Are we actually ‘Too Asian’? A look into the MacLean’s article and the stir behind it.

Jon Radice - 4A Chemical
Posted on: November 17, 2010

It’s interesting how fast news spreads. On the morning of November 10th Maclean’s released an article with a very blunt message, especially so for the many Asian students of this school. By the afternoon, it was all everyone in the class was talking about it.

“Have you seen what MacLean’s posted in that article?” I was without laptop all morning, hadn’t read the article in question, and asked what it was about. The response: “Well, according to Maclean’s our school is too Asian.”

Some people I’ve talked to said that the article is pure racism; others told me it points out an issue that gets buried under the guise of “politically correct conversation” and needs to bubble to the surface. But is Waterloo, moreover, is UW Engineering, ‘Too Asian’?

If engineering is too much of one group, it’s too many of a lot of groups as well. If there are too many Asians, there are also too many men, too many Muslims, too many Indians, too many exchange students, and the list can go on. The article makes a point of saying that immigrants, especially, but not limited to, Asian immigrants, are raised in a family where hard work and a good education are prized achievements. The cause for this is straightforward: immigration laws allow highly-educated, successful and diligent people into Canada, so naturally their children will be of the same mindset. University, and especially engineering, is meant for the hard working students that can focus and retain a lot of knowledge. Looking at statistics from 2006, the top four immigrant countries were China, India, the Phillipines, and Pakistan. This trend of Asian immigration has been common for the last 25 years, so now the parents have kids right at the university age. Surprise, surprise, the mixture of an influx of intelligent immigrants from certain countries would yield a higher percentage of them going to Canadian universities. What’s the problem with that?

The article focuses on two main problems with a school being ‘too Asian’ and that is the problem with one-sidedness and social segregation on campus. Being from Chemical Engineering, with a very diverse amalgam of Asians, Whites, and even (gasp!) girls, social segregation may not be as prevalent as in many classes. Social segregation is not a new or uncommon issue; it starts in grade school, solidifies in high school, and proliferates at the university level. The old chemistry phrase of ‘like dissolves like’ can be applied here; people are much more comfortable being around people that have had the same experiences as themselves. This can be beneficial and comforting; new students coming to Canada for the first time can at least have a group of people that understands their anxieties and struggles. Groups like this, especially larger school-wide groups, act almost in the same vein as fraternities. It allows the student to acquire an identity and a sense of stability while they are new. The problem with social segregation is when there is a lack of communication or involvement with people outside of a social circle. When this happens the social group and the excluded public create a rift that is hard to access or rebuild.

One-sidedness is hard to assess because the level of a student’s involvement, no matter where the student is from, is dependent on the student him or herself. The article claims that an upbringing of focusing on studying and good grades will weaken other areas of students, especially the social side. The often unmentioned aspect of the Engineering Faculty is that, in order for students to really stand out from the crowd, especially when looking for jobs, it isn’t the grades that will land you a job, but the extracurriculars. Sure, the marks will help you, but if you’re not adept at communications, you’re not moving up that business ladder very quickly. Nothing spells a doomed engineer like a life doing labwork. An interesting point that the article mentions is the lack of Asians (specifically Eastern Asians) in Student Councils or EngSoc groups. The article even specifically mentions the fact that there are no Asians on the Board of Directors or the Executive Council for FEDS, and comment that it has no meaning in the hierarchy of importance to an Asian student. I’d like to say that 20% of our Engineering Exec are Southeast Asian, and our benevolent Editor-in-Chief is one too. However, many of these positions, and the governance around it, can be just as exclusive as many of the cultural groups on campus. Societies and groups, regardless where the race lines lie are much more warming to the inside than the out. With the large amount of Asians in this school, it’s only time before their prevalence in student governments will be seen.

Is our school ‘Too Asian’? I don’t think so. We may not be the most boisterous school, but we are a school that is focused on academics and hard work. Even for the partier at heart, you can always mingle with Laurier students if you need your fix of a ‘White School’. An increase of any race is only a problem once social chasms begin to form due to alienation of that group. A focus should be put in place to integrate students better, and promote cross-cultural communication.

  • http://www.facebook.com/apetrescu Adrian Petrescu

    I don't understand — have you all actually read the article? I don't see how anyone who has can maintain that it's at all racist. MacLean's is not claiming UW is “too Asian”, MacLean's is reporting (with a somewhat alarmed tone) that lazy privileged high school students perceive UW as “too Asian.”

