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Model Minority Stereotype for Asian Americans

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What is the Model Minority Stereotype?
What can you do?
Resources

Have you ever experienced the following?

  • Others (peers, professors, teachers, counselors) tell you that "you must be great at math and/or science! Are you going to go to med school?"
  • Professors and classmates assume that you "study all the time" and that you're "doing just fine" without any additional help
  • Family wonders why you are choosing a major like Art or Journalism instead of medicine or engineering, "like your cousins (or brothers/sisters)"
  • College peers express envy or resentment that you "probably get A's all the time," or that you surely were easily admitted into UT
  • Others seem surprised when you "stand up for yourself" or express dissatisfaction about a situation
  • You feel inadequate about not "living up to" the image of (academic) excellence that others seem to expect of you

Then you may be experiencing the effects of the MODEL MINORITY STEREOTYPE.

What is the Model Minority Stereotype?

Well, basically the cultural expectation placed on Asian Americans as a group that each individual will be:
  • smart (i.e., "naturally good at math, science, and technology")
  • wealthy
  • hard-working, self-reliant, living "the American dream"
  • docile and submissive, obedient and uncomplaining
  • spiritually enlightened and never in need of assistance!

Well, you say, isn't that a good thing to live up to?

Sure, who wouldn't like to be considered "the model" of anything? Smart, self-reliant... Sign me up, you say?

Not so much! No one lives up to a stereotype 100 percent of the time. You might have some but not all of the traits expected of you as an Asian American. And what happens if you do not fulfill the stereotypical expectations placed on you? What are the consequences to self-esteem and/or esteem from others that you value?

The facts are that Asian Americans are a diverse group of individuals, with diverse experiences. Did you know, for example that:

  • Asian American college students are more likely to seek medical leave, more likely to go on academic probation, and are less likely to graduate in 4 years. 1
  • Asian American students were more likely than White students to report difficulties with stress, sleep, and feelings of hopelessness, yet they were less likely to seek counseling. 2
  • 33% of Asian American students drop out of high school or don't graduate on time. 3
  • In 2004, 11.8% of Asian Americans lived below the poverty line, experiencing the greatest rise in poverty among all groups. 4

But it is true that Asian Americans tend to favor majors in math and science than their non-Asian peers. 5 Why is that? Perhaps one explanation is that the pressure to fulfill the expectations of the Model Minority Stereotype is so compelling.

Perhaps it is also due to family, counselors, professors, and high school teachers unknowingly guiding Asian Americans towards career paths that are expected of them, perhaps without considering the individual student's interests and abilities.

While you can certainly strive for your personal best, the effects of striving for "perfection" as a member of a "model group" can be highly corrosive on you and your relationships.

What can YOU do to counteract the effects of this pervasive stereotype?

  • Pay attention to what brings you satisfaction and fulfillment, as they may be different from what others expect of you.
  • Explore career options that truly fulfill your ability and aspirations. The UT Career Exploration Center is a good place to start that process.
  • If you feel like you're struggling to meet others' expectations, it may be helpful to examine whether these standards are realistic.
  • Consider having a talk with family about the gap between their expectations of you and your own (if a gap does exist). Talk to a counselor about ways that you can start to bridge these expectation gaps. The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center is a good resource on campus.
  • Recognize the potentially harmful effect of requiring yourself to live up to the "model minority stereotype." Insist on your personal excellence, shun perfectionism!

For more information regarding the Model Minority Stereotype:

New York Times (2008). Report takes aim at model minority stereotype of Asian American students
Lee, S. J. (1996). Unraveling the model minority stereotype: Listening to Asian American youth. Teachers College Press.
Kobayashi, F. (1999). Model minority stereotype reconsidered. The University of Texas

References

  1. Cornell University (2004). Asian and Asian American campus climate task force report.http://www.gannett.cornell.edu/downloads/campusIniatives/mentalhealth/AAATFreport2004.pdf
  2. Ly, P (2008). Caught between two cultures. In Diverse Issues in Higher Education. http://diverseeducation.com/artman/publish/article_11578.shtml
  3. Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (http://www.cacf.org/resources_mythsfacts.html)
  4. Catholic Campaign for Human Development, 2004 Poverty USA Campaign (http://www.usccb.org/cchd/pusainsert.pdf )
  5. Wong, P., Lai, C.F., Nagasawa, R., & Tieming, L. (1998). Asian Americans as a model minority: self-perceptions and perceptions by other racial groups. Sociological Perspectives (41/1) http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/pub/eres/SOC217_PIMENTEL/asians3.pdf

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