in college, I taught civics once a week to 8th graders as a volunteer. Three of my students did not speak English, while a fourth tried in vain to translate my haphazard lessons for them into Spanish. I couldn’t reach them—nor could their actual teachers. Like my teachers, including my mother, couldn’t reach me.

They cemented my commitment to learners. My education happened simultaneously, divergently, combatively, at school, home—in the pages of print I made my friends when I had few in humans. School was a site of contention, as was home. They didn’t talk to each other, they couldn’t talk to each other, and I doubt they respected each other too. When I led a classroom for the first time, I didn’t want a space of learning to be that way for anyone else, but that’s what happened, and, at the time, I didn’t know enough or possessed the training to have prevented that.

I’m at SEARAC now because I want to help change this. I want schools to be sites of contention because that’s what learning entails—learning is challenging ideas and growing from it—but not because schools cannot or blatantly refuse to teach students who aren’t “easy.” I’m at SEARAC because there shouldn’t have to be a tradeoff between the cultures and norms that young people embody at school and those they embody at home. I’m here because I fight for the rights of all students—English language learners, immigrant learners, refugee learners, low-income students, and students of color—who are unjustly unseen and underserved.

Anna Byon is SEARAC’s new Education Policy Advocate. To contact her, e-mail