Indian-American Student in Desegregation Crossfire

nikita rau.jpg A tipster named Shireen alerted us to the unusual situation of 11 year old Nikita Rau, who had earned entry into a “gifted and talented” school in Brooklyn, called the Mark Twain School, or IS 239. Nikita was denied admission to the school based on the school’s archaic racial quotas, established in 1974, which require that exactly 60% of the school be white, and 40% be composed of minorities. At the time, the quota reflected the demographics of the area; today, minorities comprise more than 40% of the local population — and have little trouble getting the test scores to earn admission to the school. The 40% minimum has, over time, become a maximum quota.

The New York Post covered the story yesterday in sensationalistic terms: “NOT WHITE ENOUGH: Brilliant Girl Cheated By School Quota.” And today they follow up with a story on the Chancellor of Schools, Joel Klein, who has indicated that he supports Nikita Rau’s right to study at IS 239. (They also have a colorfully written editorial on the subject, entitled, “Cockamamie Quota”.)

Despite his opposition to the quota, Chancellor Klein has thus far declined to act, mainly because the Supreme Court is about to rule on two major desegregation cases elsewhere in the country, which could potentially vitiate federal programs aimed at achieving racial balance or diversity in primary and secondary schools. If government-enforced racial diversity is thrown out (and many commentators think it will be, given the current conservative leaning of the Supreme Court), it will be relatively straightforward to throw out the old quota in Coney Island.

Of course, one could argue that the quota at this school should just be thrown out irrespective of what the Supreme Court decides in the cases in Seattle and Louisville — simply because excluding Nikita Rau was never the intention of the judge who made the 1974 ruling that set up the quota in the first place.

Finally, it does strike me as an interesting irony that at the college level, East and South Asians are not considered “underrepresented minorities,” while in this case, Nikita Rau is clearly being defined as a “minority” student.

I’m curious to hear where readers are on this issue of quotas, desegregation, and diversity, specifically with regard to how it affects South Asian students in primary and secondary schools (K-12).

[I should also link to a couple of earlier SM posts on Affirmative Action, here and here]

126 thoughts on “Indian-American Student in Desegregation Crossfire

  1. Camille, thanks for the explanation. I was not aware of the phenomena of white flight and uneven distribution among state school campuses. I agree with you that there are many minorities that will not get adequate representation as they did not “appropriately segregate” themselves.

    I have one technical question about your statement: Some communities are so densely populated that even if you took the top 4% it wouldn’t get you to a comparable % in relation to the state population. For the Black community in California, populations are overwhelmingly concentrated in LA, Oakland, and Richmond. Even if a high school were nearly all black (which is not uncommon), even if you took 4% of say 98% of the subpopulation, you’d only get an accepted applicant pool of 3.92%

    Isn’t the issue more about proportional number of school seats (assuming complete segregation), since the 4% leads to coarsening at the granularity of the number of schools? Are you saying that concentrations of populations mean that there is not a proportional number of high school slots for these concentrated populations?

    Also, to clarify, while the first article I linked to is about how AA for colleges might actually work in the presence of segregation in schools, the second article is much closer to the topic of the post as well as the Supreme Court decision because it addresses how high schools can use income as a separator. My question was about the specific claims it makes about how well income works in that context.

  2. Hey everyone,

    Thanks, and it is my pleasure to discuss.

    louciecypher, I don’t think you can find an articulation of UCOP’s policy re: high school graduation requirements & (purposefully) limiting admissions eligibility online (probably because it is hugely impolitic). However, if you look at budget testimony over the past 4 years, the standard line before the Legislature is “we can’t expand; we have no money.” The bill was introduced and withdrawn in either 2003 or 2004 (I can’t remember which legislative cycle b/c it happened during my soph year of college). The issue came up in front of BOARS, a committee within the system-wide Academic Senate, and so there may be something in their minutes, but I’m fairly sure that UCOP lobbied within the Assemblyman’s office, so there wouldn’t be a public record of the content, just that a visit occurred.


    So, does this mean that California has special public high schools which have their own admission criteria – and do they have to make good faith efforts to admit students on a competitive but ethnically representative basis?

    I can’t speak towards admissions criteria among selective CA public schools (i.e. magnets, charter schools) because I am totally unfamiliar with them. That said, I am pretty sure that those that do have their own admissions criteria — particularly the magnets — have no obligation to admit students on a competitive and ethnically representative basis. In fact, they would be forbidden by law to even consider ethnicity in admissions decisions, as per the constraints of California Proposition 209 (the affirmative action ban). On one hand I’m sure there’s pressure from local communities to ensure a diverse mix in these schools, but on the other hand the administration at such schools are really limited in their options for ensuring such a mix.

