USA Today had an interesting article on the Asian applicants’ response to the discrimination towards Asian in the college admission process. Summary of the article: Asians are held to much higher standards than other ethnic groups in the admission process, and the top schools that don’t consider ethnicity in their review have a much higher percentage of Asian students (double the amount) than the schools that do.
I shared the link on Facebook and had an interesting conversation with my friend Christopher Barot, a Physics PhD student at University of Michigan. Here goes:
Mai: Although this is unfair, it also makes me feel good. The hardworking, overachieving, perfect-score-having stereotype is a good stereotype. I wish I fit it.
Chris: Idk, that stereotype comes along with naivete, poor social skills, difficulty dealing with failure, and various other negative aspects. That one girl pointed out something that rung true with me though: people always make jokes about it, but the jokes are kinda true.
Mai: Hmm… but the negative aspects are gravely untrue, though. The only awkward kids I’ve encountered in the past 8 years are white. What does “difficulty dealing with failure” mean? Getting freaked out about an A- is not difficulty dealing with failure, it’s perfectionism; going to see a therapist or a counselor and crying depression every time there’s a problem is having difficulty with failure, and Asian kids hardly ever do that. Naivete isn’t bad, I think it’s cute.
Chris: I’ve met plenty of awkward Asian kids, though certainly Asians don’t have a monopoly on that. As for perfectionism, I’m recalling examples of people crying in bathrooms over contest results and fainting in class because they’ve stayed awake for nearly 3 days studying. Similarly, there is a fine line between a cute sort of naivete and an inability to function on your own.
Mai: I don’t know what your definition of awkwardness is, but I’ve met plenty of asian kids, especially after I moved to Cali, and none of them are awkward. Are you counting foreigners too? But foreigners have a right to be awkward when they don’t know the language so well. As for crying and fainting, that’s not unable to deal with the stress, people have to let it out somehow when it’s stressful, and it’s only inability when they need help letting it out or do something destructive in the process of letting it out. What’s wrong with crying? As for inability to function on their own, do you mean parents taking care of them? That’s just because their parents want to take care of them, not because they can’t take care of themselves.
Chris: I’m not sure what you expect me to say. I’m not trying to make the claim that all asian students fit some specific stereotype. I’m just saying that the asian stereotype isn’t exactly purely positive. I’d also add that things we might consider positive, such as an emphasis on education, are actually valued less in other cultures. I’ve had people dismiss me as “only good at that thinking stuff”.
Mai: well, I’m still proud of us , and I disagree with the other cultures on what they value .
Chris: Of course you disagree with other cultures values, thats what makes them other cultures. That said, I’d be proud too if my asianness wasn’t in question.
Mai: Why is your asianess in question?
Chris: I’ve had people make a distinction between Asian and Indian. Apparently, as I’d say the article suggests, Asian means oriental.
Mai: I think that’s a bit of ignorance on their part, East Asian and South Asian share very similar values, the only difference is our look.
Chris: Nonetheless, look at every person interviewed. Look at the names they suggest make ancestry obvious. You have to admit the standards are pretty consistent though. Acceptance rates might be unfavorable for asians, but they do favor more underachieving minority groups. Can you get upset over turning away qualified Asian applicants without also getting upset at minority scholarships? The logic behind lower standards for African or Hispanic applicants has always been the historically different social and economic levels and resulting culture. If we can help cultures that don’t emphasize education, why not harm cultures that do?
Mai: I don’t quite understand your standpoint here. Minority scholarships, or any kind of scholarships for that matter, are different from admission, they are aimed toward a specific group, be it athletes, art majors, history majors, etc., and they come from various organizations and sponsors, whoever gives the money has the right to choose who to receive it. And that’s the right way to help the underadvantaged groups. Admission must be based solely on merit, how is this diversity consideration different from say, give the Asian kid a harder exam and the “underachieving minority” kid an easier exam in the same class, merely because they come from different families? Everyone would say that is unfair, right? There is no logic to back that up, so the logic behind lower admission standards for African applicants is not only unreasonable, but also insulting to the African students. If I were African, I wouldn’t accept it.
Furthermore, saying “African” is also incorrect, the actual African students from Africa work just as hard and are just as overachieving as the Asian students, by giving them the lower standards, we’re really insulting their intelligence and undermining their effort.
By helping cultures that don’t emphasize education and harming cultures that do, we are only sending one message: don’t focus on education. Not to mention that this is an academic environment, if we don’t emphasize education, what are we emphasizing? Football?
