Zhou Presents Research and Hosts Panel of Experts

After spending a month and a half researching in China this summer, Jenny Zhou ’11 examined the stereotype of Asian Americans’ academic success in her CAMD Scholars presentation this past Friday, October 22. Zhou’s presentation, titled “A+ Because I’m Asian: An Examination of the Model Minority Myth,” discussed how Asian Americans have succeeded due to the emphasis on education in Asian culture and addressed many of the negative effects of the stereotype. A panel discussion followed her presentation. The panelists included Dr. Peter Kiang, Professor of Education and Director of Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dr. Vivian Louie ’84, Associate Professor of Education at Harvard University and Dr. Jean Wu, Program and Education Director for the Office of Diversity Education and Development and Senior Lecturer in American Studies at Tufts University. Zhou said, “I chose to research this topic because I’ve always been intrigued by the dynamics between Asian American children, their parents and their attitudes towards education. The differences between Asian school systems and US school systems were striking to me.” While exploring Asian American stereotypes, Zhou determined that many factors play a role in Asian Americans’ academic achievements. Zhou said that immigration plays a pivotal role in an Asian American’s success. During her presentation, Zhou divided Asian-American immigrants into two categories: non-voluntary immigrants, such as political refugees, and voluntary immigrants. “Immigration is the most important factor because it essentially decides socioeconomic conditions. Individuals that choose to immigrate do so with ample belief that circumstances will improve,” said Zhou. Zhou explained how Asian Americans who flee to America as refugees are less likely to be academically successful since they have limited money for education. Without money and hindered by a significant language barrier, it is difficult for these students to thrive in school. Louie said, “It is difficult to migrate, leaving your culture, country and language. In coming to a new country, children see the sacrifices their parents make, which may encourage them to succeed.” “However, this is not something that just happens with Asian American families. This ‘sacrifice’ is known as the immigrant bargain. The hope is that the children raised in the US get the opportunity to [thrive].” Louie continued. According to Louie, voluntary Asian American immigrants are more successful because education is an important focus in their communities. Zhou mentioned that many Asian American families use fake addresses to enroll their children in the better school districts. “There is also a cultural aspect behind [their academic success]. In Asian families parental involvement is much more [prominent], as there is more pressure to do well in Asia,” said Zhou. According to Zhou, high-achieving Asian Americans come from families who value education foremost. In a recent survey, Zhou learned that eight out of ten Asian families would sell their house in order to support their children in education, while only three of ten white parents would prioritize education over their living accommodations. Some felt competition helped Asian Americans find greater academic success. Miki Nagahara ’13, said, “In some ways, I think [the academic success of Asian Americans] is based on competition. In the past, Asian culture has been constructed around survival. [Competition] is an underlying theme that is not necessarily addressed in terms of surviving anymore, but rather in doing well.” In the 1960s magazines and newspapers began broadcasting the success of the hardworking and successful Asian Americans, forming a stereotype of Asian Americans as a “model minority”. “[The stereotype] labels all Asian Americans, though it seems to be supported by high SAT scores and college admissions,” said Zhou. According to Zhou, however, many Asian Americans face racism and poverty and do not succeed in America. “[We must] realize that the stereotype rose for a reason, but these reasons only explain why some Asian Americans achieve. If we merge 48 independent nations into one pan-Asian continent, naturally assumptions will be made about the group that are not true,” said Zhou. “African Americans and Hispanics are stereotyped as dysfunctional single- parent families who fail in school. The [Asian American] stereotype took the minority explanation away from them,” she continued. Zhou said that she was unsure of how the stereotype will evolve in the future. “Stereotypes never really go away, and because we are in America, a country of many different races, it may not be a bad thing to recognize the strengths of some cultures,” said Zhou. This summer, Zhou traveled to China for her research. She visited six schools in the Shenzhen area, conducting seminars and interviews with many Chinese administrators, teachers and students. Zhou said that as her research progressed, her perspective on the stereotype changed. “I used to think that the [stereotype] was more ethnic- related and that parts of the stereotype were likely true,” said Zhou, “However, I learned that the [stereotype] does not apply to all Asian Americans.” Zhou was one of four CAMD Scholars chosen last spring. In addition to her presentation, Zhou wrote a 49- page essay for her CAMD Scholars Project.