Asian in America, Don't ID as Asian for College

Why You Shouldn’t Identify as Asian When Applying to College UPDATED

MItchell Chang UCLA professor JadeLuckClub Why you shouldn't identify race when applying to college if Asian

MItchell Chang UCLA professor JadeLuckClub Why you shouldn't identify race when applying to college if Asian

 In October 2006, Inside Higher Ed reported that at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, admissions officers and high school counselors readily admitted that bias against Asian Americans continues to be a real problem — so much so that some even recommended that Asian Americans should not identify their race in their applications.

I am posting a series of articles as I discover them, though they are not all new, regarding the politics of Asian Americans applying to elite private colleges. It seems to me that this is very similar to what happened to Jews 60 years ago where “ceilings” were placed. These days, Jews make up approximately 30% of Ivy League students, though religious affiliation isn’t tracked or reported in terms of college admits. Think about that! The Jewish population in America is believed to be 1.7% according to Wikipedia.

This puts a new spin on whether or not Asians should have a ceiling; that we are “over-represented” in terms of number of Asians in the U.S. versus at the Ivy League. It’s just that you can’t readily identify who is Jewish either by looking at them, or even by examining their surnames, particularly for Interfaith families.

Professor Chang, at UCLA, has an interesting article that comments on the negative impact of Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom book has on perpetuating the stereotype of Asian Americans as over achieving because of overbearing parents. He has an interesting quote which I have bolded at the top of this post that Admissions Officers and High School Counselors readily admit to an Anti-Asian bias to the point that some, like me, recommend against identifying race in their college applications.

The more I read about this, the more I realize that nothing will happen if there isn’t pressure for change. Hence, I am posting and encourage readers to make up their own minds. Is this racism? What do you think?

If you want to read all the posts on Don’t ID as Asian When Applying to College, click here.

p.s. For parents who think that Amy Chua’s book can be used as a parenting manual to get their kids into Harvard and Yale like her oldest, Sophia, realize this: her daughter is a double legacy as Harvard as both her parents went there. Her mother went to Harvard for both undergraduate and law school. Her father for law school. Sophia also doesn’t have to put herself into the most competitive group when applying to college. Since her father is Jewish, she can check either the “Mixed Race” OR the “Caucasian” box which (if you read all the articles on the bias against Asian Americans at elite private colleges) alone greatly  improves her chances for admittance. Add in bonus points for being a legacy which often makes the difference between acceptance and rejection.

As for Yale, children of employees at private colleges get special consideration that may increase their odds even more than a legacy. Sometimes the college has a set policy. For example, Boston College, Tufts College and University of Southern California are not only are more lenient on applicants who are children of employees, but any employee that has worked at the college for five years also gets a free ride for their child. At Boston College which is in the town I live in, this is so enticing on both accounts that parents will give up their own businesses to time a job at Boston College. Why not?! This makes great financial sense if you have many children. Grad school is also included! This can be up to $1 million dollars in savings for four children!

At other schools, the advantage for children of employees may be more tacit. When the pool of applicants for say Harvard is universally strong, there isn’t much difference between someone who gets accepted or rejected. Being a legacy can be the tiebreaker. Or knowing someone in the Admissions department which is easier to pull off if you work at that university.

My point is that Amy Chua has widely publicized where her daughter was admitted, not where she was rejected. Admission into Brown University or Stanford, for example, for Sophia would be a better indicator that Tiger Mom parenting is a sure thing into the Ivy League simply because she doesn’t have a “home field” advantage there.

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1/27/11 UCLA TodayTiger mom adds to stereotype that burdens Asian American students
Mitchell J. Chang is a professor of education and Asian American studies.
His op-ed appeared originally in the Sacramento Bee’s Jan. 26, 2011 edition.


The Wall Street Journal published an essay this month by Yale University law professor Amy Chua titled, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” bringing national attention to the methods by which Asian American parents raise high-achieving children. Within a week, the essay received more than 6,500 comments on the newspaper’s website, catapulting her previously unnoticed book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” up the New York Times‘ list of best-sellers. Chua’s essay is considered controversial largely because it stresses a rigid parenting style based on tough love — the “Tiger Mother” — that goes against what she considers more typical “Western” styles that emphasize self-esteem and self-discovery. Parenting strategies aside, what has been overlooked is how this essay unintentionally undermines Asian American college applicants by perpetuating an erroneous stereotype.

High-achieving Asian Americans have been struggling against an “Asian tax” in college as well as graduate school admissions for over three decades.

In the late ’80s, the federal government investigated charges that Asian American college applicants faced a higher admissions bar than other groups. They concluded in 1990 that Harvard admitted Asian American applicants at a lower rate than white students despite the fact that Asian American applicants had slightly stronger test scores and grades.

The federal government also inspected other elite universities, including some UC campuses where Asian American enrollment dropped despite increased numbers of highly qualified applicants. Federal investigators found that admissions staff at these elite universities had stereotyped Asian American applicants in characterizing them as quiet, shy and not “well rounded.”

In October 2006, Inside Higher Ed reported that at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, admissions officers and high school counselors readily admitted that bias against Asian Americans continues to be a real problem — so much so that some even recommended that Asian Americans should not identify their race in their applications. Admissions officers reportedly complained on a regular basis that they didn’t “want another boring Asian.”

