Prejudice Against Asian Students at College
Prejudice Against Asian Students
Other immigrant groups arrive at college with a reputation of advantage and face the prejudice this brings. This is especially notable among Asian American students who arrive on campus labeled as "brains." For reasons not clearly understood, Asians, whether born abroad or in the United States, are exceptionally high achievers in school. Phil Kaufman, lead author of a study on Asian students published by the National Center for Education Statistics, says the key ingredient seems to be that Asian parents have higher expectations than American parents for their kids.5 It is interesting to find that parental expectations do actually push college-age young adults to achieve academic success, but in the Asian college student population, this push for success has caused a new brand of pressure and prejudice.
From within their own families, Asian students face the now famous "Asian parents syndrome." This is a parental style that accepts no excuses for not being the best. It demands excellence and is powered by extremely high expectations. Young Asian kids know exactly what it is and even post comments about it on-line, with egregious examples, mutual complaints, and occasionally a bit of humor.
From outside the family, Asian students also face unique pressures. As changes in affirmative action laws make it more difficult for youth of color to find a place in top-tier universities, the demise of the quota system opens the door to more qualified Asian students. This, some predict, will cause an overflow of Asian students who, oddly enough, will feel exposed and vulnerable as a result of their success.
Ling-Chi Wang, professor of Asian-American studies and ethnic studies at the University of California at Berkeley, has predicted that soon Asians will make up more than 50 percent of total undergraduate enrollment on the eight University of California campuses, the nation's largest public university system, if the same merit-based criteria continue. As this begins to happen, Wang has observed a backlash against these students that has sometimes made them feel marginalized and ignored. For example, he has seen many people, including faculty, become intolerant of Asian students' weaknesses in reading and writing.
"Although Asian students generally perform 40 to 50 points higher than other American students on the math portion of the SATs," he says, "they score 30 to 40 points lower on the verbal sections because of their immigrant backgrounds." This language deficit causes some on college campuses to feel these students who are "taking over" don't really belong there. The Asian students know they are not always wanted and that their language difficulties make their admission status suspect.
There is also a degree of resentment from both the faculty and fellow students against the Asian American's drive to excel academically. Wang notes, "From the time they are born, Asian Americans tend to be under a lot of parental, community, and family pressure to perform well, and so the students flock to the college's academic support services to maintain their instinctive competitive edge. But other students feel they are 'soaking up' all the available services." This resentment makes it more difficult for Asian American students to feel wanted and at home on the college campus.
Although Asian students have a reputation for being exceptionally smart, many have an exceptionally difficult time in college adjusting to a rigorous academic climate and learning style that they are not familiar with. Wang has observed this in his students: "In elementary school and high school, these students do very well because they are responsible, obedient, docile, and respectful. They are good at regurgitating facts, playing the game to manipulate the system, and getting high test scores, good grades, and letters of recommendation. When they get to college, however, they have great difficulty adjusting to the critical and creative thinking that is expected of them. I give my students take-home final exams that ask them only two open-ended questions that challenge their analytical abilities"and they hate it. They would prefer to sit in the classroom for two hours and give back objective, memorized information rather than go home and have to think critically about questions that challenge them to question the facts."
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