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Rice should be a place where the “model minority” myth is broken

Photos courtesy Christi Nguyen, Aaron Pathak, and Peter Wang.

By Christi Nguyen , Aaron Pathak and Peter Wang     3/22/21 8:08pm

To preface, we want to be clear that every single BIPOC student that matriculates into Rice should be entitled to resources for a fair opportunity to succeed in higher education, especially at an elite university like Rice. Racism and racial inequity impact our ability to take full advantage of our opportunity and education. Every minority group has different histories, traumas, cultural factors and needs in order to be successful. Asian and Pacific Islander students are not here to ask for any resources that Black, Indigenous, Latinx or other minority groups may have, but to address the fact that there are no conversations around the fact that API students don't have resources specifically tailored to us and our experiences. The Rice administration, and Rice culture in general, has failed to recognize Asian Americans as people of color who experience racism. This needs to change.

Last semester, a Rice professor was filmed racially profiling Asian American students in class, and the video was posted on the popular Zoom Memes for Quarantines Facebook page. This post received thousands of condemnations from viewers, but other than two town halls, this event continues to be relatively unaddressed by administration and the greater Rice community. During the Student Association x Asian Pacific American Student Alliance town halls, the administration’s solution was to encourage students and faculty to report incidents of racial bias and racism. However, this does not consider the concerns that many students and faculty brought up regarding their lack of knowledge about avenues for reporting and the cultural quality ingrained in many APIs to stay quiet and not bring attention to ourselves. Putting the onus of eliminating racial discrimination on API students by relying on them to report incidents is ineffective and ignores our cultural values. Only recently was the subject of Asian American hate crimes increasing by a stark 1900% in some areas in the United States acknowledged by President Leebron in the wake of the recent hate crime towards Asian American women in Atlanta. The fact that it required an extremely violent attack to break the silence on anti-AAPI hate crimes and total lack of condemnation of the professor's behavior, even now, is a statement of Rice’s values. 

Beyond this, the administration has failed to offer solidarity with API students in their lack of tangible API-specific support and spaces on campus through their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. APIs are not a monolith, and there need to be initiatives that account for the ethnic and economic diversity within the “API” category. For instance, the Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, Indian and Nepali communities are all vastly different, and beyond this, a Chinese-American experience is very distinct from an international one. Additionally, many API students have been facing racial trauma along with financial stresses as a result of the high rate of API businesses closing and high unemployment rates due to the pandemic. We each have different needs and come from very different communities. API students deserve resources, conversations and places in the Rice DEI initiatives and Multicultural Center to address that. Furthermore, many of the DEI initiatives on campus within task forces and working groups have a blatant lack of API representation which leads to a dangerous disregard of the complexities of race beyond the Black-white binary. For example, our affinity groups are not represented during Orientation Week and AAPI heritage month is noticeably absent in the planning of campus-wide national month-long observance events. 

Rice has fallen into the trap of the “model minority” myth in assuming that API students are successful and self-sufficient; it dangerously silences the claims of racism by the API community (and by other minorities). This leaves many API students who face racial traumas and the underrepresented who come from communities that face resource scarcity without culturally-specific campus resources to turn to. This lack of resources perpetuates the idea that API students don’t need them, while simultaneously placing an incredible burden on API students who don’t fit this model.

Rice University prides itself in its diversity, so there is no excuse for Rice to be a place that continues to fail in actively working to break the “model minority” myth. Rice must actively educate themselves on the history of oppression and racism against API and show true solidarity with their API students by expanding the scope of their resources and diversity initiatives to include API.

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