My take on the “Too Asian” article

Until now, I have hesitated to comment on the Maclean‘s article titled “Too Asian?” that has been stirring controversy in the media over the past two weeks. Before I express my dissent for the article, I’m going to make a few disclaimers:

a. I worked with one of the authors, Stephanie Findlay. We worked together at The Ubyssey Student Newspaper a few years ago. I consider her a very intelligent person. As (hopefully) future journalists, we will one day be asked to critique the work of others—even though those people might be our friends or colleagues. I also understand the editorial process, and how what’s printed can look radically different from the original draft.

b. I’m 100% Chinese. I’ve been mistaken for Filipino, people think I’m half-white, etc. However, I’m second-generation Chinese-Canadian—it means I’m the first generation to be born in Canada—and that means that, while I have adopted a lot of Western culture, I still retain a few of the Chinese customs and values.

To put it simply: I did not like the article “Too Asian?” I found it sensationalistic and offensive. I will be repeating a lot of what I have read in opinion pieces and columns that have been published, but I’ll try to comment on the dialogue out there at the end.

1. I think it’s offensive.

I’ll address the “offensive” part of my argument first. The article paints all Asians with the same brush. Not only that, it paints all Caucasians with the same brush. It makes the case that “whites” are constantly being outperformed by Asians. I am not white, but I am Asian, and I can say that I do not believe all of the statements are correct.

“’Asian parents do their homework and the students are going to U of T or they’re going to Queen’s,’” says Bondy, who points out that ‘Asians get more support from their parents financially and academically.'”

This is one of many statements in the article that I disagree with. “Asian parents…” “Asians are…” “Asians get…” Yes, Asian parents and students who retain a lot of the values and customs of their society do “fit the picture” of Asians that the Maclean’s article is suggesting. However, not all Asians are the same, and the article does not distinguish between “types of Asians.” Canadian universities push for high numbers of international students—it’s estimated that 15% of the students enrolled at UBC are international students—and UBC wants to push that number between 20 and 25%.

This is not entirely the fault of the authors, or Maclean’s. Surveys that ask you to state your ethnicity do not take into account where you were born, your childhood, etc.—and that is where a lot of data about differences between cultures comes from, including the data used in the Maclean’s article. That being said, the article is not sensitive enough about the issue at hand. I have no problem with the statement that Ivy League schools restrict the amount of Asians admitted. The problem is that these facts are overshadowed by the insensitive tone of the article, which —I repeat—generalizes both Asians and whites.

The article says that “[Bondy] also observed that the focus on academics was often to the exclusion of social interaction….Students can carry that narrow scope into university, where they risk alienating their more fun-loving peers.” This can be true for any student, yet the Maclean’s article seems to imply that it is only Asians who suffer from this affliction.

2. It’s sensationalistic.

I understand that journalists sensationalize articles. Hey, it’s their job to attract your attention. But the facts presented in “Too Asian?” are striking enough (see: Ivy League schools) that the article does not need to be as sensational as it is. There are older versions of the article kicking around (here) and you can see that the subheadline for the old one is a lot more sensationalistic than the current. I was once told that once something is on the internet, it’s there forever. Someone probably has a copy of it. I’m quite disappointed that Maclean’s was not more careful with an article on such a sensitive topic. It also leads with a racist comment from Alexandra (who is only ONE student, I might add—although the latter half of the article is more intelligent), igniting emotions from the start.

I also wanted to comment on this:

Such balkanization is reflected in official student organizations: there is little Asian representation on student government, campus newspapers or college radio stations. At UBC, where the student body is roughly 40 per cent Asian, not one Asian sits on the student executive. Same goes for Waterloo. Asian students do, however, participate in organizations beyond the university mainstream, and long-standing cultural clubs function as a sort of ad hoc government.

“Not one Asian sits on the student executive.” This is true, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Last year there were two Asian executives on UBC’s student executive. (2/5 = 40%!) In addition, UBCs student council is not just made up of a five-person executive. It’s made up of a council with student representatives from all faculties on campus, and I bet you’ll find more Asians if you look there. In addition, UBC’s Chinese Varsity club, which, according to the article, has “upwards of 500 members”, is not solely comprised of Asians. You don’t even have to be Chinese to join.

Conclusions

This article is an example of how difficult it is to cover or talk about issues of multiculturalism. I understand that. (The Globe and Mail has an interesting article about this.) But to be honest, I was disappointed with the article. It made me angry (but I mostly tried to leave emotion out of this blog post for fear of seeming biased).

I’ll wrap it up by saying that what Maclean’s probably intended to do is to start a discussion about this issue, and although it wasn’t done in the most sensitive way, it has sparked dialogue. Look at all of the discussions that have been happening on blogs, among friends, in newspapers, even at universities, weeks after the article was published. And that’s one good thing about it.

I welcome comments, as always.

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Posted on November 24, 2010, in Blog, Journalism, Post-Secondary, UBC and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Ok, 0/5 or 5/5 Asian members of exec isn’t statistically significant from the “expected” 2/5. None of these stats matter with such a small sample size so it’s meaningless without looking at many years (yes, more than 2). You wouldn’t assume a coin is weighted if it fell tails five times in a row. Council though, is a better sample.

    Abuse of stats in popular interest article? What?!

  2. Yeah, but isn’t council mostly non-Asian as well? Don’t have any stats, but that’s what it looked like to me.

  3. Really good piece.

    I’ll say the dynamic is very different at Waterloo. I think a lot of the article’s concerns hold truer at Waterloo than at UBC so I find it even more ironic that the Toole was more cognizant of the growing problem than Feridun was.

    But yes, the balkanization is happening. It is happening quickly and it is breaking apart our campus.

    Another thing I wanted to talk about was meritocracy. On the Waterloo campus, a lot of students fail the ELPE every term. That is a lot of kids who cannot communicate in simple English.

    I think that’s significant. Considering its an English speaking school, I’m not sure why you should be considered qualified when you can’t speak English.

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