Chris is a very smart tongue-in-cheek kinda guy. So smart that sometimes I have trouble telling if he’s joking or being serious. Maybe he’s never serious. I share this conversation here as a way to bookmark it and because it has many points on the American education that I could dwell on for hours, when I have the hours.
UPDATE: more discussion between Chris and me.
The responses are much longer this time. And Chris brought up something interesting: The American education system does not focus on education, it emphasizes the ability to understand and take advantage of the system.
Chris: Individual donor scholarships can be earmarked for whatever, but I’m talking about scholarships for standardized tests and funds for college support. For example, back in high school, I remember the PSAT and the National Merit Awards. When taking the PSAT you are asked if you want to be considered as an African American or Hispanic American Scholar in addition to the normal scholars program. (I used to joke about the considered part suggesting it was actually my choice.) The point though, is that there is a National Merit Scholars designation awarded for your score, but you can then get a lower score and still become one of these minority national merit scholars. This is both a resume point for acceptance purposes as well as a way to get scholarship money. However, it only applies for minorities with average scores under the national average. Having an Asian American Scholars designation would mean there would be Asian students that are National Merit Scholars but not “Asian American Merit Scholars” as they pass the national cut off but not the Asian one. Also, the tests (PSAT, SAT, and others) really are supposed to be harder for some groups and easier for others. Hence the increasing emphasis on english language and obscure vocabulary as well as the reading passage choices (my English teacher used to joke AP english was about “old, dead white guys”). The PSAT in particular applies a different cut off for each state. That isn’t directly about race but still unequally favors people in certain states (the joke around school used to be, if you fail to make it, move to Mississippi real fast and take it there).
As to the correctness of African, I stand by that as well. A friend of mine told me about a former class mate of ours that qualified for an african american scholarship based on her being from South Africa. However, she was later denied this scholarship because she is white.
As to the message being sent by this, I’m not trying to justify it; I’m trying to clarify that it is not as simple as racism against one ethnicity. The education system in the U.S. really emphasizes different things for different groups of people, both before and during college. For most, if not all, it does not focus on education. In fact, if I had to make a blanket statement to cover it all, I’d say education in the U.S. emphasizes the ability to understand a fairly arbitrary system and use it to your own advantage. Honestly, you could make a case for this being a very useful set of skills to develop for later on in life.
Also, I don’t mind your posting this for a blog though I did notice you’ve got that up before I actually gave my consent. To answer the implied comment you make at the end of the post, a fair amount of what I said was me playing devil’s advocate rather than trying to make a case for my own beliefs. Still, as I mentioned, even the jokes are reflective of the truth.
Mai: Admittedly I did misuse my power and got it up before your consent, but I figured this is published on my Facebook wall, which I already set public to everyone, so if you agree to post here then it’s safe to assume that you wouldn’t mind being on my blog. Anyways, thank you for your consent. And yes, I agree that the jokes are reflective of the truth. In fact, if the joke has no truth in it, then it’s just plain stupid and un-called-for. As they say, it’s funny because it’s true.
For the PSAT, the consideration part is not meant to be your choice, but the African American and Hispanic students’ choice, possibly because of the possible offense that I mentioned. But I understand your point. Now, as I said before, I think it’s okay for these scholarships to be discriminative like that as long as they are publicly specific. It’s okay to me that these Hispanic students are Hispanic American Scholar, but it would not be okay if they received the same title American Scholar as the Asian students who have a much higher score than them. To put it in another way, it’s not okay if the Asian student with a high (but not high enough for Asians) to not get the title while the Hispanic student with a lower score gets that same title. This is what’s wrong with college admission: you’re not known as a Hispanic Harvard graduate or Asian Harvard graduate, simply just Harvard graduate, so why should you be known as Hispanic or Asian applicant?
I don’t think that the standard tests are easy for some groups and harder for others. Yes, they’re hard for immigrants, but that’s just the fact of an immigrant’s life. Other than that, if you study, you’re okay. And as the article said, many Asians make perfect scores on these, not because they’re favored, but because they work hard. The different cutoffs for different states are just plain stupid, but I hope that the admission committees at top schools don’t consider geographical diversity as well. If you just barely pass the PSAT in one state, chances are you’ll only apply to colleges in that state, where this issue is not really an issue. Those are the more homogeneous states, I assume?
I understand that the diversity setup wasn’t meant to discriminate against Asians, rather the discrimination is one of its consequences. The “taking advantage of the system” argument is interesting indeed, which leads me back to the beginning of this thread: as unfair as it has become, it is also beneficial to Asian students: when the bar is set higher, the applicants will try harder and become better. As for those who are content with the low bar, they’re only going to fall farther behind.