Maclean’s strains

By Adam Zunder

An article published in Maclean’s on Nov. 10 titled “Too Asian?” asks a provocative question. The piece focuses on concerns within the academic community about the implications of a university gaining—as one student put it—a “reputation of being Asian.”

The article cites claims that Asian students are more likely to apply themselves to academics, while white students are more likely to emphasize social interaction, extracurriculars and alcohol. Some administrators fear that having an “Asian” reputation will alienate non-Asian applicants.

The question of being “too Asian” is a high-profile concern in the US, where universities are often accused of arbitrarily controlling the ethnic makeup of their student body—accusations supported by scientific studies. The article suggests that Canadian universities face a difficult problem. Because these institutions operate as meritocracies, racial identity shouldn’t influence one’s ability to be a successful applicant. However, universities must choose between acknowledging the presence of these stereotypes—and risk being labelled as discriminatory—or avoid acknowledging them altogether.

The piece has become the target of a substantial amount of hostility, as many have suggested it merely perpetuates racial stereotypes. Because many of the interviewees are citing individual experiences, the article appears to be a series of racially-motivated generalizations put forth as fact.

The Maclean’s article faces a significant hurdle engrained in the topic it discusses. Writing a news story about an acknowledged problem based on stereotypes and generalisations is difficult. While the piece includes a variety of quotations from students, faculty and administrators, contextualizing individual opinions is nearly impossible. No one is in a position to make a definitive statement, nor does any one individual’s opinion speak for anyone else.

Despite the numerous criticisms levelled at the Maclean’s piece, one of its most unequivocal points is also its most valid. An admissions system based on anything other than merit is discriminatory. As the Maclean’s article concludes, universities should target racial stereotyping by encouraging diversity and equity within campuses, not by artificially ensuring a ratio of some ethnicities to others.

Ultimately, an individual is free to discount attending a university based on whatever criteria are most important to him or her. If this includes concerns about a university’s “Asian” reputation, then that student is simply letting their own racism inform a highly consequential decision.

And he or she should probably think twice.

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