By: Valerie Wong, Grade 12
Macleans magazine published an article in November describing the enrolment controversy in Canada; an article better tag-lined as “too Asian”. It attempts to delve deep into the issue of universities and other post-secondary institutions in the U.S. limiting the enrolment of Asian students in order to maintain an artificially high record for Caucasian student enrolment. The article addresses the concerns that this phenomenon may be spreading to Canadian schools. First and foremost, I pose this question to the readers: what does it mean to be ASIAN?
The word “Asian” is used to describe many things. Firstly, it is a common term (used in Canada) to describe people whose ethnic backgrounds trace back to nations in Asia, mostly the Eastern parts. In the last couple of years, the usage of the word has shifted from describing one’s ethnic background to that of a description of someone who is also overtly studious, eats rice at every meal, is a strong advocate of chopsticks etc. Accompanying the humorous connotations that come with being “Asian” are elements of social stigma. As well, Asians are often included as the punch-lines for jokes. Your momma’s so fat – she’s got more chins than a Chinese phonebook!
Jibes like these reflect a poor image of Canada, where racism and prejudice still exists. Frankie Mao, a 22-year-old Arts student at UBC, recalls an encounter with a “Canadian” mother who told him that he was the reason her son wasn’t accepted to a university. He also states that the mother went on to comment that “all the immigrants in the country are taking up university spots”. Robert Sweet, a retired Lakehead University professor, conducted a study to determine the pathways of high school students after graduating. The study reported that immigrant students from East Asia produced the highest percentage of students continuing on to university at 70 percent, while Europeans followed with 52 percent.
These statistics show us where some of the prejudice, as exampled above, comes from. Asians are more likely to enroll in university. It’s part of the Asian culture; Chinese parents, specifically, instil in their children at a young age the importance of a university education, as it opens up more economic opportunities in the future. The underlying vibe of Asian culture emphasizes studying and working hard – all to achieve economic stability as well as success. Going back to the previous example: how could a person blame an Asian person for working hard when that’s all they’ve been taught since they were young? Cultural differences like these have resulted in balkanization within universities. Students have split off into their own social and ethnic cliques. This only adds to the notion of a school being “too-Asian”. What better way is there to enforce the impact of a school’s Asian population than when they all congregate at once?
I ask this question: Why should students be judged and admitted based on their ethnicity instead of their high school transcripts? In this case, I believe that it’s not who you are that matters, it’s what you do. If you get good grades and volunteer a lot, you should be admitted based on that.
Let’s face the facts. Schools being referred to as “too Asian” are just ridiculous. How many Asians students must be enrolled to qualify as “too Asian”? It’s true that some universities might have higher Asian student enrolment but there are also universities where the numbers are not as prevalent. In the Macleans article, Alexandra (name changed), a girl described as looking “like a girl from an Aritzia billboard”, chose to attend the University of Western Ontario instead of the University of Toronto. She explained her decision based on the fact that UT has a “reputation of being Asian”. In other words, the school’s academic reputation was a turnoff for both her and her brother. Her choice was a common one among her peers and upperclassmen.
Here’s what I propose: being “too-Asian”, although sometimes said in a joking manner, should be transitioned into its truly humorous roots. Schools in the U.S. are using reports of being “too-Asian” as a weapon toward justifying their limitations on Asian student enrolment, which might rub off on Canadian institutions. Let’s give being “too-Asian” a new definition. Instead of being used to characterize areas or institutions with high populations of Asians, here’s what it should only be used to describe a person who:
- Is a very studious person that is very serious about school OR
- Is excessively good at video-games OR
- Is exceedingly skilled at Math or Science OR
- Eats too much rice OR
- Knows about twenty different ways to incapacitate someone with nothing but a pair of chopsticks