Han Ju Seo, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, looked down at the glow of her phone as she received a message from her friend: a screenshot of a group chat among the first-floor residents of the freshman dorm expressing obvious contempt for their Asian peers.
In the chat, one student had asked why Asian students were in their study room. Others quickly responded, calling the Asians “annoying” for having a movie night and that they should “find somewhere else to study,” as if the room were inherently non-Asian and not for public use.
As a result, Seo and several others filed bias incident reports and turned to social media to express their discontent. On Facebook, Seo discussed her experiences as an Asian American, writing, “Thanks for the reminder that no matter my citizenship, the years I’ve spent in America, and my proficiency in English, I’m always going to [be] a foreigner. No matter how much we excel in our careers, achieve incredible things, and work to the point of utter exhaustion we’re still unwanted. Go ahead and love my culture, love my food, and love my music; call me when I’m welcome. I’m tired.”
Seo referenced the demarcation between culture and people: Asian culture in America is often glorified and even embraced in America, but the Asians themselves are not. Even in Los Angeles, one of the most densely Asian-populated cities in the United States, a student resorted to Youtube to insult Asian students for talking loudly inside of a library at the University of California.
Both instances have not been the first expression of discrimination against Asian students, and it certainly will not be the last. Yet, how come we hardly hear about anti-Asian racism?
Many fail to acknowledge racism against Asian Americans because it is often swept under the rug due to the fact that Asians are regarded as a “model minority.” Asian students work hard, do well in school, and get good jobs – what prejudice could they possibly encounter? This thought process of countless oblivious Americans encompasses the dangerous ignorance pervading American society, allowing for the millions of Asian students to face normalized racism every day.
Additionally, many forms of discrimination against Asians are subtle – questions such as, “Oh, you’re Asian, so you’re good at math, right?” completely ignores the plethora of Asian students who have interests in subjects outside of stereotypically Asian subjects. This generalization forces them into one category and does not allow room for much else. As with most stereotypes, this is extremely toxic to the development of children, causing them to grow up believing that they are only meant to follow a certain path.
In order to address the various misconceptions held about Asian students, institutions of higher education must work to create a space where everyone has a voice – one where even Asian Americans, who have been constantly considered silent and submissive, will not be afraid to speak up.