“Crisis” is not a word associated with Asian American males, especially in higher education. And yet, as became apparent at the second lecture presentation for the 26th Annual Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights, Asian American males are indeed part of the crisis in our country with regard to young men of color. Although long stereotyped as the model minority group for their high achievement, Asian American demographics tell a different story according to Dr. Mitchell Chang, Dr. Eric Tang and Dr. Robert Teranishi, who participated in the panel discussion, “The Asian American Male Experience” on Feb. 29.
Dr. Eric Tang, The University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Mitchell Chang, University of California – Los Angeles
Despite a common assertion that Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are a “non-minority” minority, and often lumped together with whites in discussions and issues centered around education, the AAPI demographic includes 48 different ethnic groups who speak 300 languages. Teranishi, the author of Asians in the Ivory Tower, explains the disaggregated data reveals that many of the students—especially Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders—experience high secondary school drop-out rates, low college participation and low college completion rates. There are almost no Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders in the STEM areas. There are also low numbers of AAPIs in leadership and decision-making positions in colleges and universities, government and the private sector. Teranishi noted that only 1.5% of teachers in this country are Asian American and he believed this statistic was high in that some of those included are actually international, not Asian American.
Dr. Robert Teranishi, New York University
Chang notes that the biggest problem Asian American males face is invisibility—one reason why Jeremy Lin was not drafted by the National Basketball Association but was a free agent despite having led Harvard to its first-ever Ivy League title in basketball. Furthermore, he notes Asian American males are often targeted for bullying and hazing—in schools and in the military—and exhibit the largest percentage of depression during college. Pvt. Danny Chen, who committed suicide after being harassed and pelted with rocks by fellow soldiers, is the most well-known example of military hazing and bullying.
“Negative racial stereotypes can shape one’s identity in ways that result in negative mental health outcomes,” said Chang. Suicide is the fifth most common cause of death for Asian American males; 13 out of 21 suicides at Cornell over the past decade involved Asian American males. Chang noted that one response of Asian American males has been to join Asian fraternities, pursuing “hyper-masculine representations both physically and socially.”