By Tess Vrbin, 23News Reporter
Jack Miller and Kelilah Liu both regularly feel like spokespeople for the Asian-American community. Neither they nor the MU administration want that.
MU does not consider Asian Americans eligible for its scholarships aimed at increasing racial and ethnic diversity. University spokesman Christian Basi said this is because the administration has determined, through student surveys and internal reviews of the campus environment, that Asian students have reached a “critical mass.” The term originated from the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger, which ruled in favor of affirmative action at the University of Michigan.
The Chronicle of Higher Education defines a critical mass as “not a fixed percentage or number of students. Instead, it is defined by the university as the point at which students in underrepresented minority groups no longer feel isolated or like spokespeople for their races.” It is the perceived point at which members of these groups feel comfortable expressing themselves as individuals without creating or perpetuating stereotypes.
Miller, a junior from a Chicago suburb, said he has felt like a spokesperson for Asian Americans for his entire life. Liu, also a junior and the advocacy chair for the Asian American Association, said she feels like a spokesperson for both her race and her organization in situations where she is neither.
“I just haven’t seen as many Asians as I would like to (in order) to feel like I’m not speaking for my race,” Liu said.
MU enrollment data shows that Asian Americans are 2.15 percent of the undergraduate population. In 2015, 2.0 percent of Missouri’s population was Asian-American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The national population of this group was 5.8 percent in 2011, and according to the Pew Research Center, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the country.
Basi said the university is currently focusing on increasing the populations of other minority groups at MU because there is a “greater need” to reach out to them. If MU offered diversity scholarships to Asian Americans, it would not be able to offer as much money to other minorities.
Miller said he has never looked up how much the scholarships are because he knows he does not qualify, but he knows his education would be significantly cheaper if he did. Instead, he and his family are paying for his education completely on their own. Liu said she does not need the scholarship but understands that the qualifications negatively affect others.
Liu and Miller both said they disagree with the critical mass theory.
“It is hard at any point to point at any minority group and say, ‘There are enough of you,’” Miller said.
Sophomore Jenny Lam described the critical mass theory as a “crude” way of determining who does and does not receive scholarships because there are many different cultures underneath the umbrella of the Asian race.
“To generalize an entire population is not the best method, especially if we’re trying to show diversity,” Lam said.
Some Asian ethnicities are more represented in America than others. Americans descended from Laotian, Cambodian and other Southeast Asian immigrants are less likely to be financially stable and have college degrees than Chinese and Filipino Americans.
There’s already a lot of ignorance in America about the very, very unique brand of racism that Asian American communities face,” Jack Miller said.
Miller said he has encountered people whose concept of Asia is limited. Someone once asked him if he was Chinese when in fact he is half Korean and half Pakistani. Someone else once asked him if Pakistan and India were the same country.
“When white Americans and black Americans and other groups choose not to educate themselves about Asian American cultures, it just reinforces the idea that we are unimportant to this country,” Miller said.
Basi, Liu, Lam and Miller agree that offering scholarships to minorities is a tool to promote diversity but is not the only way to do so. Students want the administration to make more effort to reach out to Asian Americans and make them feel welcome.
“It’s the job of the administration to make this an environment where we can learn comfortably and not be worried by racial tension, or economic tension because of scholarships we can’t receive,” Lam said.
Liu said it’s good that MU holds the International Welcome Party, which happens every semester and represents several Asian cultures, but the university should focus on Asian American students as well as international students.
Basi said the administration and faculty can start discussions about diversity, but students need to be willing to engage in those discussions. He also said the entire university community is responsible for fostering a more diverse and accepting environment.
“This is not something that administrators can do on their own, it’s not something that faculty can do on their own, and it’s not something that even students can do on their own,” Basi said. “It’s got to be everyone working together.”
Miller said he wishes more people knew that his race disqualifies him from receiving certain scholarships. When he tells people about this, they usually agree with him that it is unfair. Sometimes, though, they say that Asian Americans must not need help paying for their education. Miller said he has heard this from black and Hispanic as well as white students.
“There’s already a lot of ignorance in America about the very, very unique brand of racism that Asian American communities face,” he said. “I think it speaks a lot to how in a lot of ways, no one has really accepted Asian Americans here in this country, not yet.”
Edited by Aviva Okeson-Haberman | firstname.lastname@example.org