Harrison Chen and Thang Diep graduated No. 1 from public high schools. Both excelled in extracurricular activities and scored high on their college admissions tests. And both are Asian-American.
But Chen, who was raised by middle-class Chinese immigrants outside Raleigh, N.C., was rejected by Harvard. Diep, a Vietnamese immigrant who grew up in a working-class family in Reseda, Calif., got in.
Their experiences have left them with distinct feelings about affirmative action and a federal lawsuit against Harvard that puts Asian-Americans at the center of one of the most contentious issues in higher education.
Chen opposes the consideration of race in college admissions and plans to join like-minded Asian-Americans at a rally in Boston on Sunday, a day before Harvard is scheduled to go on trial.
"People should be judged on character and merit," said Chen, an 18-year-old freshman at his backup choice, Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "What does the color of your skin have to do with admissions?"
Diep, who favors affirmative action, plans to attend a rally a few miles away in Harvard Square in support of the university and its policies.
"Removing race won't advance us to be a more just and equal society," said Diep, a 21-year-old senior at Harvard. "Rather, it would limit educational opportunities to people from higher classes and a white background."
The primary fight against affirmative action has long been waged by whites who argue that giving special consideration to racial minorities has unfairly denied them spots at U.S. colleges and universities.
But in the Harvard case, Asian-Americans argue that racial considerations have made them a victim of their own academic success. They tend to get better grades and score higher on standardized tests than other races but claim they are frequently rejected as a result of "racial balancing," which is akin to racial quotas and has been ruled unconstitutional.
They compare themselves to Jewish students who faced admissions quotas at elite schools in the early 20th century.
"Being Asian-American actually decreases the chances of admissions," the lawsuit said. Citing a Duke University economist's analysis of six years of Harvard admissions data, it claimed that Asian-American applicants who have a 25 percent chance of getting in would have a 35 percent chance if they were white — and dramatically better odds than that if they were black or Latino.
It also cited an internal 2013 Harvard report that suggested admissions of Asian-Americans would shoot up substantially if they were evaluated based on academics alone.
As it stands, Asian-Americans make up 6 percent of the U.S. population and 22 percent of Harvard's current freshman class. The latter number has been rising since 2010.
In responding to the suit, Harvard said studies of its admissions, including its own internal review, have been either inconclusive or flawed. The university and its supporters say that admissions of blacks and Latinos could decline.
"If the lawsuit against Harvard succeeds, it would diminish students' opportunities to live and learn in a diverse campus environment — denying them the kind of experiences that are central to Harvard's educational mission and critical for success in our diverse society," Harvard said in a statement.
Overall, 65 percent of Asian-Americans support affirmative action, according to surveys by AAPI Data, which conducts policy research on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
But among Chinese Americans, the largest Asian group in the country, support for race-based preferences fell from 78 percent in 2012 to 41 percent in 2016. Support among other Asian-American groups held steady at 73 percent.
At least one group of Asian-Americans is standing firmly behind Harvard: those who got in.