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Stereotype becomes a double-edged sword for Asian-American students

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Asian-American organizations last week voiced their frustration in gaining access to elite colleges by filing federal complaints alleging discrimination by the admissions offices of Harvard University and other Ivy League institutions. The heavy representation of Asian-Americans among top colleges’ competitive applicants often gets attributed to their culture’s emphasis on educational achievement, but Jennifer Lee, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Irvine, says her research shows such an explanation to be overly simplistic.

上周,美国的一些亚裔团体表达了对难以进入名牌大学的不满。他们提起联邦申讼,指责哈佛大学(Harvard University)等常春藤盟校的招生部门歧视亚裔。在竞争顶尖学府入学名额的申请者中,亚裔美国人所占比重相当高。这经常被归因于他们的文化对学业成绩的重视,但加州大学欧文分校(University of California at Irvine)的社会学教授珍妮弗·李(Jennifer Lee)表示,她的研究表明,这样的解释过于简单化了。

 

Together with Min Zhou, a professor of sociology at both the University of California at Los Angeles and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, Ms. Lee has extensively interviewed the children of Chinese immigrants and Vietnamese refugees living in metropolitan Los Angeles. In a soon-to-be-released book, The Asian American Achievement Paradox,they describe how the two immigrant populations were distinctive — with the Chinese immigrants tending to be much wealthier and better educated than the refugees from Vietnam — and yet their children converged in generally performing well in school.

李和加州大学洛杉矶分校(University of California at Los Angeles)兼新加坡南洋理工大学(Nanyang Technological University)的社会学教授周敏一起,在洛杉矶大都市圈广泛采访了华人移民和越南难民家庭的子女。在即将出版的《亚裔成就悖论》(The Asian American Achievement Paradox)一书中,她们解释了这两个差异明显的移民圈——华人移民往往比越南难民富裕得多,受教育程度也高得多——为何子女在学校的表现通常都不错。

 

Among the factors they found contributing to such educational success were the high educational levels of parents, especially in comparison with most people in their native lands, and ethnic networks that helped their families plug into sources of academic support such as tutoring and test-preparation programs.

她们发现,与出色的学业成就有关的因素包括:父母受教育水平高,尤其是与本土的多数人的水平相比;以及能够帮助家人获得辅导和考前培训等学业支持的族群交往圈。

 

The Chronicle asked Ms. Lee about her research findings and how they relate to the debate over race-conscious college admissions. Following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.

《高等教育纪事报》对李进行了采访,以了解她的研究成果与围绕着考虑了族裔背景的高校录取的争论有何关联。以下是采访记录,经过了编辑与浓缩。

 

Q. Your writings talk about a dramatic change, over the past century, in the cultural stereotype associated with Asian-Americans. What was this change, and how did it happen?

问:你的著作中谈到过去一个世纪里亚裔身上的文化标签发生了剧变。具体是怎样的变化?它又是如何发生的?

 

A. Asian-Americans prior to 1965 were stereotyped as unassimilable. They were considered filthy, filled with disease. They were ethnically segregated and racially segregated into Chinatowns. What changed was immigration law, in 1965, which opened the door to Asian immigrants and gave priority to those who had high levels of skills and high levels of education. We have hyperselected Asian immigration taking place, especially from East Asian countries like China and Korea.

答:1965年以前,美国的亚裔被打上了不可融合的标签。外界认为他们污秽不堪,孱弱多病。他们的种族和群体被隔绝在华埠里。带来变化的是1965年的移民法。这部法律向亚洲移民打开了大门,并优先考虑拥有高技能和高教育水平的移民。于是,这些经过层层筛选的亚洲移民来到美国,尤其是来自中国和韩国这样的东亚国家的移民。

 

Q. You talk about young Asian-Americans’ benefiting from "positive" stereotyping. How? Despite the "positive" characterization, is there a downside to it?

问:你谈到了亚裔青少年因为“正面”的种族定性而获益。这是怎么回事呢?虽说是“正面”的定性,是否也存在负面影响?

 

A. Because of the hyperselectivity of Asian immigrants, Asian-American students are benefiting from this perception that all Asian-Americans are highly educated and work hard and are high-achieving. Being viewed through the lens of the positive stereotype … can enhance the performance of Asian-American students. Teachers and guidance counselors were making assumptions about Asian-American students’ ability and work ethic. They were placing them in AP classes, in the honors track, giving them extra help with homework and college applications. What happened was that even mediocre students tended to rise. They performed better than they had performed in the past once they were anointed as high-achieving. The perception that Asian-Americans are high achieving can actually enhance or boost their performance.

答:由于亚洲移民经过了层层筛选,亚裔学生会从“所有亚裔均受到良好教育、勤奋努力、表现出色”的观念中受益。被人用正面的有色眼镜看待……可以提升亚裔学生的表现。教师和辅导员对亚裔学生的能力与勤奋程度有先入为主的想法。于是他们让这些学生上大学先修课程、为拿荣誉学位做准备,并在家庭作业和大学申请上予以他们额外的帮助。就连资质平平的学生也会出类拔萃起来。一旦被认定为表现出色的学生后,他们的成绩就比以往更好了。亚裔美国学生表现出色的观念实际上可以加强或提升他们的表现。

 

Those who don’t earn straight A’s, who don’t make it into the top universities, often feel like ethnic outliers. They are less likely to engage with coethnics, less likely to visit ethnic communities, and are more likely to reject their ethnic identities because they link those ethnicities with high achievement.

