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Stereotype of Success Can Backfire : Asian-American Students Pay Price, Say UCI Speakers

January 23, 1986|BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writer

Stereotyping Asian-American students as successful overlooks the real problems that many of them face, speakers at a UC Irvine conference said Wednesday.

Sucheng Chan, a Chinese-American who is a history teacher at UC Santa Cruz, and Vy Trac Do, a Vietnamese-American who is an instructor and counselor at Fullerton College, told the conference that Asian-American students can be hurt because, as a group, they enjoy reputations for academic success.

Chan and Do were among participants in the Asian-Pacific Awareness Conference on the Irvine campus. About 230 students and teachers attended the daylong event.

High Achievers

Do, the keynote speaker, said Asian-American students are high achievers, a fact underscored by state and national testing data. But Do said this "positive stereotype," as he termed it, can be harmful.

"This stereotype has (sometimes) pitted one minority group against another," Do said. "This stereotype has given schools no reason to provide support services (for Asian-American students)."

Chan, who is also provost of UC Santa Cruz's Oakes College, told the conference that Asian-American students face many pressures, including "subtle discrimination."

Among the forms of "subtle discrimination," Chan said, are that Asian-American students "get messages by body language and looks that they're not considered real Americans." And when the students graduate, she said, they face harsher discrimination in the job market. "They tend to earn less money," she said. "They get promoted more slowly."

She added, "What I'm urging you, as did the previous speaker (Do), is not to allow the successful image to camouflage the very real issues, the very real problems that these (Asian-American) students face. The best thing you can do is to spend some time with a student as an individual with very real needs."

Many Asian-American students, Chan said, "are really in (an emotional) pressure cooker" because of family expectations. She said that many Asian immigrant families, having left everything behind and often having suffered what she called "downward mobility," look to their children to make up for the loss. Education is stressed by those families, she said, and in some cases children are forced to go into career fields they really don't want.

Do told the conference that Confucian culture, which many Asian immigrants have in common, is among the reasons education is so highly valued among Asian-Americans. "To the Asian student, education is something that never goes out of style," he said.

Do said educational opportunity is a big reason so many Asians want to live in California. But he and other speakers noted that Asian-American students get into prestigious universities, including the University of California system, because of their high grades, not because of special consideration.

UCI percentages of Asian-American students are among the highest in the nation, with 26% of its overall enrollment and 34% of the current freshman class being Asian.

Chan praised UCI and said it has a reputation for being open and hospitable to Asian-American students. "All around the state, the one UC campus that seems to welcome us is the Irvine campus," she said.

In a brief address opening the conference, UCI Chancellor Jack Peltason said that UCI's Asian-American students "are a great resource. . . . We have a cosmopolitan student body, and we rejoice in it."

The conference was briefly disrupted about 9:30 a.m. when an anonymous male telephone caller made a bomb threat to the conference. The participants were evacuated from their meeting room in the University Center while security officers made a check, but they found nothing suspicious.

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