By: Vy Pham
When I was five years old, I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. I said, “I want to be a singer.” My family shook their heads and told me, “You need to be a doctor or lawyer to help people.” When I was sixteen years old, I was asked, “What do you want major in?”. I said, “I want to study graphic design.” My family shook their hands once more and told me, “You need to be a doctor or lawyer to help people.” Now, as I enter my last quarter in my undergraduate career, I am asked, “What do you want to do after graduation?”. I say, “I want to work in higher education administration to work with marginalized groups with college navigation…” Before they can tell me their oh-so-familiar opinion, I continue my sentence: “…so I can help people.”
Today, one of the dominant discourses among educational research regarding the Asian-American community includes the model minority myth. This myth suggests that Asian-Americans, specifically in the educational realm, should be studied as a “model minority” because they have (supposedly) succeeded in the attainment of the “American dream.” Asian-Americans are associated with the stereotypes of being academically hardworking, dedicated, and naturally talented. Since Asian-Americans students are viewed as minorities who have the same ability to succeed as the dominant group (White folks), this myth has been used to suggest that other minority groups have the means to achieve in higher education, but do not due to other factors that are their own fault. However, the model minority perspective is inaccurate, as it does not properly reflect the diverse experiences of all Asian-American students.
Further analysis of this issue has found that the voices of Asian-American students are still excluded from academic curriculum and student resources on college campuses. These students are expected to understand lessons and curriculum about the dominant culture’s histories but are not given the opportunity to study their own historical backgrounds. By a lack of appropriate ethnic studies course offerings, the higher education institution has consistently shown that it does not believe that the stories, lives, and perspectives of Asian-Americans are important enough (Museus & Park, 2015). In addition, Samura (2016) shares that many higher education administrators, professors, and staff have internalized this model minority myth, leading to a shared assumption that Asian-American students are able to not only navigate, but also succeed throughout college on their own. If the myth is understood as fact, students who do not fit the model minority myth not only feel a sense of shame and embarrassment, but are also left struggling without the proper resources and assistance to thrive.
With the specific type of discrimination that Asian-Americans go through, it is essential that Asian-Americans see themselves represented in the administration of their college campus. Asian-Americans are underrepresented in higher education administration (including both faculty and staff) (Suzuki, 2002). It is important that they have available resources who are able to acknowledge and understand their problems and needs. They should have folks who encourage them to seek out assistance when they find themselves in times of struggle.
Museus & Park (2015) argue that higher education faculty and staff must assist Asian-Americans (students and faculty) with getting their voice heard. In order to do this, there needs to be more awareness of the consequences of the model minority myth. Higher education institutions should offer opportunities of professional development for their staff so they can engage in educational and critical conversations in appropriate spaces, such as diversity conferences and forums. These diversity workshops should be include the sharing of experiences from a variety of Asian-American folks, including students, staff, and faculty. There should also be an effort to recruit more Asian-Americans for leadership positions that help train other staff members on effective methods on working and understanding the Asian-American experience in higher education.
To be quite frankly, there needs to be more available, dedicated, and representative positive role-models for Asian-American students. We need to share our stories and our journeys of resilience. We need to tell others that they are not alone. They belong in college and that the myth is just that: a myth. This model minority myth is not new; it has been reconstructed over and over again because those who attempt to speak out are not fairly represented. Therefore, they continue to be unheard.
I, a future higher education professional, promise to make their voice heard loud and clear. Why? Because I want to help people. Join me.
Museus, S. & Park, J. (2015). The Continuing Significance of Racism in the Lives of Asian American College Students. Journal of College Student Development, 56(6) 551-569. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Samura, M. (2016). Remaking Selves, Repositioning Selves, or Remaking Space: An Examination of Asian American College Students’ Processes of “Belonging.” Journal of College Student Development, 57(2) 135-150. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Suzuki, B. (2002). Revisiting the Model Minority Stereotype: Implications for Student Affairs Practice and Higher Education. New Directions for Student Services. 97(97) 21-32. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.