    Maybe what I wrote was confusing? What I meant to say is that some high school districts in CA require that a student fulfill UC’s a-g requirements for admissions eligibility in order to graduate. For example, at my high school I had to take at least 3 years of math, 4 years of English, 3 years of history/social science, 2 years of science, 2 years of foreign language, and 1 year of arts to graduate. At the time, this ensured I was eligible, provided I maintained a 3.0 average, for admission to both UC and CSU. However, in many lower income and rural public schools, not only is such coursework not required to graduate, it isn’t even offered.


    Are you saying that concentrations of populations mean that there is not a proportional number of high school slots for these concentrated populations?

    Yes, but I think my argument is even simpler. If you take 4% of an all-black school, you can only get a 4% (max) pool from which to offer admission. If the population of folks in the state is higher than that (e.g. 6.1%), then you’ll never reach parity.

  3. If you take 4% of an all-black school, you can only get a 4% (max) pool from which to offer admission. If the population of folks in the state is higher than that (e.g. 6.1%), then you’ll never reach parity.

    That’s not true, prima facie. Consider an extreme case. Suppose there are 5 districts, each with a 1000 people. 4 districts are all-black, and one is all-white, so the population is 80% black. Each of them has a school which can admit 100 students. Now, if you take the top 4% from each school, you will have 20 students, 16 of whom are black, thereby retaining the 80% representation.

    The argument is true only if there is a significant mismatch between the populations and the number of school seats available to them. I can totally believe that this is true, which is why I didn’t believe the statement in the article. That’s why I was asking, and I will stop harping on this now :)

  4. No, it’s ok :) There is a large mismatch between available seats and number of students; this is kind of how UC is designed (inherently elitist). Sorry, I was being dense and not understanding :)

  5. Sarah: Several million people died. Is that the liberty you’re talking about?

    Now what the hell are you comparing??? Was the british rule in India was a free market to start with?

    To compare selective laissez-faire during a rule (that was there to profit the empire) to economics in an independent democratic nation, you must be completely absurd or heavily leftist biased.

    :O where the hell did come from…

    What about the liberty that has brought America so much prosperity? What about your wonderful planned economy in Russia, that sent space shuttles into deep space, but couldn’t help the people queuing up in the cold for rationed bread?

    You find an instance of pseudo-free economics and vilify the whole lot of progress that the free market has brought to this country.

    How would you have me un-bias the test?
    You still haven’t accounted for the inequality of public schools.

    Do you have a measure to account for the inequality of public schools? Can you measure the bias? Without a flimsy made-up bunch of numbers?

    If you can’t measure the bias properly, then why have a measured policy to counter an unmeasurable bias…

  6. This quota nonsense ‘affirmative action’ is a liberal abomination that originated in the DEMOCRAT party and has no relation to The Civil Rights Act.

    It is time Indians stop thinking as third class citizens. We are first class Americans, and a model minority.

    This girl’s parents could have easily cliamed she was ‘White’ after all she IS Caucasian as are all people of pure ethnic Indian origin.

    Caucasian does not mean White. Race is a biological distinction. There are only three; Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid. All other sub-divisions are social and have to do with region language, and culture.

  7. Rajesh – Camille has already answered this, but just think about what you wrote. Even if it is granted that ‘Indians are Caucasian’, you concede yourself that ‘Caucasian does not mean White’ in the very next line. How then can her parents claim she is ‘White’ on the basis of her being ‘Caucasian’ ?

    All these categories are a little fuzzy at their edges – and this is not because they are ethnic identifiers – all categories are a little fuzzy when you stare hard enough. That still does not give you the ability (or the license) to willy-nilly redefine yourself ethnically. ‘White’, even if it cannot be exactly defined, is still quite well understood, it is not that arbitrary.

  8. Chachi.- Thank you for pointing out my contradiction. In defining race color should not be included, for example the Bushman is not the Same color as the Massai or Zulu eventhough they belong to the same race but different ethnic groups. I do not define my-self as white but an American who is ethnic Indian and not Indian-American. In military and government official documents I have been correctly classified as Caucasian in the presence of the official doing the said recording. I am quite brown and on only one occasian did I have to insist that they put down Caucasian.

    Thank God the Supreme Court agreed with me and struck down at least this abomination that has its origins in the DEMOCRAT party. This has nothing to do with Civil Rights Act, which Democrats woted against.

  9. Rajesh, what about us poor Tamilians? Also, you might enjoy this. Be warned though, if the laugh track doesn’t cue you in, it is comedy. White Power!

  10. Chachaji, Sorry for the typo on your name and other places. I just had one too many vodka martinis.

  11. Rahul – I know Chapelle is funny. I could not get the video to load. Yes! Tamils are CAUCASOID. Wikipedia is not a reliable source.

  12. Chachaji, Sorry for the typo on your name and other places. I just had one too many vodka martinis.

    Cool, no probs. Many years ago, when I went to get my Maryland driver’s license for the first time, the form actually said ‘people from the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East’ should fill in the code for ‘white’ (i.e., not just ‘Caucasian’, but ‘white’) on the form. I was quite puzzled then, but I daresay they have revised this since. So the category is not only intrinsically fuzzy, but also temporally fluid and situationally contingent. My point still stands.

