Diversity and Equity in Education is the Future Southeast Asian Students Deserve

Washington, DC – SEARAC denounces the Supreme Court’s decision to roll-back the use of affirmative action in higher education. Southeast Asian American (SEAA) students, as do many other Asian American students, benefit from race-conscious affirmative action. These policies allow our students’ full potential to be seen including their experiences, backgrounds, and race.

SEAA students are uniquely impacted by systemic racial inequity leaving them overlooked and misunderstood. They are descendants of the largest refugee community ever resettled in America as survivors of war, genocide, and trauma that impact their educational outcomes. When racial data is disaggregated, it shows that SEAA students graduate at lower rates than other students. For instance, the 2010 Census shows that more than 60% of Cambodian, Lao, and Hmong Americans do not have a bachelor’s degree, as do more than 50% of Vietnamese Americans. Affirmative action policies allow schools to take these students’ experiences into consideration and close the college gap in our communities. SEARAC’s executive director and board respond to the decision below:

“My family’s experience as refugees has shaped our lives. My parents risked their lives to be free including the freedom to learn. For Southeast Asian communities, that freedom to learn comes from inclusive and equitable education policies that take into consideration the trauma and scars we carry across generations,” said Quyên Đinh, executive director of SEARAC. “We condemn this decision that ignores the barriers to education we face. We will continue to fight for policies that help Southeast Asian students, including the right to be seen through disaggregated data and ethnic studies. With communities across the country, we will fight for a future where every individual, regardless of their life circumstances, can thrive and succeed.”

“Sharing my identity as a first generation Montagnard student in my application to UNC-Chapel Hill was pivotal in honoring my identity and the challenges that my family and I faced as refugees from Vietnam,” said Phun H, SEARAC communications associate. “The Court’s decision would have seriously limited my alma mater from seeing the full scope of my story, including the real impacts of the racist barriers my family faced. My hope is that, no matter what, my community can continue to tell our narratives and join the fight to increase high-quality education opportunities for all students.” 

“SEARAC remains committed to promoting and preserving educational opportunities for students of color. As a Hmong American, my identity as a refugee from Southeast Asia is an inherently racialized experience,” said Kabo Yang, SEARAC board chair. “We, like the 69% of Asian voters who support the use of race in admissions, know the value of diversity. SEARAC joins with other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and marginalized communities and remains committed to equity and diversity in education.”

“As a first generation college student, I saw first hand the obstacles that many Cambodian American youth face in accessing higher education,” said Seng So, SEARAC board member. “Our community will not be divided or weaponized by modern-day segregationists and opponents of progress. We call upon higher education institutions to act swiftly to strengthen all efforts, including outreach and recruitment initiatives, to underrepresented communities; so that all students, regardless of their backgrounds, feel welcomed, valued, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives.”

Mike Hoa Nguyen, PhD, SEARAC board member & assistant professor of education at New York University stated, “Race is inextricably linked to our identities. SCOTUS’ decision does not prevent students from uplifting and sharing their lived experiences in their college admissions essays. And we urge prospective SEAA college applicants to continue sharing stories of their inherited refugee and immigrant legacies. As advocates of education equity, we remain steadfast in our support for policies that will expand opportunity for Southeast Asian American youth.”

“In order to undo racial inequalities in educational opportunity, we need solutions that address race and racism head on, like affirmative action,” said Roseryn Bhudsabourg, SEARAC board member. “And our efforts can’t stop there. We need to invest far more in our school systems so that Southeast Asian American students, and all students of color, have a high quality education – at every level and no matter what path they choose to take. I am a proud alumna of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute (APALI) at De Anza College. My community college uplifted my identity as a Thai-Lao American, and this empowered me to accomplish so much to give back to my communities in California. SEARAC remains committed to ensuring that our public schools, colleges, and universities cherish and value Southeast Asian American students’ identities and histories.”

Read more about the experiences of Southeast Asian students in SEARAC’s and IHEP’s “Everyone Deserves to be Seen” report. For additional information about Southeast Asian Americans, you can read SEARAC and Advancing Justice – Los Angeles’ “Southeast Asian American Journeys” report.

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!

Statement: SEARAC Remains Committed to Affirmative Action and Race-Conscious College Admissions Policies

Washington, DC—SEARAC is disappointed with the recent decision of the US Department of Justice to support anti-affirmative action plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against Harvard University. The filing falsely claims that Harvard’s admissions process discriminates against Asian American students in favor of less-qualified candidates from other racial backgrounds through the use of illegal quotas. The lawsuit is orchestrated by white conservative Ed Blum—who has spent decades dismantling minority protections—and his anti-affirmative action Students for Fair Admissions organization.
In support of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies, SEARAC has joined 35 Asian American groups and higher education faculty in an amicus brief led by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The Trump administration’s attacks on affirmative action rob our education system of America’s rich diversity,” said Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of SEARAC. “Equitable solutions like affirmative action are critical to eliminating deep and persistent gaps in educational attainment, as admissions criteria like test scores are frequently shaped by socioeconomic and racial privileges. Policies like affirmative action and holistic review that consider broad indicators of college readiness are not just ways to achieve individual success. They work toward racial and social justice for entire communities. We cannot allow our community’s voices to be manipulated to deprive others of educational access and opportunity.”
SEARAC has written previously on affirmative action’s equalizing benefits for students of color, including Southeast Asian American students. Census data shows 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 is a vital policy that supports education equity by uplifting a broad range of student experiences as a valid and authentic way to gauge one’s potential for academic success. 
Read SEARAC Executive Director Quyen Dinh’s essay on how comprehensive admissions policies helped her become the first in her family to earn a college degree as a low-income Vietnamese American child of refugees.

Media Miss the Mark on Southeast Asian American Students and Impact of Affirmative Action

Washington, D.C.-SEARAC is disappointed at the misleading coverage from leading news outlets on a recent lawsuit that was filed against Harvard University by a small group of Asian American students. The students argue they were denied admission to the school due to their race.

Rather than reporting on the various perspectives of the case, these articles focus on the plaintiffs’ accusations and fail to make known that Asian Americans by and large are in favor of race-conscious college admissions policies.

Looking past the problematic news reporting, SEARAC is particularly concerned about the arguments made by the plaintiffs, who allege that Asian Americans are hurt by affirmative action. Contrary to their claims, we know these race-conscious policies help our communities.

Southeast Asian Americans today continue to face extreme challenges to attaining a college education. The 2010 U.S. Census showed that more than 60% of Cambodian, Lao, and Hmong Americans lack a bachelor’s degree, as do more than 50% of Vietnamese Americans.

Our SEAA youth encounter tremendous educational barriers that are systemic: we grow up in low-income neighborhoods and attend low-resourced schools that prevent students from being prepared for college.

Therefore, Southeast Asian Americans and students of color benefit from affirmative action policies that look beyond test scores and that consider multiple factors when determining their potential. One such quality is resilience in overcoming racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic obstacles. Our SEAA youth’s resilience contributes to their ability to succeed in higher education, and to enrich the learning experience of all students.

“We will not allow our community’s voices to be silenced or manipulated, ” said Quyen Dinh, executive director of Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC). “Equitable education solutions like affirmative action enable racial and social justice for all. SEARAC will monitor this case and stand united with the vast majority of our community members and other communities of color.”