The benefits of a holistic admissions process

Eric Chen

Editor’s note: On behalf of the Center for Asian American Studies, Eric Chen, a 2009 UT alumnus, describes some Asian-American perspectives on the case of Fisher v. UT.

One of my most defining experiences at UT was sitting across from all the leaders of the different cultural and identity organizations in the office of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE). We were brainstorming ways to continue promoting a diverse student voice at our school when one student raised the issue concerning UT’s consideration of race in its admissions process.

As an Asian-American student, I admittedly had mixed feelings toward the admissions policy and tabled the issue in the back of my mind. But the recent debate surrounding the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case has forced me to reevaluate the University’s admissions process and conclude that the University’s holistic review process is beneficial for all students, including the Asian-American student body.

President William Powers Jr. calls diversity the “sine qua non [or “indispensable ingredient”] of University life.” And rightfully so. Inasmuch as we learn from our professors, we also learn from the experiences and perspectives of our peers.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger already acknowledged the educational benefits of admitting a diverse student body. These benefits include the promotion of cross-racial understanding, the breaking down of racial stereotypes and the preparation of students to succeed as professionals in “an increasingly diverse workforce and society.” UT’s holistic admissions process — which is entirely independent from the Top 10 percent rule — ensures these goals are met by considering, among several indicators, demonstrated leadership qualities, awards and honors, work experience, involvement in community service, extracurricular activities and other special circumstances, such as family status, socioeconomic status and the applicant’s race. The University does not consider any of these elements independently, nor does it assign each factor numerical points; rather, the University evaluates each applicant’s file as a whole, using the provided information as context to evaluate the applicant’s uniqueness as a candidate for admission.

This thorough review process ultimately allows the University to reflect and draw upon a diversity of cultures, ideas and perspectives to provide the best possible learning environment for all of its students. Asian-American students alike share in these benefits of having a diverse admitted class. Asian-American students, like other students, will graduate, join the work force and bring with them to their respective positions of leadership their own experiences and interactions with individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Contrary to popular perception, UT’s holistic admissions policy does not disadvantage Asian-Americans but actually permits more diverse admits from within the Asian-American community. An American-born Vietnamese student whose parents immigrated to Texas is afforded the same individualized review as a Sikh teenager who faced race-based discrimination in her own hometown. For these students, race is an integral part of their story, and the current admissions policy affords these students the opportunity to bring their unique experiences and background characteristics, including race, to UT and into the fabric of diversity which makes our UT education so valuable.

Over the past several years, the University’s holistic admissions policy has been successful at doing just that. Since UT adopted its holistic review process in 2004, admissions and enrollment for Latinos and African-Americans have increased 19 and 21 percent, respectively.

Even with these admission increases, Asian-American students still constitute a greater percentage of the freshman class admitted under holistic review than their Latino and African-American counterparts. If Asian-American applicants are indeed disadvantaged by the University’s holistic review policy, the admissions numbers have yet to evidence this fact.

Powers correctly observed that diversity is an indispensable ingredient of university life. Recalling the rich discussion with my peers that day in the office of the DDCE, I’m thankful for the strides this university and our student body have made to ensure that diverse viewpoints are represented and heard on our campus. If what starts here is to truly change the world, we must ensure that our university, from the start, cultivates leaders who are reflective of and sensitive to the diverse world in which
we live.

Chen, a UT alumnus, is a second-year student at UC Berkeley School of Law.