Asian Americans, a minority group often overlooked because of stereotypes regarding their overachieving, successful nature, face challenges that are relevant to the discussion of race/ethnicity in the United States. Denied the right to naturalized citizenship until 1952 (Kelsey, lect. 11/6/18), Asians are relatively new as a minority group in the U.S. Much of their history is downplayed and unmentioned, such as the lynching of Chinese residents during the anti-Chinese hysteria and Alien Land Law of 1913 along with the Immigration Act of 1917 (Kelsey, lect. 11/6/18). Originally labeled as “devious” and “unassimilable”, Asian immigrants united under the term of “Asian Americans” to fight against racism (Kobayashi 1999:3-4). The media portrayed Asian Americans as quiet and uncomplaining, which led to the model minority image: “[t]he dominant people used the term ‘model minority’ in order to silence complaints of racism by other minorities and to show other minorities how they should behave in a White dominated society” (Kobayashi 1999:4).
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Due to the ignoration of history and success stories of select Asian Americans, the assumption that all Asian Americans are inherently fortunate and easily able to achieve has been perpetuated. The model minority stereotype refers to the cultural expectation placed on minority groups, such as Asian Americans, that each individual within that group will embody certain positive characteristics, i.e. intelligence, hard-working, self-determining, and successful, such that they serve as a model for other minority groups and play into the idea that one can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. Although this stereotype may be perceived as beneficial in the sense that it may motivate young people in this group and elevate the status of Asian Americans since they are assumed to have many character-affirming traits, it ignores the challenges faced by many Asian ethnicities by lumping them all together under this broad, ill-defined group of Asian Americans, divides races by assuming that one is inherently better than the others, as well as puts immense pressure on young people. The consequence of this stereotype is that there is a “failure to acknowledge socioeconomic and education disparities among a diverse range of communities categorized as Asian American” (Lim 2015: par. 3).
A concern with the model minority stereotype is that it may be narrowing the issue of decreased Asian American academic success to a small group of factors with little being done to resolve the problem. The data of Asian American students at Oakland Technical High School shows a discrepancy between the rate of graduation and enrollment in postsecondary institutions: 92% of Asian students graduate but only 47.8% enroll in postsecondary institutions compared to 87.9% of white students who graduate of which 62.2% enroll in postsecondary institutions (CDE, “Ed Data”, 2015-16; 2009). The gap between graduates and those continuing with postsecondary education is startling when considering the persistent assumption that all Asians Americans achieve their success by pursuing occupations requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, there is little to no data about these differences with regard to gender. In order to combat racial inequality and the model minority stereotype, it is necessary to understand what factors contribute to the Asian Americans underperforming/underachieving when compared to their white counterparts and if this issue is influenced by gender along with the stereotype. Therefore, my research question asks why Asian Americans have lower rates of enrollment in postsecondary institutions compared to white students though their rate of graduation is higher, and whether gender along with the model minority stereotype impacts this difference. By engaging in a year-long, ethnographic study at Oakland Tech, I hope to identify the relationships, interactions, expectations, and other factors that affect the academic success of Asian American students and whether these vary with gender.
While ample research has been conducted to demonstrate that the model minority myth affects the mental health of young Asian Americans, prompts prejudice in higher education and career fields, as well as causes divides with other racial groups, particularly Latinx and African Americans, by segregating these minority groups and pitting them against each other, there is limited information concerning a possible gender gap within Asian Americans, which may lead to explaining the discrepancies between graduation rates and enrollment in postsecondary institutions at Oakland Tech. Furthermore, a gender difference in academic success could not only add a new dimension to the issue of the model minority stereotype but also point to additional pressures maintained by gender biases and expectations (such as females expected to marry and have children at an early age and give up their education to be a doting housewife).
Many researchers have shown and discussed the negative impact of the model minority stereotype on the psychological stability of students, establishing a clear consequence of high expectations perpetuated by both the Asian community in the U.S. as well as other racial groups. The continued assumptions about the Asian racial group has led to the internalization of the model minority stereotype, particularly by students who attend predominantly non-Asian schools compared to those who attend predominantly Asian schools (Atkin et.al 2018). According to the study done by Atkin et. al (2018), this internalization results in increased depression and anxiety in Asian American students, the levels of which are dependent on the racial composition of their schools. Furthermore, this stereotype has been shown to affect teachers, thus increasing the pressure and anxiety of students as their teachers hold higher expectations based on the students’ racial background and attribute their success/academic achievement to their race i.e. “It’s because you’re Asian” (Wong 2015). Thus, the model minority stereotype affects both students and teachers but ultimately places extra, unnecessary pressure on Asian American students, negatively affecting their academic performance and overall health.
The biases in line with the model minority stereotype continue further than basic education, impacting the treatment of Asian Americans in higher education and across various careers. According to Museus and Kiang (2009), the model minority stereotype causes exclusion of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in higher academia, especially since they are often considered to be white or “almost white”. The notion of “whiteness” is crucial in understanding the relationship between the Asian Americans and white Americans as well as in framing the argument that struggles faced by Asian Americans are overlooked or deemed insignificant. Asian Americans are associated with the group in power and this whitening is due to the model minority stereotype. Therefore, Asian Americans are no longer considered a minority group and hence, the struggles and challenges they face are deemed not as significant as those faced by other minority groups.
