Good Intentions With Bad Consequences: Affirmative Action

Guest post by Kush Desai

Each year, thousands of aspiring high school seniors send thousands upon thousands of college applications in to their dream schools. Laden with application fees (which alone can add up to several hundred, if not, thousand dollars), these applications are sent in with high hopes of a good education and future – and fears of outright rejection and failure.

But of the many merit-based factors that can affect a college admissions decision, from SAT scores to GPAs to extracurricular activities, none is as uncontrollable as one’s ethnicity. Statistically under-performing ethnic groups – like African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans – can receive a ‘boost’ in undergraduate admissions. Statistically over-performing ethnic groups – such as East, and, in our case particularly, South Asians – are considered more rigorously for admission.

Simply, affirmative action policies are futile attempts to correct a much bigger and complex problem. They aim to somehow establish a new equilibrium of racial representation and achievement in academics and education. How significant is affirmative action’s influence? Consider this: when Texas abolished its affirmative action policies in 1996, Texas’s prestigious Rice University’s freshman class had 46% fewer African Americans and 22% fewer Hispanic students compared to previous freshman classes ( Such jaw-dropping statistics are indicative of how important affirmative action is for many ‘under-performing’ minorities, many of whom come from poverty and otherwise difficult circumstances.

But in this otherwise virtuous and munificent undertaking, hardworking and intelligent members of ‘over-performing’ minorities are in turn discriminated against. Princeton University sociologist, Thomas Espenshade, reported in a study that while Asian applicants to prestigious universities received an admissions ‘penalty’ equivalent to about 140 points on their SATs, black and Hispanic students received an admissions boost equivalent to about 310 and 130 points, respectively, on their SATs (

We, as the Indian-American community ought to be outraged.

While I myself am a proponent of some sort of affirmative action policy, I think currently many modern affirmative action policies are outdated and ineffective. More importantly, the affirmative action policies of providing ‘boosts’ and ‘penalties’ for members of certain ethnicities deal with the results of the problem, not the problem itself. Education is a lifelong process, and one’s demographics and socioeconomic circumstances go a long way.

Consider Indian-Americans singularly, as a case example. The USINPAC website proudly reports that the median household income for Indian American families is “nearly double the median income of all American families”. Across the board, wealthier households – regardless of race – produce more educated children. They tend to live in cities and towns with better schools that can open more doors for college admissions. Wealthier households may simply have more resources available for their children’s education – SAT classes, prep books, tutors, the ability for mothers to stay home and ensure proper management of their children’s time, etc. Additionally, many Indian-American parents themselves belong to the well-educated classes of Americans, saturating career fields in medicine, research, IT, and, increasingly, finance. More educated parents are more likely to stress the importance of a good education to their children. For households who do not necessarily fit into this wealthy minority mold, Indian and Hindu culture stress the importance of and respect for education, a paradigm indicative in the Upanishads’ famous line “acharya devo bhava” or “the teacher is God”. At common cultural and religious events, Indian-American children and families are likely to associate with other Indian-Americans who are better off and who can brush off the right ideas of work and education. Many teens (including yours truly) may lament the “monkey see, monkey do” competitive mentality of their parents with regards to SATs and college admissions, but it is a social habit that has helped induce widespread educational success.

Given these circumstances, it should hardly be surprising to discover that Indian-American students are routinely competing for seats at America’s finest universities. It would be unfair to punish these students for simply being born with a leg up in the education process.

On the other hand, underrepresented minorities are typically poorest. They are often confined to reside in poorer inner-city neighborhoods. These inner-city neighborhoods’ schools – as a result of low property values – are often underfunded and ridden with issues akin to poor urban areas in every nation: gang influence, troubled family life, and the stresses of people living paycheck-to-paycheck. In many cases, high school students are forced to drop out of school and take up low wage work to help their struggling households. Unlike with Indian-American students, there is no coherent and binding cultural/religious tenet upholding the necessity of education or much – if any – association with better educated and mentoring kin. It should hardly be surprising that minorities who are often subjugated to such circumstances fail to truly compete with their Asian-American and white peers, all of whom are much more likely to have better resources and support.
But it is from here, where students receive the foundations of their education, where affirmative action ought to take root. Better school funding, organization, and out-of-school help and welfare programs may help these poorer minorities to bridge the wealth-education gap. It is a solution that gives real gains to minorities, and it is a solution that does not punish Asian-American students either.