    I also remember the Smithsonian Museum’s ethnographic map in the Museum of Natural History in Washington DC – which had indicated that people from the subcontinent were ‘Caucasian’ on the basis of distribution of blood groups – not skin color. I remember feeling secretly reassured then – brown we may be, but we were ‘Caucasian’ – we were ‘non-white’ Caucasian. The confusion arises when ‘Caucasian’ is used in popular parlance interchangeably with ‘white’. In my view the ‘non-white Caucasian’ category has largely receded into history, and hopefully will not cause too much confusion in the future.

  13. Chachaji, Thanks! You finally got the point. The problem begins when Caucasian is confused with White. The Smithsonian has it just right. Also Google around Caucas as a region and the Caucasian mountains from whence the race(Caucasian) is supposed to have originated, got its name and spread out to the rest of the continent during pre-historic times.

  14. Rajesh, the point was that ‘non-white’ Caucasian is a distinction without much meaning. It may have made vague sense at one point, and it was maintained when the number of such ‘non-white’ Caucasians was still small, or of the ‘right’ religion, or in areas where the racial Other was identifiably different – but sociologically it is much less meaningful now. Sorry for not being clear earlier, and Good Night!

  15. Tamils are CAUCASOID.

    Then why do they seem to have issues with every North Indian group, or group descended from North Indians? For example, they fought so-called “Hindi imposition” with everything they had, and they are fighting from a seperate homeland in Sri Lanka. I used to debate Indian history on a certain website (not this one). Many Tamil members became furious over the mere mention of the word “Vedas.” There was also hostility towards Tamil Brahmins… but these same Tamils would eagerly re-invent Indian history to reflect its “Tamilness” for example, one of their claims being that Tamils were the original bearers of Hinduism, and “Sanskritization”, as they called it, was just an attempt at stealing Tamil ideas. And before I forget, one of the most popular topics was “Sanskrit words borrowed from Tamil.”

    I don’t doubt Tamils have their own history, which they should be very proud of. BUT, it has been my unfortunate experience that discussing Indian history with Tamils is a difficult task. I try to avoid it now, if I can.

  16. We are first class Americans
    In defining race color should not be included
    There are only three; Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid
    You finally got the point. The problem begins when Caucasian is confused with White

    That is indeed poses a problem, people do associate white with “first class Americans”. I can see how it hinders you from taking full advantage of White Caucasian power. You could get a vanity plate, or a T-Shirt with a Venn diagram to educate everyone, that whites, are a subset of Caucasians?

  17. Iranians (Persians) are the true Aryans. Iran actually means “land where the Aryans lived.” I don’t know where this blonde-haired blue-eyed rubbish came from. As for Tamils, they are related to the Australian Aboriginal population.

  18. LK1, I see your point and I am well aware of every thing you stated. This conflict between north and south Indians has to do with language, region, and culture and is therefore ethnic. Dravidian is not a race nor is Aryan. They just happen to be both Caucasian. The natives of New Guinea and the Massai of Africa are quite different, but both belong to the same race.

    You are right to avoid discussing Indian history with a south Indian, especially now, as some (even north Indians ) are trying to re-write the Aryan invasion theory and changing text books. It is difficult for a person to be objective when they are ethnocentric. The point that most on this discussion seem to be missing is that race is Bioligical and therefore Scientific, it has to do with genetics, blood type, and certain physical features and not not skin colour.

  19. LK1, You are right about the Persians. We have the same ancestors and are related. Blond , blue-eyed Aryan is a Hollywood myth, just look at the Austrians. I have to admit that I am not sure of the relationship of the Australian Aborigines to Tamils. Someone will have to do a genetics test.

  20. Tamils are CAUCASOID. Wikipedia is not a reliable source.

    Rajesh, these might have been 9 tiny words to you. But they shattered the twin pillars of my existence. I have been curled up in bed all day, wondering whether all those buses and trains I stopped, those bridges I blocked, those Hindi books I burnt, those Scythians I stared down, was it all for nought based on measly incorrect information by the evil Wikipedia? Should I have trusted this instead? What separates me from Clayton Bigsby then?

  21. Rahul, I had no intention of causing you and other Tamils such grief. We need to start thinking of ourselves as Indians first and you can start by not being opposed to Hindi. FYI. I wish I knew Hindi. I speak only English, both the Queens English and American. My Grand-parents spoke Bhojpuri. (I hope I spelled it right). I blame them for not passing on their language.

  22. you can start by not being opposed to Hindi.

    Rajesh, believe me, I tried so hard. But there were so many slights. First, the rejection of Kamal Haasan’s start turn in Ek Duje ke liye. But really the last vada that broke this Dravidian camel’s back was my favorite Superstar Rajinikanth’s second billing (to some Amitabh ke Bacche) in Andha Kaanoon. I just couldn’t take it!!! How could they insult my hero so?