何毓琦的个人博客分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/何毓琦 哈佛(1961-2001) 清华(2001-date)


Chinese American College Admissions and the Glass Ceiling 精选

已有 20720 次阅读 2011-8-3 21:27 |个人分类:生活点滴|系统分类:海外观察|关键词:<div class="blr" id="main_messaqge_L0Zz3"&am

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Recentlythere were considerable discussion among the Chinese American communities andmedia concerning possible discrimination against Chinese American applicants toIvy League universities and the existence of glass ceiling for ChineseAmericans (CAs) in employment

1.    The former were sparked by the complaint of oneChinese American father whose son even with near perfect SAT score was deniedadmission to an Ivy League university while his son’s classmate with a lowerscore was admitted.

2.    The latter fact was first documented in a 2006 reporton glass ceilings for Asian American (as confirmed by the Equal EmploymentOpportunity Commission, http://www.80-20initiative.net/action/equalopp_glassceiling.asp#1 ), then the latest Wall Street Journal article of7/25/2011 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904233404576462042857022426.html  reiteratedthis fact.


Countless studies have suggested/provedthat racial discrimination is a factor in the admissions rate of Chinese and Chinese-Americanapplicants and glass ceiling certainly exist for Chinese Americans as the aboveevidences suggest. I believe this, and I believe that everyone should be awareof this and advocate for racial equality in the world. At the same time I believethat Chinese do not understand the importance of factors beyond grades and testscores as well as the fact that merit and performance are multi-faceted. At therisk of offending some sensibilities this is what I am going to address here byoffering my personal but frank observations on the contributing (but notnecessarily the dominating) reason behind these two facts. For this we considercertain Chinese cultural traits.

First, for thousands of year, the one sure-fire and democratically fair wayfor upward social mobility in Chinese society is through the examinationsystem. If one shines in scholastic ability through the regional and imperialexaminations, then ones future in assured. Even today, a high score alone willget a student into the Harvard and MIT (Peking and Tsinghua universities inBeijing) of China. The old Chinese social hierarchy of“Scholar-Farmer-Craftsman-Merchant” further emphasize the importance oflearning. Thus Chinese parents typically value academic score and class rank tothe exclusion of other attributes foremost in raising their children. Butadmission to prestigious US private colleges depend on many nonacademic factorsincluding the legally permissible issue of “legacy” (i.e., did your parents goto the same school)

Secondly, The Chinese mentality of “mind your own business(cleaning the snow off my own doorsteps and never mind the frost on otherpeople’s roof)” as well as strong family loyalty and obligation, dilute anysense of “social responsibility”. In fact, while Chinese are often taught toobey the law and submit to authorities, the larger concept of one’s involvementwith the rest of society is deficient in Chinese culture. Example: in recentyears both in Boston and Vancouver, affluent Chinese immigrants built grotesqueand ostentatious residences on their land over the objections of theirneighbors resulting in legal action and jail terms. Their rationale was “thisis my land, I can built anything I want on it”. They did not understand andaccept the concept of visual pollution of their houses on their neighbors - aform of social responsibility. Another common offence not considered to beunethical is the “tragedy of the common”. I had Chinese students boasting to methat they never buy toilet papers in all the years in the US since they cantake what is offered for free in the school restrooms. Elderly Chineseresidents who had suffered hardship during WWII often hoard sugar packets  and other condiments offered for free insenior residences for on the spot use only.

Thirdly, this form of mental isolation and relative lack ofsocial interaction further results in refusal to assimilate – one of the contributingreasons for the insular existence of various Chinatowns in the US where one cancontinue to practice Chinese customs while living in a foreign land. Thus, bothconsciously and subconsciously, Chinese Americans still downplay the variousnon-scholastic traits necessary for career success in America. The famousEnglish saying “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing field of Eton” isseldom appreciated by the Chinese mind. Thus, sports, extra-curricularactivities, team spirit, and public or volunteer service are generally notpushed nor taught by parents to their children.

