The Asian American Achievement Paradox

The Asian American Achievement Paradox

Min Zhou - Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles; and Jennifer Lee - Professor of Sociology, University of California, Irvine

Thursday, March 3, 2016 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Auditorium, Henry R. Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511

Asian Americans are frequently deployed as racial mascots by conservative pundits who fixate on how they been able to achieve extraordinary levels of academic attainment. They make up about one-fifth of the entering classes in Ivy League universities like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, yet are only 5.5 percent of the U.S. population. Unable to explain these vexing educational outcomes, pundits often point to Asian culture, traits, and values. However, this facile explanation fails to consider the pivotal role that U.S. immigration law and global development have had in ushering in a new stream of highly-educated, highly-skilled Asian immigrants. The hyper-selectivity of contemporary Asian immigration means that the children of Asian immigrants begin their quest to get ahead in society from more favorable starting points, with greater access to ethnic capital. In addition, hyper-selectivity has social psychological consequences: Asian Americans are affected by positive stereotypes and biases, which can result in stereotype promise—the boost in performance that comes with being perceived by teachers, guidance counselors, and peers as smart, high-achieving, and deserving. Stereotype promise, however, is a double-edged sword. It contributes to exceptionally high academic outcomes while making those who do not attain the same achievement levels feel like failures and ethnic outliers. Moreover, the seemingly positive stereotype that enhances Asian Americans’ academic performance can also work against them as they vie for leadership positions and as they often find themselves trying to break through a bamboo ceiling.

Min Zhou is currently Tan Lark Sye Chair Professor of Sociology, Head of the Division of Sociology, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Director of the Chinese Heritage Centre, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. She is also Professor of Sociology & Asian American Studies and Walter and Shirley Wang Endowed Chair in U.S.-China Relations & Communications at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA (on leave). She was the President of the North American Chinese Sociologist Association, Chair of Section on Asia and Asian America of the American Sociological Association (ASA), and Chair of ASA’s Section on International Migration of the American Sociological Association. She serves on the Expert Advisory Committee of the Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. She is the prestigious Chang Jiang Scholar Chair Professor of Sociology at Sun Yat-sen University, China and holds visiting professorships at several major universities in China.

Professor Zhou’s main areas of research include international migration, immigrant integration/adaptation, the new second generation, ethnic/racial relations, ethnic entrepreneurship, Chinese Diaspora, and Asia and Asian America, and she has published widely in these areas, including 17 books and more than 170 journal articles and book chaptersCurrently, Professor Zhou is working on three projects: “Inter-group relations and racial attitudes among Chinese locals and African merchants in Guangzhou, China,” “Chinese immigrant transnationalism,” and “Highly skilled Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles and Singapore.”  

Jennifer Lee is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, who has published award-winning books and articles about immigration, the new second generation, diversity, and ethnoracial relations. She is author or co-author of The Asian American Achievement Paradox, The Diversity Paradox, Civility in the City, and Asian American Youth. She has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, and a Fulbright Scholar to Japan. She has recently been elected to the Sociological Research Association, and appointed as Deputy Editor of the American Sociological Review. Committed to public sociology, Jennifer Lee has written for and has had research featured in a variety of national and international media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, The Seattle Times, The Guardian, NPR, The Tavis Smiley Show, TIME, The Globe and Mail, Slate, and BuzzFeed. You may follow her on Twitter @JLeeSoc.

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Co-sponsored by New Directions in Asia Studies and Yale College