Are Asian-Americans outperforming all other ethnic and racial groups? Are they taking over the nation's most elite universities and claiming the majority of degrees in math, science, and engineering? These questions are obviously based on stereotypes. Yet, according to a new report, the view of Asian-Americans as high achievers is so entrenched in the public's mind that it threatens to deepen ethnic and racial divisions and to undermine the contributions that Asian-Americans can make to society.
The report, which was released this week by the College Board and New York University, debunks three major myths by offering evidence that shows not all Asian-Americans are stellar students who go to the best colleges and universities to become doctors and engineers. People may joke that UCLA really stands for "United Caucasians Lost Among Asians" and that MIT means "Made in Taiwan," but, in reality, only a small percentage of Asian-American and Pacific Islander students are enrolled at the most selective schools, the report says. The study points out that the number of Asian-Americans at these schools is inflated by the presence of international students from Asian countries who disproportionately pursue doctorate degrees in math, science, and engineering. The majority of U.S.-born Asian students, the report says, attend two-year and four-year public schools, with nearly half of those enrolled at colleges in just three states: California, New York, and Texas.
The authors conclude that correcting the public's perception of Asian-Americans actually could be a matter of life and death. They point to the disproportionate suicide rate among Asian-Americans at university campuses and suggest that colleges are not adequately staffed with personnel who are sensitive and knowledgeable about the challenges facing Asian-American students. The report also invites a discussion about how affirmative action has harmed relations among different ethnic and racial groups. It says Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders "have now been positioned as buffers, middlemen in the cost-benefit analysis of wins and losses in the affirmative action debate." Among the solutions proposed are better reporting and tracking methods and more hiring of Asian-Americans who can bridge cultural gaps at the secondary and higher ed levels.