Yes, Calling A School "Too Asian" Is Racist

Illustration for article titled Yes, Calling A School "Too Asian" Is Racist

Are Canadian universities "too Asian?" That's the question posed in a bizarre article that also swears "'too Asian' isn't about racism." So what's it about then?


Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Kohler of Macleans don't come out and say that Canadian colleges have too many Asian students. They let a group of anonymous white kids do that:

[A]s Alexandra puts it — she asked that her real name not be used in this article, and broached the topic of race at universities hesitantly — a "reputation of being Asian."

Discussing the role that race plays in the self-selecting communities that more and more characterize university campuses makes many people uncomfortable. Still, an "Asian" school has come to mean one that is so academically focused that some students feel they can no longer compete or have fun. Indeed, Rachel, Alexandra and her brother belong to a growing cohort of student that's eschewing some big-name schools over perceptions that they're "too Asian."

Lest you think these kids are racist or something, Findlay and Kohler helpfully explain that, "'too Asian' is not about racism, say students like Alexandra: many white students simply believe that competing with Asians — both Asian Canadians and international students — requires a sacrifice of time and freedom they're not willing to make." From there, the piece — which was briefly removed from Maclean's website but is now back up (albeit in edited form; you can read the original here) — becomes a weird mashup of stereotypes and concern-trolling. Asian students "work harder" and "tend to be strivers, high achievers and single-minded in their approach to university." They have pushy parents, are anti-social, and when they do socialize they do so with — horrors — other Asians. Universities need to do something about this terrible problem before they become "places of many solitudes, deserts of non-communication."

It's kind of unclear what this even means, but Findlay and Kohler go on to say that the real problem isn't that colleges are "too Asian" but that they're too segregated — they're "at risk of being increasingly fractured along ethnic lines." Of course, blaming racial segregation on the idea that immigrant groups "keep to themselves" is an age-old way of dodging the real discrimination these groups face — but okay, having friends of all different backgrounds is an important part of becoming a thoughtful and sociopolitically aware person, and it's reasonable for colleges to do what they can to foster such friendships. But if that's what Findlay and Kohler cared about, why didn't they call their article "Too Segregated?" Why didn't they talk about all groups, including white students, rather than focusing in on (a stereotyped and oversimplified version of) Asian students? Why did they base a whole thesis of anti-Asian resentment on a few quotes by white kids who wouldn't go on the record? Whatever the reason, "students like Alexandra" are here to assure you that it's not about racism.

‘Too Asian'? [Macleans]

Image via Matthew Benoit/


A Small Turnip

"When Alexandra and her friend Rachel, both graduates of Toronto’s Havergal College, an all-girls private school, were deciding which university to go to, they didn’t even bother considering the University of Toronto. "The only people from our school who went to U of T were Asian," explains Alexandra, a second-year student who looks like a girl from an Aritzia billboard. "All the white kids," she says, "go to Queen’s, Western and McGill."

OH MY GOD. While I'd sincerely like to take out Alexandra's trachea with my teeth, she's actually articulated the situation with chilling precision. I'm a product of that southern Ontario private school system (Any other Ridley students on Jezebel?), and did my B.A. at the University of Toronto. I've seen first-hand how depressingly segregated students with Asian backgrounds are from other kids. Even in a diversity-friendly school like U of T, there's still a horrifying lack of social interaction between those groups—and being in the history department, it was unusual to see an Asian face of any kind in my classes. I wish I knew how to help change that.