To summarize, current affirmative action policies – those of ‘helping’ underrepresented minorities at the expense of over-represented minorities – are outright unjust. There are better alternatives out there, alternatives that work with minority students at the very foundations of the problems of under-representation. In the ensuing political discourse and widening public interest in American education, I hope people become cognizant of such woes. As the wise axiom of social rights activist Malcolm X once put it: “education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today”. While we focus a great deal on the visas and passports of immigration, it is time we focus on the Indian-American youths’ “passport to the future”.

Let the healing begin

The horrible shock and the stinging pain of the attack on the Gurudwara at Oak Creek, Wisconsin, will take time to subside, but the horrid memories of those directly impacted by the attack may never completely dissipate. If there is one thing that can go a long way towards the healing process to start is for the perpetrators of this heinous crime being brought to justice – thus providing a sense of closure for those affected which will help them reconcile with the gruesome incident that has transpired.

Bringing the perpetrators to justice also assumes prominence as it is realistic to assume that the deranged and disgraced army veteran had supporters and perhaps active accomplices who still pose credible threat to the community. These elements, if present, have to be dealt with and nullified for the rampant fear to ease and the trepidation to pass, not just within this tiny community but for the sake of all those vulnerable communities around the US. This will allow for life to get back to some semblance of normalcy and allow for the healing to begin after the trauma that was so mercilessly inflicted by a disturbed madman.

The attacker, identified as Wade Michael Page, has been called a neo-Nazi, a white supremacists among other things – and yet this notwithstanding, he has managed to find some sympathizers as pointed by some news reports. These points to the fact that there are others who feel the same way as he did and there are possible scourges that have to be monitored – and if needed – persecuted, although these agents of chaos are a big minority and are never likely to cause any real harm. However, even the possibility of an attack will strangle or impugn the principles of freedom and liberty that the great nation of USA has been built around and will singe the road to normalcy.

The champions of freedom and the upholders of the righteous must address this issue and protect the rights of its citizens to the best or risk losing leverage on the moral high ground it takes on international matters around the world. India is also expected to play its role as a facilitator and a concerned party to the cause owing to its large Sikh population with its actions largely being dictated by domestic compulsions. In this regard, regional Sikh entities like World Sikh Organization and the North American Punjabi Association (NAPA), along with prominent religious entity like the Akal Takht and all the other places of worship the world over will play crucial role in allowing the population to cope with the evil that has been perpetrated against them.

If there is to be a positive that comes out of the tragedy that played out on that unfortunate day in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, it will come from the incident proving to be a strong precursor towards a “real change” that addresses the core issues that culminated in such a horrible incident. There are many possible steps that are being contemplated by the forces of change, but any hasty or stopgap measures will be a real let down. It is important to explore the primary factors and causes that have manifested in this deplorable incident. Be it a hate crime or a case of mistaken identity or even just a senseless murderer on the rampage, every leads should be pursued and all possible angles and probabilities be probed in its entirety to its logical conclusion. It will help in establishing a credible and effective deterrent for miscreants and other anti-social elements to make sure that the vulnerable feel more secure and the weak feel protected.

Although condemnation, outrage, sympathies and protests have been flowing in from all quarters and everyone is standing solidly behind the bereaved community of Oak Creek and the larger Sikh community as a whole, it will only make tangible and lasting difference if concrete results are seen on the ground and impacts visibility felt. There have been talks of better gun control laws, installing security cameras, increasing police protection at Gurudwaras and other places of worship, which although promising, is only a start and more needs to be done to convince those impacted and threatened that the authorities are committed to their cause.

