State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky faces challenger from anti-affirmative action education advocate

State Senator Toby Stavisky is facing a new challenger, education activist Yiatin Chu, in this year’s election.
Photos courtesy of NYS Senate Media Services and Yiatin Chu

A longtime education activist residing in Whitestone, Yiatin Chu, formally declared a run against state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, who has held the seat for over 20 years. 

Stavisky, who currently represents a long strip of northern Queens in the 11th Senate District, has shaped her political tenure around education issues. Currently, she is the chair of the committee on higher education. But prior to holding office, she was a social studies teacher in the city’s public school system. 

To her right, Chu entered the education advocacy space close to a decade ago after hearing about the city’s attempt to scrap the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) for its low diversity outcomes. Since then, she has advocated for merit-based admissions for high school and college and denounced affirmative action, which she believes is racist towards Asian Americans. 

“I’ve been called many things in standing up for merit based education, which I certainly don’t consider to be an extreme position,” said Chu, arguing that “rewarding hard work and high achievement” should not be considered a “fringe position to take.” 

Both are alums of Bronx High School of Science, a specialized high school, and have made education issues a central aspect of their platforms – but stand far apart on several key issues. But they both agree in maintaining the SHSAT the way it is. In 2018, Stavisky testified against then Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s plan to phase it out, and said that the test is “still the most objective method to determine admission.”

Apart from education, having expressed opposition to bail reform, the legalization of marijuana and congestion pricing, some have referred to Chu as an “extremist” for her stances. Chu noted that up until two weeks ago, she was a registered Democrat. But she has campaigned for Republicans in the past. 

Chu says she had not considered running for any political seat, despite many encouraging her to do so in the past. But when she was approached in December by someone who offered to spearhead her campaign, she decided it was the right next step for her work. Her opposition to recent political decisions on a city and state level also motivated her to seek elected office. 

“I saw that the direction of our city, the direction of our state was not going the direction that I was happy with, and certainly a lot of people in the Asian community weren’t happy with,” said Chu, who in the past discussed that Asian Americans are shifting towards Republican ideals. 

Chu co-founded the Asian Wave Alliance in 2022, which works to mobilize Asian American voters across the city and in surrounding regions. The group has publicly condemned affirmative action policies as discriminatory. 

She also founded PLACE NYC, Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education, which seeks to make the public school curriculum more rigorous for students and also advocates for preserving the SHSAT.

“Advocacy is great. Trying to influence elected officials is what I’ve been trying to do in many different issues. But ultimately, they’re the person that’s going to vote, they’re the one that’s going to sponsor bills, and vote for policies that affect millions of us in New York.”

Chu expressed disappointment at the passage of two highly contested pieces of legislation in the city council – one that will place a ban on solitary confinement and another that will require police officers to document virtually all interactions with civilians to track demographics and increase accountability. After redistricting last year, Rikers Island is now represented by Senate District 11.

But she noted that many of the issues that she cares deeply about are on the state level. And given that there is currently a Democratic supermajority in the state legislature, she hopes that if she wins the election, her right leaning voice will shake things up. 

Chu also recently joined a lawsuit against the NYS Department of Education, alleging that the STEP enrichment program for middle and high school students is discriminatory against Asian and white students. For minority groups, there is no income requirement to gain acceptance into the program, but white and Asian students must prove that they are low-income. 

“Education will always be the heart of what I do,” said Chu. “But I plan to use my voice to express all of these things, regardless of whether I have a direct authority to make a change.”