Fourthly, emphasis on scholarship also places undue importanceon “substance” over “form”. Ability to explain things clearly and persuasivelyis often derided as “salesmanship”. I have often said that for ideas you onlyneed one Jesus, but for practice you need millions of missionaries to propagateyour idea. Form and Content are equally important (By the way, this negligenceof form over content is also prevailing in scholarly circles resulting in muchmisunderstanding of the sciences by the public). Yet skillful public speakingis very important in American life.

Lastly, The “mind my own business” altitude fosters adon’t-stick-your-neck-out nonaggressive approach to career development. Therough-and-tumble environment in commerce and politics is not comfortable formany Chinese. Worse, CAs as a group areleast capable for group political action. Historically all minoritieswhether Irish, Italian, African or Jewish Americans won their rights via grouppolitical power. Examples of NAACP and AIPAC are well known. But I wonder whatpercentage of Chinese Americans even today are aware of the name AIPAC, how theJewish American won admissions discrimination to Ivy League schools, the movie“Gentleman’s Agreement”, and glass ceilings in country clubs and work places.In fact, today not only are Jewish Americans totally integrated in the Americanmainstream and no longer identified as a minority group,  the very existence of Israel as a nation owesmuch to the political clout of AIPAC. This is something Chinese Americans needto be cognizant of if they are overcome discrimination. By this I don’t meanChinese are not appreciative of political connections or “Kwanxi”. But againthis is viewed as a personal matter. You protect and nurture your own turf andconnection. The fact that certain things and rights can only be achievedthrough group political action is lost on many. The 80-20 Initiative,  the only PAC (Political Action Committee)devoted to win equal rights for Asian Americans with a 700,000 mailing list isstruggling to survive due to apathy.


Thus,we came to the curious position that discrimination against Ivy League applicantsand the existence of Glass Ceilings in the work place for CAs are both culturaland racial. In admissions, Chinese are both (1) overrepresented AND (2)discriminated against (i.e., simultaneous co-existence of both phenomena), and Chinesebumping into the glass ceiling is both a result of (1) don't understand theimportance of political group power and (2) the reality of the American workplace.


Forthese reasons, I believe the opinions and facts surrounding the issues of IvyLeague admissions and Glass ceiling in employment are not pure-and-simplediscrimination. Although my observations are mainly about Chinese Americans ,to a lesser extent also pertaining to the larger Asian Americans whose culturalbackground may be somewhat different. Nor do I claim any uniqueness/priority tothese observations which others have also voiced.

(Note added Aug.4, 2011 at 12.05 pm EDT. Somehow the reply mechanism on sciencenet is not working. Below is my reply to comment #10 by Tainyi Zhang. I am posting is here also because of its general interest:

Dear Dr. Zhang,  Please do not feel offended when I say that your question represents a form of Chinese thinking and another common misunderstanding of the American political process. A politician is elected to represent his/her electorate, I.e., the people in his/her district. Unless his district happen to have a CA majority (there are no such congressional district in the US to my knowledge), s/he should represent America and  NOT her/his ethnic origin.  On the other hand, a PAC ( political action committee) is a voluntary group formed, to push and lobby for special or ethnic interest. Organization. such as 80-20 are formed to represent and argue minority interests. To expect an elected CA  politician to argue for CA interests is to insure his/her defeat. This question and  distinction between an elected politician and a PAC deserves a lot more discussion than here. Let me think about this and write a separate article for it. YCHo

(More notes added 8/4/2011 @1:35 pm EDT. It should be emphasized that to assimilate does not mean to give up ones cultural identity. While America is often described as a melting pot, a more apt description is a delicious stew where each ingredient can maintain its distinct identity and yet contribute harmoniously to the greater common good. For example Jewish Synagogue and Arabic mosque can each co-exist with Christian churches. There are "Sons of Italy" and "Irish clubs" organizations in most major cities)


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