Zhao and his allies—many of them fellow well-educated, foreign-born Chinese Americans—believe that affirmative action harms Asian applicants by disproportionately benefiting black and Latino students. Though these conservatives are in the minority—polling consistently shows that most Asian Americans support race-based admissions and Democrats more broadly—they dominated the conversation, staging dramatic protests and flooding WeChat with anti-affirmative-action commentary. The result was one of the most vigorous grassroots movements to come out of the Asian American community in recent memory.
The Asian-driven campaign against race-conscious admissions began in 2014, when Chinese American groups successfully mobilized against SCA-5, a California bill which would have reinstated affirmative action in the state’s public colleges. That same year, Zhao’s organization, the Asian American Coalition for Education, partnered with more than 60 Asian American organizations to file a complaint with the Department of Justice, alleging that Harvard University discriminated against Asian applicants.