Virginia Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart, in an appeal to Asian-American voters, is calling for legislation to eliminate race as a dominant factor in college admissions.
The controversial candidate, who’s in an uphill race against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, unveiled the plan during a recent press conference at a popular Vietnamese-American shopping center outside Washington.
“I always knew that race was a factor in college admissions, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until some citizens brought it up,” Stewart told Fox News in an interview.
He said he pursued the issue after being approached by Chinese-American residents about racial bias in college admissions, voicing concerns that the systems effectively require Asian-American students to score much higher on the SAT to gain admission.
Stewart is wading into a cultural firestorm, amid ongoing litigation over race-based “affirmative action” programs that critics say discriminate against Asian Americans, even as they boost other minorities.
A group of students filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging that Harvard University illegally discriminates against Asian-American applicants. The Department of Justice launched a separate civil rights investigation in 2017 into Harvard admissions.
The Justice and Education departments last Thursday expanded their investigation of discrimination against Asian-American applicants to include Yale.
Stewart is vowing to introduce legislation on the issue if elected. He proposed a bill that would effectively bar colleges and universities from including a race/ethnicity section in college applications and withhold federal funding until universities comply.
“The college admission process should be based on merit. The current practices of universities [are] keeping out Asian American students and that is wrong,” Stewart said.
Lilly Qin, a mother of three students who joined Stewart for his press conference, stood alongside other Asian Americans as she praised Stewart’s efforts. “I want to make sure that Asian-American children moving forward can be just as competitive with hard work, diligence as all other races,” she said.
Harvard and other universities have continued to defend their application process.
They maintain the programs promote diversity and equal access to education, and emphasize a holistic review beyond academics in admission – also including letters of recommendation, application essays and extracurricular activity.
“Merit is inseparable from a diverse student body,” Katherine Fang, a graduate of Yale University, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed supporting Harvard’s process. “They do not have enough seats for all qualified applicants. But this scarcity will not be righted with a decreased commitment to diversity.”
According to an article in the Harvard Crimson, “If Harvard made admissions decisions based only on applicants’ academic qualifications, more than 51 percent of the average admitted class would be Asian-American.”
Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in Virginia. According to the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, Asian Americans compose around 15 percent of the electorate in Virginia, making them a key swing vote for elected officials. Fox News rates the race as "likely Democrat."
But Democrats countered that Stewart is using this campaign as just another “political stunt to divide people along racial lines.”
“Corey Stewart has used racial slurs and promoted racist stereotypes, refuses to fire racist staffers, blames immigrants for society’s woes, and wants to eliminate the Education Department which would administer the very law he says he wants,” Jake Rubenstein, communications director for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement to Fox News.
Stewart is a controversial figure, having carved a national profile for his crackdowns on illegal immigration even before now-President Trump made the issue a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. He has been criticized for using the alt-right-favored term “cuckservative” against his opponents, calling NFL players “thugs” for protesting during the national anthem and allowing his campaign staff to edit his Wikipedia page, among other issues.
But Stewart is not alone in arguing that policies like those at Harvard discriminate against Asian Americans.
“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race. As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in August, as the DOJ got involved in the Harvard suit.
The DOJ filed a Statement of Interest in the Harvard case claiming, “While Harvard admits to using race in its admissions process, it has failed to provide any meaningful criteria to explain how it weighs race against other factors in a candidate’s application (e.g., test scores and extracurricular activities), and how it limits its use of race to ensure that no illegal discrimination occurs.”