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Why Alleging Canadian Schools Are ‘Too Asian’ Is Wrong

Maclean’s On Campus published a controversial story last week by Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Kohler on the phenomenon of white Canadians avoiding applying to schools perceived as “too Asian,”—meaning schools that are “so academically focused that some students feel they can no longer compete or have fun”—and how this is issue needs to be addressed by university administrations, before Canada ends up with totally segregated institutions of higher learning.

Jezebel did a pretty thorough job last week of panning the piece as racist.

But since I'm Asian (Filipino) and have attended one of the schools they say “all the white kids go to” (McGill), I have a couple things to add.

For starters, I’m surprised no one took issue with the way that “Asian” and “Chinese” are used interchangeably throughout this article. That was the first early warning sign that it was going to be hard to take seriously, for me.

The frustrating thing about this article is how it mixes some credible information and measured observation with a bunch of anecdotal evidence and general tone of "THE YELLOW MENACE IS ADVANCING" paranoia. Readers were likely torn over whether dismiss it outright or say it’s “thought-provoking.” I’m going to try to separate the two here a little bit.

There are the potentially valid problems: Self-segregation often happens among different ethnic groups; and the fact that quotas on Asian enrollment at some U.S. colleges have existed for years. The authors cite a few thoughtful studies done on this topic. Then there are thewild generalizations based on anecdotes—personal stories along the lines of "this happened to me with an Asian person one time!"

Second, I want to take a minute to note that this article doesn’t really hold up to my own experiences in college. When I was at McGill, the Asian student unions on campus competed to hold the best parties. My cousin was president of one of them for years—I can tell you, they can fucking party. Stereotypes about how Asians only want to study are lazy and inaccurate.

The article's uncritical portrayal of white students as fun loving lushes is also disappointing. There’s a definite culture of unhealthy 24-hour studying among most everyone at McGill, and it’s not driven by the kind of “overachieving Asian students” who are caricatured in this article.

Study drugs are common at McGill. The lead psychiatrist at McGill’s Mental Health Service cited a rise of mental health problems among students driven in part by increased pressure to achieve, calling them “angry, anxious, and fragile.” Last year one (white male) student campaigned on the promise of getting us a year-round 24 hour library. He lost by a small margin.

That said, I think this article is papering over some underlying problems by focusing on the race question at Canadian colleges.

For one thing, Canadian schools are increasingly getting run like businesses. Such a drive might be contributing more to unhealthy attitudes toward work and play than the presence of Asian students on campus. The phenomenon I saw most at McGill wasn’t that one group of students was drinking and one group of students was studying so much as that everyone would drink excessively and study excessively in alternating bursts.

When I worked for this rag, we talked a lot about how student life was coming under threat because it was increasingly seen as a liability for the university administration, not a priority. McGill isn’t turning into a “revolving door degree factory” because of Asian students. It’s getting that way because of underfunding and shifting ideas about how much a public university should be run like a business.

Another thing the article doesn’t really address is the existence of actual racism. Sure, it lays out instances of it:

“At graduation a Canadian—i.e. ‘white’—mother told me that I’m the reason her son didn’t get a space in university and that all the immigrants in the country are taking up university spots,” says Frankie Mao, a 22-year-old arts student at the University of British Columbia.

“I knew it was wrong, being generalized in this category,” says Mao, “but f–k, I worked hard for it.”

But it doesn’t ask the important question: Why doesn’t the onus to deal with a phobia of Asian students fall more than it does on the people who have the phobia?

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