Jian Li (Chinese: 李简, born 1988 in the People's Republic of China) is a Chinese undergraduate student at Harvard University, who transferred from Yale University, where he first studied. Li, who holds Chinese citizenship, is a US permanent resident who immigrated with his family to the United States at the age of four. In November 2006, he filed a civil rights complaint against Princeton University with the Office for Civil Rights, claiming that his heritage played a role in their decision to reject his application for admission, and seeking the suspension of federal financial assistance to the university until it "discontinues discrimination against Asian Americans in all forms" by eliminating race and legacy preferences.
Li was born in Changsha, Hunan in the People's Republic of China and grew up in Livingston, New Jersey. He graduated from Livingston High School in the top 1% of his class, having received a perfect score of 2400 on the SAT, as well as perfect or near-perfect scores on SAT Subject Tests in math level 2, physics, and chemistry.
Filing of complaint
Li came to the decision to file a civil rights complaint against Princeton after reading studies by Princeton researchers which claimed that ending affirmative action in university admissions would lead to 80% of placements currently offered to black and Latino students instead being given to Asian Americans.
Li filed the complaint to "send a message to the admissions committee to be more cognizant of possible bias, and that the way they're conducting admissions is not equitable." Though Li is not seeking any personal compensation, his complaint calls for the suspension of federal financial assistance to Princeton until it "discontinues discrimination against Asian-Americans in all forms" by eliminating race and legacy preferences.
Reaction to the case
Li's case received several instances of media attention in late 2006, including coverage in The Wall Street Journal and China's People's Daily, as well as a supportive opinion piece written by Townhall.com columnist Larry Elder. Li also stated that students at Brown University had contacted him in an effort to start a nationwide campus movement to end discrimination against Asian Americans. However, student writers were less sympathetic. Li's fellow Yale student Jonathan Pitts-Wiley wrote a column in The Daily Princetonian which accused him of "unnecessarily racializ[ing] a personal defeat".
Parody article in the Daily Princetonian
Later, on January 17, 2007, the Daily Princetonian published, in its annual joke issue, an alleged guest opinion column written in mock Chinglish under the pseudonym "Lian Ji", in which the writer, parodying Li's attitude and experiences, wrote:
- "I so good at math and science ... I the super smart Asian. Princeton the super dumb college, not accept me ... My dad from Kung Pao province. I united 500 years of Rice Wars ... I love Yale. Lots of bulldogs here for me to eat."
Campus groups and alumni criticized the content as an expression of anti-Asian bigotry. Vice President for Student Life Janet S. Dickerson stated that "The Prince exercised poor judgment in including offensive material in this year's joke issue." Chanakya Sethi, then editor-in-chief of the Princetonian, wrote a statement of regret two days after the publication of the original article, claiming that the article was an attempt at humor, had no racist intention behind it, and had "provoked serious thought about issues of race, fairness and diversity." He also noted that the editorial board of the Princetonian included several Asians.
At least one South Asian student journalist at Harvard expressed his support for Sethi, and accused critics of "constantly pulling [the issue] towards their own prejudices. However, prominent Asian Americans rejected Sethi's explanation. Jeff Yang, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and member of the Asian American Journalists Association, denounced the statement of regret as a "creative nonapology", while author Chang-rae Lee, who also teaches creative writing at Princeton, stated that the article "employed the easiest, basest stereotypes of culture and character and voice for its sensational aims, offering little more than the most juvenile gloss on the issues ... frankly, the piece astounds me not so much for its racism as its stupidity." The controversy was quickly picked up by national newspapers; Li himself characterized the article as "extremely distasteful" in an Associated Press interview, stating that "whoever decided to publish it showed an extreme lapse of judgment".
- Investigation into alleged admissions bias expands - The Daily Princetonian
- Golden, Daniel (2006-11-11). "Is Admissions Bar Higher for Asians At Elite Schools?". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2007-01-21.
- Princeton's record on Asian admissions examined, USA Today via Associated Press, June 12, 2008, retrieved February 25, 2011. "The case stems from a federal civil-rights complaint filed in 2006 by Jian Li, a Chinese immigrant who grew up in Livingston."
- Stern, Robert (2007-01-28). "Asian bias fight grows". Retrieved 2007-01-31.
- Shea, Christopher (2006-11-26). "Victims of Success? Are Asian-American students discriminated against in college admissions?". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-01-21.
- Espenshade, Thomas; Chang Y. Chung; Joan L. Walling (December 2004). "Admission Preferences for Minority Students, Athletes, and Legacies at Elite Universities". Social Science Quarterly 85 (5): 1422–1446. doi:10.1111/j.0038-4941.2004.00284.x. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
- Espenshade, Thomas; Chang Y. Chung; Lauren Hale (June 2005). "The Opportunity Cost of Admissions Preferences at Elite Universities" (PDF). Social Science Quarterly. Retrieved 2007-01-21.
- "Ending affirmative action would devastate most minority college enrollment". Princeton University. 2005-06-06. Retrieved 2007-01-25.
- Elder, Larry (2006-12-14). "What if the NBA had quotas?". Townhall.com. Retrieved 2007-01-21.
- Egan, Timothy (2007-01-07). "Little Asia On the Hill". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-01-31.
- Tian, Xingchun (2006-11-16). "SAT考取满分仍遭拒收 华裔生责美国名校歧视亚裔 (Got full marks on the SAT, but still rejected; Chinese student alleges famous US school discriminates against Asian Americans)". People's Daily. Retrieved 2007-01-21.
- Arenson, Karen W. (2007-01-23). "At Princeton, a Parody Raises Questions of Bias". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- Chen, Irene (2007-02-09). "Two students challenge Asian American admission discrimination". The Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved 2007-02-09.
- Ji, Lian (pseudonym) (2007-01-17). "Princeton University is racist against me, I mean, non-whites". The Daily Princetonian. Retrieved 2007-01-21.
- Isherwood, Darryl R. (2007-01-20). "Many see student column as no joke". The New Jersey Times. Retrieved 2007-01-21.
- Sethi, Chanakya (2007-01-19). "Editors' note". The Daily Princetonian. Retrieved 2007-01-21.
- Mahtani, Sahil K (2007-01-22). "The Campus That Cried "Wolf"". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- Yang, Jeff (2007-01-20). "Rosie, Princeton, and the rules of race and funny". Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- "Princeton newspaper column stirs controversy". MSNBC. 2007-01-21. Retrieved 2007-01-22.