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Model minority myth

The burdens of stereotyping


The pressure to do well in college can be intense. According to psychology major Sabrina Chen ’19, who spoke at an Office of Inclusion and Diversity (OID) event about the model minority myth, her mother reminds her often that she must get all A’s because she is is paying for an expensive education. As a result, Chen who is Asian-American, has high expectations of herself.

Chen said she did not want to disappoint her mother by not living up to her expectations.

“I [would] feel shame and guilt and ultimately like a failure to my parents,” said Chen.

Aubrey Wang, Ph.D., associate professor in the educational leadership department and director of the Interdisciplinary Doctor of Education Program for Educational Leaders (IDEPEL) also attended the OID event and explained the misconceptions of the model minority myth.

“A simple way of thinking of the model minority myth is the stereotypical perception that all Asian Americans excel academically, often in math and science, because they are inherently good at these subjects and that studying comes easy to them,” said Aubrey Wang, Ph.D., associate professor in the educational leadership department and director of the Interdisciplinary Doctor of Education Program for Educational Leaders (IDEPEL).

Wang attended Chen’s presentation and offered the perspective as not just an educator, but as a parent to Asian American children.

“Teachers are not paying enough attention to my children in their classes because they assumed based on the model minority myth, that my children are inherently good at learning a subject,” said Wang. “When in reality, they are struggling and need additional support and attention.”

Chen has been able to find this additional support by visiting the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Alison Eng ’18, a student who also attended the presentation, said she too has been impacted by the model minority myth. Eng said at first her parents put pressure on her to succeed academically, but now the pressure to succeed comes from her own motivations due to this stereotype.

“I set myself up to strive for perfectionism,” said Eng. “If I get less than B, I still have that aching feeling of falling into despair over it.”

According to National Association of Independent Schools, the term model minority myth comes from the 1960s when the narrative of Asian immigrants shifted from just a minority to the model minority. But, the model minority myth presents a clear problem in that it puts all of Asian Americans into one category. According to Chen’s presentation, the pressure of being the “model” minority not only isolates Asian Americans from other minorities, it places an added pressure on Asian American children to perform and uphold this stereotype.

The model minority myth not only comes from parents, but also peers. Chen explained there are stereotypes that affect Asian Americans, such as peers assuming Asian American students do not need to study or excel in mathematics.

Francesca Lupini ’19 said because she is half Japanese and half Italian/Polish, she looks ambiguous to others, and people are not able to pinpoint her ethnicity. Although Lupini defines her ethnicity as mixed, she said the model minority myth impacts her as well.

“Once I tell people my ethnicity, then the Asian jokes ensue, which I’ve learned to brush off,” said Lupini. “But [it] can become a bit much when people reduce me to just the butt end of a joke.”

Wang said that when her family meets new people and it appears they are being stereotyped according to the model minority myth, she changes how she interacts with them.

“I will typically use humor, self-deprecation to illustrate that Asian-Americans are not just about academic excellence in math and science, and that, we are like everyone else, with a number of weaknesses and strengths,” Wang said.

For linguistics major Eng, when she was in middle school and was sent for extra schooling by her family, she began to purposefully fail.

“Since I wasn’t improving much, I stopped caring and started to purposely fail,” Eng said. “My parents finally noticed my lack of motivation and we sat down to discuss the issue.”

Eng is still trying to determine how to deal with the myth that is put upon her.

“It’s a long process I’m trying to figure out but I also know that I am not alone,” said Eng.

About the author

Lizzie Fuller

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