    There probably is racism happening here, but it isn't MacLean's that is perpetrating it.

    If this comment gets misconstrued as me agreeing with the sentiment, I will have lost all faith in humanity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Haichen-Cui/1647330046 Haichen Cui

    @Adrian: The original article was posted as “Too Asian”, without the question mark, and the subheading was completely different. It was pulled offline for editing, and re-appeared the next day with judicious edits made to the title, subtitle, and body text. http://theashcan.com/2010/11/11/too-white-the-macleans-magazine-archives/

    Finally, Macleans' journalistic standards aren't exactly high and they are kind of known for posting incendiary right-wing articles in this vein.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501691136 Chris Vandevelde

    ^ This. It's like everyone in every possible comments section related to this article just read the title of the article and didn't read the content. MacLean's didn't say a thing about if this was a good idea or not, or even true or not, it was that the students *perceive* the schools as “Too Asian.” Yes, they did edit the article, but it was to make that point more obvious in reaction to the *thousands of comments calling MacLean's racist.* I'd edit my article too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501691136 Chris Vandevelde

    I hate to be thay guy who replies to every comment, but I'll add this to clear this up.

    I diff'd a cached version of the original article to the version they have up now – file at http://www.eng.uwaterloo.ca/~cnvandev/too_asian.diff – and there's only four edits. They changed the tag line, added hyphens to two compound words that were formerly separated by a space, and moved one paragraph that was typo'd into the middle of another paragraph. If you compare the two you can see exactly what happened, the story wasn't changed at all.

  • Kathrynlennon

    Please come to this! WPIRG is organizing a teach-in in response to this article, and in support of similar teach-ins and discussion forums organized by students across the country. This is a way to start a discussion about whether racism and discrimination are problems on our campus.

    Teach-in: Challenging Anti-Asian Racism – University of Waterloo
    Thursday December 2nd, 3-5pm
    University of Waterloo, Hagey Hall, Room 138

    http://www.communityevents.ca/instance.php?id=7209
    http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=136092169778008

    Students across Canada have been organizing teach-ins in response to this article. Join students, community members, and professors here at UW to discuss the article and voice our concerns.

    Tentative Program

    1. Opening Remarks

    2. Students “Talking Back” and Discussion

    Students will voice their concerns about the article.

    3. Video Presentation, “An Audio-Visual Analysis of W5 ‘Campus Giveway’” (1980)

    Audience will watch clips of a rebuttal to the CTV W5 show in 1979, in which Chinese Canadians were portrayed as stealing the rightful places of the “real” (white) Canadians in postsecondary education. The show sparked a well-known struggle for equality led by the Chinese Canadian National Council.

    4. Panel Discussion: “An Open and Responsible Dialogue about Race and Diversity”

    Professor Jennifer Simpson will facilitate a discussion on deconstructing the article.

    Jennifer S. Simpson is an interdisciplinary scholar with a focus in communication. In collaboration with Leda Cooks, she is the co-editor of Whiteness, Pedagogy, Performance: Dis/placing Race. She is also the author of I Have Been Waiting: Race and U.S. Higher Education.

    5. Concluding Plenary Session: “What can we do next?”

    Audience will share views of collective vision and goals.

    Facebook event:
    http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=136092169778008&num_event_invites=0

    Check out “Too Asian?” Talk Back for a grassroots campaign and discussion forum to push Maclean's for an apology and remedies. http://www.facebook.com/TooAsianTALKBACK

    http://www.wpirg.org

  • Laura

    I completed two degrees from Laurier, and I would like to tell you that yes, a great deal of the students may have lighter skin, but there is also a large body of students that are from different races & cultures. Not everyone who goes to WLU is a “partier” or “White”, as you have implied here in your article. UW is not the only school that is type-cast.

  • Peternortena

    Ah of course how could White students be construed with academics and hardwork, the original founders and previous to the past ten years they were White. Intercultural conflict is the ink of history, White altruism and apathy has caused our decline but when people see no other option but extinction they will push all the way back.

  • Uwe
  • Uwe

    Another superbly written and cogently explicated article by Mr. Jeet Heer
    http://walrusmagazine.com/blogs/2010/11/24/too-brazen/