It is often said that it is at times of real adversity that real heroes come to the fore, and Satwant Singh Kaleka, the President of the Gurudwara, and Lt. Brian Murphy of the Oak Creek Police Department, have emerged as heroes who saved the lives of others by putting their own lives in danger. Their heroism should be used as a fillip that drives result-oriented actions that ultimately emerges out of the rhetoric and symbolism that is expected and does serve a purpose. It is an election year in the U.S. where tough decisions and sweeping changes would be difficult, but there are many in the United States and around the world who expect that the government and the security agencies to do its best to avoid a repeat of such an atrocity against any community, creed, race or religion, anywhere.

For anyone who has been lucky enough know the Sikh personally would vouch for their selflessness, undying spirit, their zeal for life, and the unrelenting patriotism that they exhibit no matter where they are. The Sikhs are known as a hardworking bunch of people who add to any cultural diaspora they are part of. They are an affluent and influential part of not only the Indian society but have made a name for themselves no matter where they reside. Renowned for their fierce bravery, kindness, strong religious belief, and unwavering loyalty, the Sikhs have made their presence felt in the field of business, agriculture, academics and medicine et cetera. Their sheer grit and steely resolve will allow them to overcome this awful episode, and if by any chance the preachers of hate and violence thought that they have the Sikh community intimidated, they will realize how wrong they were. They will soon bear testimony to the legendary gallantry and unmatched perseverance of the Sikhs as they venture on a long road towards recovery and healing.

Tulsi Gabbard: A Leader in the Making

Guest Blog by Madhu Nair

History has it that women have been leaders with unbelievable authority and their leadership has been able to create an impact far better than their male counterparts. If Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto were amongst the strongest in the Asian continent, it was Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton who were the women in control from the west. To say that women lack leadership would be too timid and stupid, for today they have been up to the challenge and in many ways much ahead of men.

Modern day politics has bought some of the best women to the fore and the 31 year old Tulsi Gabbard is one among them. In the present race for the U.S. House of Representatives, Tulsi, who was trailing behind her rival by over 40 points a few months ago in the race for the Congressional seat from Honolulu has now taken a narrow lead brightening prospects for the first Hindu to be elected to the US House of Representatives. She now holds a five-point lead over Hannemann, former Honolulu mayor — 37% for Tulsi and 32% from Hannemann. This represents a huge change in the race since April where Hannemann led Tulsi by 26 points.

Although she would go on to become the first Hindu in the House, there have been some members of Indian origin with Hindu religion backgrounds in the Congress. Dalip Singh Saund became the first Indian-American and Sikh to serve in the House in the year 1957. Some other noted Hindu politicians who have made their way into U.S. politics amongst many others are Kumar Barve and Swati Dandekar. While Barve is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and is touted as the Most Influential Maryland Legislators; Dandekar is a Member of the Iowa Senate from the 18th district and also a very prominent face in U.S. politics.

Born in Leloaloa, American Samoa to Mike Gabbard and Carol Porter Gabbard, Tulsi is the fourth of five the children. Tulsi’s father Mike Gabbard is an educator, tennis professional, business owner and the current Hawaii State Senator of 19th District while her mother Carol is also an educator and business owner. Her family moved to Hawaii in the year 1983 where Tulsi grew up and was homeschooled through high school. She graduated from the Hawaii Pacific University with a Degree in International Business.

Tulsi is currently a member of the Honolulu City Council and served as Hawaii’s youngest state representative in 2002 and is also the youngest woman in the history of USA to be elected into such a prestigious position. A Company Commander with the Hawaii Army National Guard, she has volunteered to serve on two deployments to the Middle East. Tulsi also serves as the co-founder and vice-president of the environmental non-profit organization Healthy Hawaii Coalition.

Previously elected to the Hawaii State House of Representatives at the age of 21, Tulsi earned the distinction of being the youngest legislator ever elected in Hawaii, and the youngest woman ever elected in the United States. While in office, she served on the Education, Higher Education, Tourism, and Economic Development committees. She withdrew from an easy re-election campaign when she volunteered for an 18-monthlong deployment to Iraq with the Hawaii Army National Guard in 2004; its’ first major deployment since the Vietnam War. Upon returning home, she attended the Alabama Military Academy’s Officer Candidate School, and became the first female Distinguished Honor Graduate in the academy’s 50-year history.

With the current momentum with her, let’s hope she does well, as for a leader of her stature is very rarely seen.