Reporter: Savita Patel
Producer: Akanksha Pandey
Video Editor: Harpal Rawat
Vijay Jojo Chokal Ingam was a "slacker" and "party animal" who barely scraped by in college. The BA in Economics student at the University of Chicago "with a pitifully low 3.1 GPA" stood no chance of a legitimate acceptance at any American medical college.
"I was an Indian American medical school applicant who was desperate to achieve his goal of gaining admission."Vijay Chokal Ingam
Determined to pursue "like any Indian kid" his "do-or-die dream" of wanting to be a doctor, Vijay scammed his way in – he checked ‘BLACK’ on the race identity section in his medical school applications.
“I shaved my head. I trimmed my long Indian eyelashes. I joined the organisation of black students and I applied to medical schools as a black man,” he describes the ‘racial fraud he committed, using affirmative action as a loophole.
How Did Vijay Con the System?
Pretending to be black instead of Asian worked.
"I got into Saint Louis University School of Medicine despite the fact that my 3.1 GPA was dramatically lower than the average 3.7 at the time. I got waitlisted at Washington University and the University of Pennsylvania School, the third and fourth best medical schools in America at the time.”Vijay Chokal Ingam
Why and how did Vijay con the system? He decided to make use of race-based affirmative action admission policies.
“My best friend got rejected from medical school. He was a year older than me. I did an analysis of my chances of getting admission. I recognised that as an Indian American I had a very low statistical chance of admission, but a black applicant with average test scores had a high probability of admission," he said.
Unable to keep up to the rigour of a medicine education, Vijay dropped out. “I couldn’t handle it as I was not good enough to graduate medical school!”
He went on to write a tell-all book Almost Black about his misadventures, becoming a ‘hacktivist’ opponent of race-based affirmative action admission policies.
'My Sister Mindy Kaling Said...'
“I believe that affirmative action is a system of legalised racial discrimination that has destroyed the dreams and aspirations of millions of people whose only fault is the colour of their skin or the shape of their eyes,” says Vijay.
The family, including his sister – the celebrity TV actor-producer Mindy Kaling – was not happy with Vijay telling his story. “Of course, my sister Mindy Kaling jokingly said that I would bring shame on the family by telling my story,” he adds with a smile.
The ‘proud opponent of affirmative action racism’ was seen with fellow activists at an ‘Equal Education for All’ rally outside the US Supreme Court, when a lawsuit brought on by SFFA - Students for Fair Admissions – against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina was being heard.
Vijay has supported the Asian American students, included Indian American students who allege that they are ‘wrongly’ rejected by prominent American colleges.
“The sad reality is that discrimination in the form of affirmative action hurts Asian Americans specifically including South Asians the worst. For example, someone who applied to medical school with a very mediocre 3.1 GPA and 31 MCAT score had an 18 percent chance as Asian, 28 percent as white, 46 percent as Hispanic and 76 percent as African American."Vijay Jojo Chokal Ingam
"Believe it or not, Asian Americans are the hardest hurt by affirmative action racism,” he further said, adding, “Not just the top ranked Universities discriminate against Asian Americans but also the lower ranked universities.”
SFFA claims that the university uses subjective standard to weigh certain personality traits including likability, courage and kindness, creating a discriminatory block for them.
“When you apply to college or graduate school in the United States, the admissions form asks you for your racial and ethnic background,” Vijay explains on, “Harvard was promoting discrimination against Asian Americans by systematically giving them low personality scores which directly contradicted their own alumni interviewers who gave Asians equally high ratings.”
He believes that ‘personality scores are the way Harvard enforced its unofficial quotas on Asian Americans’, keeping the number of Asian Americans at the university ‘stagnant’ for many years.
Vijay says, “In general the number of Asian Americans is increasing in American colleges, but at Harvard till this case was brought, it remained relatively the same for almost 20 years.”
A Follower of Edward Blum
Vijay is a vocal ally of Edward Blum, a legal activist and founder of SFFA, responsible for the seven-year-long contentious lawsuits against race-conscious admission policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina in federal trial courts.
When SFFA lost there, Blum approached the US Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case despite President Joe Biden’s contrary request to the court.
Vijay elevates himself as he comments on Blum’s stature, “Mr Blum is a courageous opponent of affirmative action racism in college admissions. I am very proud to say that as a student at the University of Dhaka, my grandfather met Mohandas Gandhi and joined the struggle for Indian independence. I am equally proud to say that I met Mr Blum and joined the struggle for equal access to education for all Americans.”
'Race-Based Selections Don't Have Popular Support'
Racial preferences in American higher education started getting enacted in the 1970s. Supporters of affirmative action wish that universities continue their efforts towards integration by creating diverse student bodies, to undo the effects of years of racial segregation and White supremacy.
Race-based selections in college admissions have been around for 50 years, but they don’t have a popular support.
A 2019 Pew survey showed that 73 percent of Americans believe universities should not consider race or ethnicity in admission decisions. 2014-2022 AAPI Data shows that 69 percent of Asian American registered voters surveyed favor affirmative action.
A few years after discontinuing medical school, Vijay joined the University of California in Los Angeles.
“I got on my MBA in UCLA which is the school that doesn’t practice affirmative action missions. There were efforts to reinstate affirmative action specifically by Vice President Kamala Harris, the then Attorney General of the state of California. I wanted to oppose efforts to reinstate affirmative action at UCLA because I feel that I might have never had the opportunity to go to UCLA if they still discriminated against Asian Americans, because when I applied to UCLA for business school I applied honestly and I did not apply as a Black man,” shares Vijay, proudly wearing a UCLA sweatshirt.
He adds that his conviction and activism grew stronger after that. “At UCLA, I learnt that it was possible to have a diverse class with African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and White, with a rich educational experience without practising racial discrimination in the form of affirmative action.”
Aware About Racism From a Young Age
The siblings – Vijay and his sister Mindy – were born to an Indian immigrant couple Avu Chokalingam, an architect, and Swati Roysircar, a physician.
They grew up in Massachusetts, where Vijay recalls becoming aware of racism early.
“I kind of grew up in the shadow of Harvard University, so I got a lot of the ambitious-academic thing to begin with. When I was 12 years old, I applied to a New England prep school, which is actually the oldest school in America. I’ll never forget what the director of admissions told me. He said – ‘we see a lot of your people around here.’ That’s how I learned that the great colleges and universities in the United States were discriminating against their Asian American and White applicants.”
Vijay understands the Indian caste system and his response to the admission quotas in Indian institutions of higher learning and public employment is,
“I cannot speak to the broader social issues of discrimination which occurred in India's history even though I am an Indian American. I grew up in the United States. However, I oppose all kinds of discrimination and believe that people from disadvantaged backgrounds should have equal access to education.”
To Asian American supporters of affirmative action in the US, he says, “You must realise that the Europeans ruled India and half of Asia for the better part of a century because many Asian Americans colluded with those who discriminated against their own people. So, my response when I encounter someone who says 'oh yeah, why don’t you support affirmative action?' I say – it is because of Indians like you that the British ruled India for 200 years!”
The Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action is projected to be announced in the spring or summer of 2023.