那些没有门门成绩得A、未能进入顶尖院校的学生,通常感到自己是族裔中的另类。他们不太可能与同族裔的人接触,不太可能走进本族裔的社群,而且更有可能拒绝自己的族群身份,因为他们会把这种身份和出色的表现联系在一起。

 

The kind of positive stereotypes that can boost the performance of Asian-American students can actually hurt them when they climb up the professional ladder. Stereotypes of Asian-Americans as hard working, diligent, smart, may help them as students and in the domain of education, but they hurt them as they climb up the professional ladder, where different kinds of traits are valued, like creativity, managerial bravado, or leadership skills.

这种可以促进亚裔学生表现的正面标签,实际上也可能对他们的职业发展不利。亚裔给人的印象是工作努力、勤奋、聪明。这些对他们作为学生及在教育领域的发展或许有利,但是当他们谋求职业升迁时,这种印象会对他们产生不利影响,因为在这方面重视的是其他的特质,比如创造力、管理者的气场或者领导能力。

 

Q. Is positive stereotyping a factor when Asian-Americans are applying to a college, or after they get in?

问:正面的标签对亚裔学生申请大学或者入学后有影响吗?

 

A. On college campuses it appears that the academic playing field is more level. We found less evidence of Asian-American interviewees’ talking about how the positive stereotypes are helping them in college.

答:进入大学校园后,学术领域似乎更公平了。我们找到的亚裔受访者谈到正面标签在大学里对他们有所帮助的证据较少。

 

Your high-school record is what counts most strongly when you’re applying to college. We find that the positive stereotypes are actually helping Asian-Americans … I think it is really hard for admissions officers to understand how this is happening. We look at records, and we judge those records, and we think those records are objective. But all of those records — when we think about how teachers grade students, what opportunities are afforded to which students — those are heavily biased by stereotypes, both positive and negative.

高中成绩在申请大学时是最重要的。我们发现,正面标签实际上有利于亚裔学生……我认为很难让招生人员明白为什么是这样。我们会看这些成绩,进行判断,而且认为成绩是客观的。但是所有这些成绩——如果想想老师是怎么给学生评分的,会把什么机会给予什么样的学生——都会因为或正面或负面的先入为主的印象而带有严重的偏见。

 

Q. Last week separate coalitions of Asian-American organizations staked out diametrically opposed positions on the question of whether Harvard and other Ivy League institutions illegally discriminate against Asian-American applicants. What do you see as accounting for the divide among Asian-Americans on this issue? What seems to be determining which side of it they will be on?

问:上周,围绕着哈佛等常春藤盟校是否违法歧视亚裔申请者的问题,几家不同的亚裔团体各自表达了完全相反的立场。你认为亚裔之间就此问题产生分歧的原因是什么?哪些可能的因素决定了他们站在哪一边?

 

A. I think the central question here is: Who are Asian-Americans? Are Asian-Americans only the hyperselected and the highly educated and those who fit this exceptional outcome, or are Asian-Americans willing to recognize the ethnic and class diversities of our communities? Here I am thinking of Asian ethnic groups like Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong, who have higher high-school-dropout rates than African-Americans and Latinos. They are also Asian-Americans, and they would benefit from race-conscious admissions.

答:我认为这里的关键问题就是:亚裔美国人指的是谁?亚裔仅仅是那些百里挑一、受过高等教育从而符合这种特例的人,还是愿意承认我们社群中的族裔和阶层多样化的人?说到这儿,我在想柬埔寨人、老挝人和苗族人等亚裔族群。他们的高中辍学率高于非裔和拉丁裔。他们也是亚裔,也可能从考虑了族裔的招生过程中受益。

 

The groups who have filed the complaints against Harvard tend to be those who are from the most highly educated segment of Asian-Americans, who are typically immigrants concerned about the educational opportunities of their children. I understand that, of course, but it is a very self-interested view, and fails to recognize the diversity of the Asian-American community.

投诉哈佛的团体基本来自亚裔中学历最高的那个阶层。这些人通常是关心自己孩子教育机会的移民。当然,我理解,但这是一种非常自私的想法,没能认识到美国亚裔群体的多样性。

 

Q. Are the groups that are academically struggling getting extra consideration in admissions, or do you think they are being lumped in with the populations that are considered advantaged or successful?

问:你觉得那些在学业上有困难的亚裔群体在录取时会受到额外的照顾,还是会与被看做具有优势的成功群体混为一谈?

 

A. I don’t work on an admissions committee. But my sense is that if you continue to allow race and ethnicity to be a factor in admissions decisions, then groups like Cambodians and Laotians and Hmong will benefit.

答:我没在招生委员会工作过。但我的感觉是,如果继续让族裔作为决定是否录取的一个因素,那么像柬埔寨人、老挝人还有苗族人这样的群体将会受益。

2016-06-24

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