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Asians In The Ivory Tower

April 30, 2011
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There’s been a lot to blog about over the past few months that I just haven’t bothered to approach.  I didn’t want to touch the Amy Chua Tiger Mom debacle with a ten foot pole, as much of the Asian American and racial justice blogosphere had done a comprehensive job of analyzing the fallout during the weeks following the release of The Wall Street Journal’s “article.”  There was the Alexandra Wallace “Asians in the Library” video, which led to an unfortunate sexist and violent backlash against Wallace herself, during which there were few responses that addressed the privilege behind her racist rant (Beau Sia created one of the best video responses to this).  As a blogger, I felt responsible in talking about Wallace, but it seems like everything that needs to have been said has been put out there already (though I do encourage reading Alexandra Wallace and the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness for those who haven’t already, so that we can confront why it was a worse accusation for Wallace to have been labeled racist than for members of the UCLA community to have been on the receiving end of said racism).

And then there was last week.  I had planned to sit in on a panel at New York University titled, Asians in the Ivory Tower: America’s Equity Agenda and the Blurring of the Color Line in Higher Education on the same day that the ‘news’ broke.  The panel discussed a new book by Robert T. Teranishi called Asians in the Ivory Tower: Dilemmas of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education and was sponsored by NYU’s The Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy.  Teranishi himself sat on the panel, along with Kiran Ahuja (executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), Walter Allen from UCLA, and fellow NYU faculty member Pedro Noguera.

Teranishi began his talk by providing the audience with statistics about AAPI achievement at the university setting and drew profiles of AAPI students who were entering college.  He took this one step further and went beyond the basics in each profile, detailing ethnicity, immigrant generation, the type of high school each student attended, and a few other markers he used in his research.  This was all done to illustrate why the statistics that we currently have available are problematic: these statistics are all-encompassing and do not always distinguish between ethnicities within the AAPI community, and numbers often used to define achievement vary across these ethnic groups and across generations.  AAPI research also groups foreign-born and American-born AAPIs, thus skewing the data even further.

After discussing data, Teranishi and his colleagues stepped back to analyze why research continues to produce flawed data, and what needs to be done in the higher ed community to get a more accurate numerical representation of the AAPI student community.  The model minority myth has framed research, producing results that ‘prove’ that the myth that AAPIs are high achievers is true.  These are the same numbers that lead outlets such as <i>Newsweek</i> to allege that Asians are “out-whiting the whites,” and Teranishi argues that the academic community needs to rethink the normative paradigm that allows for such arguments.  Walter Allen expanded on this by saying that we also need to take the act of challenging the notion of a white majority to heart, particularly in light of the most recent census numbers that show an unprecedented growth rate in the Latino and Asian populations.

Kiran Ahuja took a few minutes to speak from her policy-making perspective, and pointed that the US Department of Education, which actually governs the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, has low numbers of AAPI staff members, which in turn does a disservice for policy-making that is meant to benefit the AAPI community.  The panel noted as a whole that because higher education lacks AAPI faculty members and researchers in general, research about this community is even more difficult to come by.  (Case in point: panel attendance was required for graduate students who were enrolled in certain classes, but there didn’t seem to be many other AAPIs in the audience.)  Ahuja emphasized that AAPIs who do work in higher education need to be more selfish and conduct research within their own community, as this is going to be the only way to obtain more accurate numbers – and unfortunately, numbers are what drive policy, funding, and resources.

After the panel ended, I took a moment to approach Dr. Teranishi and speak with him about Refuse the Silence and the alumni communication with Kalamazoo College, and hopefully I’ll have a moment to sit down with him in the near future to talk more about his research.  The panel was unable to go into too many details because of time constraints, but so much of what the panelists spoke of is reflected in my own academic experience at K.  I’m hopeful that Dr. Teranishi’s work with Asians in the Ivory Tower serves as the groundwork to enact change at the research level.

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One Response to Asians In The Ivory Tower

  1. [...] Higher Education by Robert T. Teranishi. One review of the book noted that Teranishi addressed issues in data collection and data quality when examining the Asian-Pacific Islander American community and another addresses the Asian [...]

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