I’ve never liked Maclean’s university rankings—really, it’s stupid to compare the entire undergraduate experience at different universities—but this article is egregiously full of fail. It’s about whether certain Canadian universities with reputations for being academically rigorous, especially in science and engineering, are “too Asian”.
I’m an alumna of the University of Toronto, one of the schools singled out as being especially “Asian”. Yes, there are many Asian students there; yes, many of them are very hard-working and very strongly focused on their grades; and yes, U of T has a reputation for being really frakking hard. But allow me to explain why that is not the point, and furthermore how associating a university’s reputation for being strongly academically focused with its racial composition is misguided at best and racist at worst.
Consider: There are and always have been some students who don’t want to go to a university with a reputation for being crushingly hard, and others who do; and they’ll pick different universities because of this. Now suppose many of the students who don’t want a more academically-focused school belong to one race and many of those who do belong to another. You end up with different racial compositions at different schools (let’s ignore geography for now, although that probably plays a huge role too).
Now, there are legitimate questions to be asked about whether it’s good for a university to be soul-crushingly hard and/or focus on extracurricular experiences (or even just be a party school), and any would-be undergraduate should seriously consider what sort of university environment he or she wants. But instead, people know that this cultural difference in academic priorities exists and see that it’s reflected in university demographics…and now the questions they ask are about whether it’s good for a university to be “too Asian”, and kids are wondering whether they want to go to an “Asian” school. The underlying issue is one of academic priorities, but it’s playing out as one of demographics. And this article continues to conflate the two:
The dilemma is this: Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so. Privately, however, many in the education community worry that universities risk becoming too skewed one way, changing campus life—a debate that’s been more or less out in the open in the U.S. for years but remains muted here. And that puts Canadian universities in a quandary. If they openly address the issue of race they expose themselves to criticisms that they are profiling and committing an injustice. If they don’t, Canada’s universities, far from the cultural mosaics they’re supposed to be—oases of dialogue, mutual understanding and diversity—risk becoming places of many solitudes, deserts of non-communication. It’s a tough question to have to think about.
It is the wrong question to be thinking about. U of T has had its reputation for being academically focused for a long time, long before its student body became more Asian. The Asian students are not making U of T the way it is. (In a way, this debate may be about the rise of the “Asian nerd” stereotype more than anything.)
If you don’t want to apply to U of T (or UBC, or Waterloo, or wherever) because you don’t want to go to a school with such a ruthless reputation, that is fine. But to say that you’re not applying to U of T because it’s “too Asian”? That’s racism. And to write an article about it that fails to correct this mis-association is probably even worse.
P.S. Did I just totally argue against affirmative action? No, I totally didn’t! Affirmative action is about compensating for the privilege that some people have that makes it easier for them to get to university in the first place. The race issue as presented here, on the other hand, is about whether a university should have certain proportions of different races represented in its student body.