Campus & Community

Race, class still matter

1 min read

Undermining the myth of the model minority

Even as she was marching proudly through academia, earning a Ph.D. in sociology from Yale and a fellowship and ultimately assistant professorship at Harvard, Vivian Shuh Ming Louie saw family members and friends from her former Chinatown neighborhood struggling to stay in, or get into, college. Turning a scholarly lens on this experience, Louie produced “Compelled to Excel: Immigration, Education, and Opportunity Among Chinese Americans” (Stanford University Press, 2004). “The model minority thesis is used to make the argument that race doesn’t matter, that class doesn’t matter, because look at all these Asian Americans. Look how well they’re doing,” says Louie. “But in fact, I find that class matters and race matters as well.” For “Compelled to Excel,” which grew out of Louie’s dissertation, she conducted qualitative research on Chinese American students in two distinct higher education environments in her native New York: Hunter College, a commuter college that is part of the City University of New York, and the Ivy League Columbia University. In all, she interviewed 68 second-generation Chinese American college students and the parents and adult siblings of eight students to learn how their socioeconomic class and, surprisingly to her, race affected their educational opportunities.