Hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans have been getting some news lately. Not as much news as they ought to be, especially if you don’t follow any Asian American people on social media.
Our university, like many in the country right now, is only hiring for positions that increase the diversity of the faculty. Unlike many universities that are only responding superficially to the Black Lives Matter movement, ours is taking a broader view and not just hiring people who do various versions of “African American Studies” or whatever else I’ve been seeing on job ads. (Research suggests that doing a big cluster hire AND taking into account diversity as a structural whole will likely be more successful in retention and improved climate than the places that hire one black person to teach all diversity studies classes and then forget about diversity as soon as BLM is out of the news cycle.)
Our percent of Asian American graduate students and of Asian American faculty are much smaller than the percent of the population (at the undergraduate level we’re closer to matching). As a large R1 public state school, we are supposed to look like our constituents and we don’t.
When we get “diversity points”* for students and faculty, in general, international students count as “international” regardless of their race or ethnicity and only domestic students (citizens, permanent residents, and those who could be included in DACA) count as diverse, meaning they qualify for university-level scholarships only available to increase diversity in our graduate student body. Because our numbers are low for Asian Americans, our university gives us “diversity points” for recruiting and enrolling Asian Americans, but we are supposed to try to keep international within a certain percent so that we have international exposure but aren’t entirely international. For this hire focused on increasing diversity, those guidelines have been relaxed (I assume because immigrant faculty are assumed to become US Citizens) and Black and Hispanic international faculty are considered to be increasing diversity for this targeted hire.
So we had two international candidates and the third candidate was Asian American.
The worst thing about discrimination against Asian Americans is that so many people believe that it doesn’t exist. They look at numbers of Asian Americans at Berkeley or Harvard and argue that quotas should go in the opposite direction– that Asian Americans should be limited rather than encouraged. That we should discriminate against them rather have affirmative actions for them. They are expected to be “higher quality” if a place hires them over a White applicant– if equal, people believe the White person should be hired. This is a kind of discrimination that plenty of people who believe they are Woke have– they deny that Asian Americans face discrimination and they put them in the “model minority” box. One of my grad school professors told me that the hardest candidate for him to place (because of discrimination) was any Asian American male. And indeed, it’s a bit jarring realizing how few Asian Americans we have in graduate school in my field outside of California.
Worse, not only do they treat all Asian Americans as the same (ignoring that Asia is an entire continent and that Asian Americans have widely varied histories depending on when, where, and why their families settled here and what their families experienced once here). But they treat all Asians IN America as the same.
So when I noted that we only get maybe one Asian American graduate student every couple of years and that’s a known problem and we’re actually doing better with Hispanic and Black students since our last major intervention… several of my colleagues shook their heads. We get TONS of Asian students from South Korea and China(!) (!!!!!) they argued. And I couldn’t even. But instead I gently argued that no, Asians from Asia and Asian Americans have not had the same life experiences and are treated differently by admissions. I did not mention that before that last admissions intervention, our graduate admissions officer referred to Asian Americans as “Oriental” (which is not a slur when referring to carpets but most definitely is when referring to PEOPLE) and worse, color coded them yellow (zie also coded Native Americans as red– I am not making this up). I mean, is there any question about why we have so few Asian Americans in our graduate programs?
This is not to say that international faculty aren’t discriminated against or that Black and Hispanic faculty aren’t discriminated against. They obviously are. But the most insidious thing about discrimination against Asian Americans is the general belief that it doesn’t exist or that if it does exist it’s ok because: “model minority.”
In any case, we decided all three candidates were acceptable. We’re making offers in order of the quality of their work and how well they fit gaps in our curriculum. But that was after a lot of discussion about the intention of the cluster hire (the university had provided guidance that they found all three candidates equally acceptable in terms of increasing diversity, but some of my colleagues wanted to argue about that even though we currently have no Asian Americans in our department**).
*diversity points is an amorphous concept– basically we get audited every few years and if we are too white/non-Hispanic, we get dinged, and we get dinged the more off from the state averages we are for each major group. Being dinged generally means having to write up a plan to fix the problem; I was in charge of one of the committees when we were doing really badly almost a decade ago as a newly minted associate professor. Also there are scholarships from the university that only underrepresented minorities are eligible for. At our uni, Asian-Americans are underrepresented at the graduate level.
**the department that shares a building with us has an Asian American professor of Japanese descent and an international professor from China. A couple of my colleagues regularly mix them up with each other even though they are *nothing* alike in any way other than both having black hair. They don’t even dress similarly (one is more business and the other business casual).