The “Asian Invasion” on college campuses

This week, an editorial by Jed Levine in the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper, has UCLA students in a heated debate about college admissions and Asian Americans on their campus, and it’s sparked off a dialogue across several Asian/Pacific Islander listserves. Levine’s arguments come from the worn-out notion about the “over-representation” of Asian American students on university campuses, and it reminded me a lot about my own student organizing days around affirmative action at the University of Michigan. His arguments are so played out as a white male college student claiming to be a victim of “reverse racism”. Thankfully he tried to add some sort of satire into his writing, so when I first read his editorial I chuckled a bit.

Which is why I found the response submitted by a coalition of students of color groups to be so refreshing. Leaders from the students of color groups responded immediately (showing a united front), but not reactionarily. Their response was well-thought out and witty. I hope the Daily Bruin will print the response.

See full text of response below.

A Bit of Modest Truth

Submitted By: Daniela Conde, Doug Johnson, Jason Osajima, and Nefara Riesch

Jed Levine should be proud. He has sparked debate on what will be one of the most contentious issues of the year: admissions. However, being the avant-garde writer that he is, instead of looking at it from the usual perspective of the low numbers of African American, Latina/os, and American Indian students on our campus, he took a different approach and looked at the group he deemed the majority on this campus, “Asian Americans.”

Who are “Asian Americans” anyway?

The commonly accepted definition of “Asian American” refers to anyone who is from Asia, South Asia, the Pacific Islands– basically a quarter of the globe and then some. The term “Asian” and “Asian American” includes the usual Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Indians and Vietnamese; it also includes Hmong, Khmer, Thai, Malay, Pilipina/os, Indonesians, Taiwanese, Laotian, Mongolian, Cham, Teo Chew, Burmese… the list goes on and on, and we’re not even including the Pacific Islanders (Fijian, Guam, Samoan, Tahitian, French Polynesian…). They speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Tagalog, Malay, Taiwanese, Hmong, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Pali, Tamil, Farsi, Fijian, Samoan… Some are Christian, some are Buddhist, others are Muslim, Hindi, Shinto, Taoist…

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how two little words can hold so much?

With so many people included under the term “Asian American,” of course we are entering the university at high rates.

But, are we?

The Pacific Islands Student Association can count the number of members on two hands, not because they aren’t an amazing organization, but because they literally only have that many students on this campus. They had 24 total students (freshmen and transfer) enter in Fall 2006; that brings their grand total to about 50 students on this campus.

Hmong students were happy to welcome 3 new students this year—1 freshman, 1 transfer, and 1 grad student. They’re finally up to a whopping 18 students at UCLA.

You wouldn’t know this from the numbers, though, because the university refuses to recognize them individually; they are lumped together as “Asian American.” But who needs those numbers when communities face poverty, limited resources to access higher education, language barriers, and poorly funded schools? So long as that broad group of “Asian Americans” is doing well, all those communities within that group don’t need any help. Why help identify and solve the problem if you can ignore it with semantics?

The Asian American students aren’t angry for the satire. They get that it was supposed to be funny — some of them are English majors too. But the fact of the matter is, too many people are taking the satire for truth.

So for those of you who couldn’t or didn’t find the real message in his viewpoint on Tuesday, here it is:

  1. “Asian Americans” are not one homogenous group of people. In fact you don’t see most of the “Asian American” communities on this campus, because they aren’t getting in either.
  2. The Afrikan Student Union (not BSU) and MEChA do NOT hate the “Asian American” students on this campus, but actually work closely with them. They have worked with the Asian Pacific Coalition, on issues like admissions, for the past 30+ years.
  3. And finally, kicking out all of the “Asian Americans” on this campus will NOT solve the diversity crisis, even though that seems like the easiest option to most campus administrators.

So here’s an additional bit of modest truth for a modest proposal: when the number of underrepresented students of color continues to get closer and closer to zero, it’s actually not that funny.

Daniela is the Chairwoman of MEChA; Doug is the Chair of the Afrikan Student Union; Jason is the Director of the Asian Pacific Coalition; and Nefara is the Co-President of the Pacific Islands Student Association


  1. 1 Race must be a factor because Racism is factor « wsoft.heart

    […] For Asian American voters in Michigan, I can only imagine how the usual rhetoric used in affirmative action debates about Asian folks influenced our understanding of the issue. I imagine that many of us, despite the efforts of Frank Wu and the APA Caucus of One United Michigan, were duped into thinking that getting rid of affirmative action was in our best interest. That Asian Americans don’t need affirmative action because we’re “over-represented” on university campuses. And that each of us are the smart and economically well-off “model minorities” everyone should aspire to. […]

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