By Rehnuma Nasrin ‘20 & Danielle Bellefeuille ‘20
This resource was created by CITLS student fellows to support the pedagogical efforts of Lafayette faculty. The work on this project was funded by a Pennsylvania Consortium for the Liberal Arts Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Teaching and Learning Award.
The purpose of this resource is to inform faculty and staff about how the Model Minority Myth has real implications on students at Lafayette College.
The Model Minority Myth was created as a way to distinguish and separate different minority groups, in the process creating a hierarchy. The use of the term “model minority” was applied to Asians. They were considered the new “white” group in America and labelled as a “model citizen” (Leonard, 2003). However, this term was only bestowed upon certain Asian groups, such as Chinese, Korean, and Indian populations by White America. The reason why they were called “model citizens” was because of the community’s low crime rate, educational background, that they spoke English and taught their kids English from childhood, engaged in and obtained very skilled jobs. The branding of the term model minority further criminalized and lowered the status of other minority groups, such as the LatinX and Black communities. In this regard, the Model Minority Myth overgeneralizes Asian experiences, struggles, and qualities.
“The myth takes away all the effort I put in, by stereotyping a race, as if being Asian is equivalent to success. The pressure I put myself under and the indirect external pressure from a society that pits high achieving students against [one] another drove me to seek help because of stress and anxiety.” –Shaneena Alabado ’19
“Sometimes they would have this notion that because I’m an international student, they assume…[I] speak poor English and need help on writing/reading” –Shanyin Yang ’20
“On this campus the model minority myth often limits my participation and acceptance in to certain spaces in which I am often initially characterized as apolitical, and unopinionated. This is detrimental because not only does it reinforce stereotypes that have restricted Asian Americans from being seen as contributing community member, but it also perpetuates an idea that having an opinion or stance is surprising when being Asian.” –Nithya Sharma ‘20
Where are you from?
When asking students that are not Caucasian where they are from, make sure to not have any preconceived notions. It makes students uncomfortable if they are American, and questioned further, as if it to probe deeper into their ethnic origins. If the student wants to share further or asks specifically what you mean, make sure to respond accordingly and respectfully.
Wait, your parents will do what?
Like many other students, Asian students can also face the burden of high parental expectations for success, not only in the academic realm, but the social realm as well. To students who face this burden, there is a lot on the line; understanding that there are other environmental factors to students will help when wondering why grades matter so much. Yes, classes are more than a grade, but to students whose parents expect nothing but the best, grades are the numerical way of assessing how well their child is doing. As educators, acknowledging that a lot is riding on the grade is better than downplaying the nuances of grades. Parents may want their child to be a part of different communities, network, and build up their social capital. This demand for excellence has brought the term, “Tiger Mom” into existence: mothers who discipline, push, and pressure their children to excel in everything they are involved in. However, “Tiger Mom” is mostly only associated with Eastern Asian countries, mainly China; the demands of excellence is not only an Asian characteristic: it can be seen everywhere in different ways and to different extents.
Wait, you’re not a STEM major?
The stereotype that all Asians are in the STEM fields is false and normalized. When asking students what their major is, don’t be shocked when it does not fall within the STEM field. Deciding on a major is very difficult and once someone declares, it’s satisfying. To have someone be shocked by the major, it can lead to second-guessing. Additionally, don’t assume that someone was a STEM major before and has switched.
You have nothing to worry about, you are so smart!
Everyone has different academic standards, and interprets their own success differently. Also assuming that someone who is Asian is automatically studious or has good grades is also harmful, because it shows that you aren’t evaluating them based on their actual aptitude.
What do you mean you are not good at math?
The stereotype that all Asians are good at math is not accurate, and doesn’t consider the mathematical background of the student. The education systems around the world teach math differently, and may not always be considered most important. Also, on an individual basis, every student has different academic strengths.
Look me in the eyes!
In American culture, the way listening and respect is attributed is through eye contact. In many other countries, however, looking someone, especially someone in an authoritative position, is considered disrespectful. When a student does not want to engage in eye contact, don’t assume it’s ill-intended.
Why are you so quiet? or Wow, I didn’t expect you to say that.
In certain cultures, challenging professors and other authority figures can be seen as disrespectful. This can come off as being shy or introverted, but could be a way to avoid any distraction or possible uncomfortable situation. On the other hand, Asian students who speak up and voice their opinions shouldn’t be assumed to be unusually outspoken, just because they don’t fit the quiet stereotype. Therefore, don’t assume that the student is disinterested or unfocused in the class, just because they don’t participate regularly. Also, make clear what your expectations are for participation in the class ahead of time, so no one feels outcasted for speaking too little or too much.
It is important to keep in mind that the model minority myth can lead to unrealistic expectations on students to perform a certain way just because of their race. Asian students vary in academic performance, interests, and their personalities, therefore it needs to be understood that no two experiences are the same. Therefore, avoid making wrongful assumptions about these students by not creating different expectations for them compared to other students. Be careful not to act surprised when a student breaks away from the model minority stereotype, but instead be accepting of their passions and show interest instead of disappointment in their opinions. When talking about a topic that may relate to a particular identity, make sure not to ask someone to represent their entire group.
Lee, S., Juon, H. S., Martinez, G., Hsu, C. E., Robinson, E. S., Bawa, J., & Ma, G. X. (2009). Model minority at risk: Expressed needs of mental health by Asian American young adults. Journal of community health, 34(2), 144.
Leonard, K. I. (2003). Muslims in the United States: The state of research. Russell Sage Foundation, 13-14.
Rastogi, R. (2018, January 03). No such thing as a “positive” stereotype: Consequences of the Model Minority Myth. Retrieved from www.psychologyinaction.org
Thompson, T. L., Kiang, L., & Witkow, M. R. (2016). “You’re Asian; You’re supposed to be smart”: Adolescents’ experiences with the Model Minority Stereotype and longitudinal links with identity. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 7(2), 108-119.
Yano, C. R., & Akatsuka, N. K. A. (Eds.). (2018). Straight A’s: Asian American College Students in Their Own Words. Duke University Press.