Meeting participants also reacted to a November 2005 Wall Street Journal article, which reported that white families were leaving top public schools as districts became “too Asian,” apparently referring to a shift in the emphasis of after-school programs away from a sports focus and toward an academic one.

Now comes Chua’s characterization of the “Tiger Mother,” adding to what it means to be “too Asian.” This image contributes to an already problematic stereotype by suggesting not only that most Asian  Americans are high-achieving, but also that their achievements are due to overbearing parents.

Her characterization can further tax Asian American college applicants by reducing the chances that they will be viewed as self-starters, risk-takers and independent thinkers — attributes that are often favored by admissions officers but rarely associated with Asian American applicants. If the “Tiger Mother” image leaves a lasting impression and is applied broadly beyond Chua’s own experiences, this characterization can advance a one-dimensional view of Asian Americans that minimizes their achievements and overlooks their diversity.

With any luck, those involved with admissions in higher education fully recognize the shortcomings of Chua’s essay and understand that the story of high achievement for Asian Americans is as varied as the number of college applicants. If they don’t and the “Asian tax” rises instead, we will hopefully be reading about the determination of Asian American parents to eliminate discriminatory admissions practices, rather than essays about an obsession with raising hyper-achieving kids. Ideally, the public will be just as concerned about the former as they have been with the latter.

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10 Responses to “Why You Shouldn’t Identify as Asian When Applying to College UPDATED”

  1. On July 22, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Ponn Sabra

    responded with... #

    From my LinkedIn Comments:

    “Fascinating & Distributing article! Have admissions officers failed to acknowledge that the world’s population is vastly Asian? Therefore, Asian-Americans won’t be a minority group much longer? Also, my whole life no one ever doubts if I’m a “self-starter, risk-taker and independent thinker”, nor due people question that of all my girls. Quite furious! Thanks for sharing.”

    BTW, I love your title, LOL! A new loyal reader. 😉

    • On July 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm

      admin

      responded with... #

      Thank you so much. As you can see, we still have a ways to go before Asian Americans have reached a place where there are no bamboo ceilings.

    • On August 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      Min Ko

      responded with... #

      World’s population is vastly Asian – Yes.
      US – No.
      independent thinker – ???

  2. On August 8, 2011 at 11:46 am

    boyie

    responded with... #

    I don’t know if I agree with this. Asians and Asian Americans are still a minority, and while they are highly competitive in the college admissions arena, it doesn’t mean that you should not identify as much. The act of not identifying as such is moot when most names give it away (come on Lizzie Chang, Bobby Wu or whatever identifying name will give away your ethnicity).

    It might be seen as disingenuous by some members of adcom who might be aware of what these kids are doing. I mean, if you have a name that isn’t so identifying of Asian ethnicity (Joshua Fernandez, a Filipino could easily pass as Hispanic without self-identification), then you might get away with it, but then you’d have to wonder.. did you get in on your own merit or through your perceived ethnicity?

    As for me, I’d rather know that I was amongst the best of the best (even amongst my fellow Asian overachievers) than to get in through sneakier means.

    • On August 8, 2011 at 8:38 pm

      admin

      responded with... #

      To Boyie,
      My message here is that Affirmative Action when it comes to Asian Americans and elite private colleges is that it is an outdated policy that does not help Asians like it is supposed to. I think the decision is a personal one and should be made by each individual. I just want to get the word out so each person makes an informed decision that is right for him or her. I respect your decision. It’s just messed up that you should be in this predicament where revealing your race is like playing Russian Roulette.

      Also, from what I’ve read, the admissions can’t really make an ethnicity call based on surnames. That would set them up for a lawsuit plus with inter racial marriages, surnames are deceiving.

  3. On August 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Min Ko

    responded with... #

    Ethnic and cultural diversity!

  4. On August 25, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    admin

    responded with... #

    Martha from my LinkedIn Group wanted to post this comment so I am doing it for her:

    Thank you Mia and Jason. Very complex situation and clearly unfair.
    It deserves real attention. And yes, to see change or get to the bottom of this behavior/practice may be to follow the concept of “Litigate to Educate”. I am sure a top legal firm may be able to give an opinion on this matter.

    A top lawyer with a great record that I can think of is Charles Foster. The attorney portrayed in the movie Mao’s Last Dancer. I met him in Houston many, many years ago. If he cannot do it for whatever reason, he would recommend who may be able to advise on such matters… A very professional and reputable firm… they have offices in many parts of the world and the country. if you decide to contact him, feel free to give him my regards,

    Foster and Quann LLP
    Charles C. Foster,
    600 Travis Street, Suite 2000 | Houston, Texas 77002 USA
    713.335.3904 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 713.335.3904 end_of_the_skype_highlighting office | 713.228.1303 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 713.228.1303 end_of_the_skype_highlighting fax |cfoster@fosterquan.com | http://www.fosterquan.com

  5. On October 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    admin

    responded with... #

    From my LinkedIn Group Korean-American Professionals:

    unless you are adopted by caucasians, like me 🙂

    Posted by Mary

    • On October 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      admin

      responded with... #

      To Mary,
      Good point! If you are adopted by non-Asians, what are you supposed to check? I’d check Caucasian in this case too!

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