Finally, the model minority myth has impacted racial relations by ostracizing Asian Americans from their minority group counterparts, especially Latinx and African Americans. Focusing on the achievement gap between Asian American and Latino students, Ochoa (2013) reports with her ethnographic study at Southern California High School (SCHS) that students are separated by race, class, and gender, divisions which are compounded by unequal middle schools and curriculum tracking. With the various interviews she takes of students, administrators, and teachers, Ochoa reports that Latino students feel a divide between them and their Asian American counterparts since they are often pitted against each other and labeled as “stupid” vs “smart”, “low-performing” vs “high-performing”; etc. based on race (Ochoa 2013:21), which has shaped the way each group of students views school, academic achievement, and their social status. Thus, it can be inferred that other minority groups and even Asian Americans themselves view the Asian American racial group as separate from the negative connotations of the word “minority” because of the model minority stereotype.
With all of the research summarized in the previous section on the impact of the model minority stereotype on Asian Americans, it has been established that this stereotype has negatively influenced mental health, prejudices in many aspects of professional aspirations, and racial relations. However, the impact of gender in conjunction with that of the model minority stereotype has not been explored, especially with regard to the aforementioned issues. To assess the role of gender with the model minority stereotype in order to understand why graduation rates differ so dramatically from enrollment in postsecondary institutions for Asian American students at Oakland Tech, I will engage in a year-long, immersive experience that primarily involves observing the students at Oakland Tech.
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For my study to be effective and allow me to understand if there are gender differences along with the model minority stereotype, I will randomly select 10 Asian American students and 10 white students who are in their final year of high school, 5 of which from each racial category will be female and 5 of which from each racial category will be male. I will employ random selection because my research question is generalized to all Asian American students (and all white students) and the added complexity of ethnicity may not accurately reflect general trends between ethnic groups due to the small sample size.
Most of this study will be based on classroom observation and end-of-the-year statistics. It will be crucial to examine student-teacher interactions along with peer interactions, as well as academic achievement since expectations placed on students by both their teachers and peers may differ according to gender, which can influence academic success (i.e. test results, participation in class, homework completion, etc.). To assess student-teacher interactions, I will observe whether teachers treat the Asian American and white female students differently than the Asian American and white male students, particularly with words of encouragement, levels of engagement, and expectations or goals, all of which can attribute to differences in academic success. For peer interactions, I will observe group formations and dynamics along with peer pressure and competition/comparison, especially with regard to racial and gender identity as they may impact individual thoughts and feelings toward academics. Also, observations of normal exchanges and body language will determine how much personal relationships affect academic success. By comparing the academic progress, graduation rates, and enrollment rates in postsecondary institutions of the 20 closely studied students to their specific teacher/peer relationships, conclusions about the interdependence of school relationships and academic achievement can be derived.
Then, to determine the influence of outside-of-school models and relationships, especially since I will not be able to observe the students’ home life, I will conduct personal interviews of the 20 selected students. The purpose of these interviews will be to find out more about how the family structure, home environment, maternal/paternal/sibling relationships, and extracurricular peer interactions shape academic success. It will be important for my research question that I note how these relationships are considered and influence differences in behavior between Asian American males and females, as well as how their impact differs between Asian American and white students. The interview questions will be open-ended and indirect in order to encourage candid communication without inciting defensive behavior and to reduce as much participant/interviewer bias as possible.
In conclusion, I expect that the results of this study will elucidate if there are indeed gender differences between both Asian Americans and white students that impact the discrepancies seen in the statistics. Additionally, the results can confirm the model minority stereotype and perhaps shed some light on how it impacts academic achievement based on gender. The persistence of the model minority stereotype with little change to help Asian Americans with academic difficulties necessitates that questions like this be continuously asked and explored so that underlying and additional issues, such as gender biases rooted in Asian and American culture, can be tackled. Improving this racially-influenced educational inequality will ensure that further steps can be taken to combat the model minority stereotype and aid all disadvantaged groups, including some Asian ethnicities, to level the playing field of life.
- Atkin, Annabelle L., Hyung C. Yoo, Justin Y. Jager, and Christine J. Yeh. 2018. “Internalization of the Model Minority Myth, School Racial Composition, and Psychological Distress among Asian American Adolescents.” Asian American Journal of Psychology. 9:108-116.
- Kelsey, Mary. 2018. “Asian American History.” Presented at University of California, Berkeley, November 6, Berkeley, CA.
- Kobayashi, Futoshi. 1999. “Model Minority Stereotype Reconsidered.” Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse (ERIC). Retrieved December 9, 2018 (https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED434167).
- Lim, Bernadette. 2015. “‘Model Minority’ Seems Like a Compliment, but It Does Great Harm.” The New York Times, October 16. Retrieved December 9, 2018 (https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/10/16/the-effects-of-seeing-asian-americans-as-a-model-minority/model-minority-seems-like-a-compliment-but-it-does-great-harm?module=inline).
- Museus, Samuel D., and Peter N. Kiang. 2009. “Deconstructing the Model Minority Myth and How it Contributes to the Invisible Minority Reality in Higher Education Research.” New Directions for Institutional Research. 142:5-15.
- Ochoa, Gilda L. 2013. Academic Profiling: Latinos, Asian Americans, and the Achievement Gap. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Wong, Billy. 2015. “A Blessing with a Curse: Model Minority Ethnic students and the Construction of Educational Success.” Oxford Review of Education.41(6):730-746.
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