Life, Liberty, Pursuit of — the Unattainable?

By Na Kyung


I have a goal.

And while effort and perseverance can help, that is not enough to guarantee success for someone like me.

Since Affirmative Action took place in universities, a certain race has been reaping its consequences. Although it has increased chances of admission for certain races in prestigious schools who generally have a different socioeconomic background who do not receive many opportunities, is it worth rejecting seemingly overqualified applicants?

Everyone wants to give themselves a better chance at life, better opportunities that can give them a push in achieving their dreams. Getting into a prestigious university like Harvard is how some people measure and receive validation for their diligence.

In 2014, the Students for Fair Admissions filed an affirmative action based lawsuit against Harvard University over Harvard admissions allegedly having higher academic standards and lower personality ratings for Asians. Although the most recent class of 2022 has seen the minorities become the majority, with only 46% of the total demographic being white – a big improvement from past years – it still seems as if Harvard is purposefully balancing out their demographics based on their ideal standards as opposed to merit.

Screen Shot 2019-07-18 at 8.33.03 AMJessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

So what is Harvard’s reasoning behind rejecting overqualified Asians who generally have higher academic achievement?

Harvard’s spokeswoman Rachel Dane claims that Harvard always strives for diversity: geographically, socioeconomically, and racially. It is simple to see why diversity is essential in this type of environment where different backgrounds, life experiences and perspectives share and gain knowledge from each other. 

However, assuming that lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom such as personal likeability, a criteria that Harvard assesses during the admissions process, are more applicable to African-American and Latino students is incorrect. This is shown through Asian-Americans’ personal ratings as opposed to African-Americans, a minority that benefits from affirmative action, with 20% of the former receiving the highest personability score possible compared to the latter: a staggering 41%.

All of this stems from certain stereotypes that are embedded into our lives. Typically, Asians are perceived to be studious, unsociable, and independent. Though that is often the case, many Asians are opposite of what they seem, or portrayed to be like. 

Instead of achievements and recommendations by paper, which is near impossible to make a judgement call on their personability about, what needs to be considered is the possibility that some Asians are what admission officers would call “likeable.”

Personally, I would argue that I am more extroverted and positive than what Asians are delineated as, and not academically superior. That doesn’t mean that my personality will be seen by people reading my application on paper.

Recently I applied to STAR, a Student Administrative Representative program at school. Although at our school, I do not feel discriminated against for being Asian, while I was filling the form, I realised that the teacher representatives judging my application will not be able to truly see my personality and traits that make me stand out as a leader.

If personality is hard to be judged on paper, imagine what it would feel like to know that your race, something you cannot control, might restrict you. The penalization of a whole race, or even a person in general because of stereotypes that are associated with them is unfair. The clichéd ideas that govern society is a flawed system that does not recognize an individual as one but as part of a group.

Especially Asian cultural values, which are different than Western ones, should be accepted as different but not lesser than. The emphasis Asian people put on their diligence, hard work, and perseverance should be acknowledged, instead of turning it into something that makes them seem less personable, and a hindrance to achieving goals.

This American standard, that places a preconceived idea of a race’s personability, completely goes against its own constitution: our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Works Cited

Hartocollis, Anemona. “Harvard Rated Asian-American Applicants Lower on Personality Traits, Suit Says.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 June 2018,

“The Lawsuit.” The Lawsuit, 2018,

Rinaldi, Jessica. “Affirmative Action Lawsuit against Harvard in Judge’s Hands.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 15 Feb. 2019, 4:55,

Jung, Carrie. “Harvard Discrimination Trial Ends, But Lawsuit Is Far From Over.” NPR, NPR, 2 Nov. 2018,

Reilly, Katie. “Harvard Admissions Case: These Asian-American Students Are on Opposite Sides.” Time, Time, 12 Mar. 2019,

Hurtado, Patricia. “Harvard Judge Wants to Know Where the Asian-American Victims Are.” Bloomberg.comBloomberg, 15 Feb. 2019, 2:05,