I recently came across an astonishing article in the Boston Globe that described how consultants that work with Asian Americans clients advise to them to appear less Asian in their college applications. The article says, “Some call it ‘the bamboo ceiling’ of racial quotas, telling stories of Asian American students with perfect SAT scores and GPAs turned down by elite colleges who limit the number of Asians they will admit, effectively forcing them to face a higher bar for admissions than other racial groups, including whites.” As a result, potential students are forced to diminish their identity (or part of their identity) to have a better chance of being admitted to colleges and universities nationwide. Advocates and Asian American groups have filed lawsuits in the past regarding discrimination in admissions procedures.
According to Asian Nation, “Asian Americans have the highest college degree attainment rate, rates of having an advanced degree (professional or Ph.D.), median family income, being in the labor force, rate of working in a ‘high skill occupation’ (executive, professional, technical, or upper management), and median Socioeconomic Index (SEI) score that measures occupational prestige.” Therefore, the model minority image projected is still persistent in people’s minds. The same piece later points out that:
…just because many Asian Americans have “made it,” it does not mean that all Asian Americans have made it. In many ways, Asian Americans are still the targets of much prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. For instance, the persistent belief that “all Asians are smart” puts a tremendous amount of pressure on many Asian Americans. Many, particularly Southeast Asians, are not able to conform to this unrealistic expectation and in fact, have the highest high school dropout rates in the country.
Asian Americans as a group are also subject to something called the perpetual foreigner syndrome. The perpetual foreigner syndrome is the notion that others do not perceive Asian Americans as “real” Americans, despite how long they have lived in the US. I have witnessed this within my own life. My Japanese American friend said someone told him he “speaks really good English.” My friend was born and raised in the United States. There are many others who have also experienced the perpetual foreigner syndrome.
There are a lot of ways we as student affairs professional can help break the bamboo ceiling within higher education. We should understand the cultural context(s) people are coming from. We should be mindful of the stereotypes we may be projecting on individuals and how this colors our perspective. Hyun, the author of Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, notes that the bamboo ceiling “is a combination of individual, cultural, and organizational factors.”
It shouldn’t just be individuals and groups working to break the bamboo ceiling. Other minority groups and institutions should take part in it as well.