Mitchell Chang: Tiger Mom Hurts Asian Am College Applicants?

January 31, 2011

Here's an op-ed by UCLA Professor of education and Asian American studies Mitchell Chang on one possible negative effect of the Tiger Mom book (Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother): more stereotypes of Asian American college applicants that will (further) hurt their chances of getting into colleges and universities.

Here's an excerpt from the op-ed:

This image contributes to an already problematic stereotype by suggesting not only that most Asian Americans are high-achieving, but also that their achievements are due to overbearing parents.

Her characterization can further tax Asian American college applicants by reducing the chances that they will be viewed as self-starters, risk-takers and independent thinkers -- attributes that are often favored by admissions officers but rarely associated with Asian American applicants. If the "Tiger Mother" image leaves a lasting impression and is applied broadly beyond Chua's own experiences, this characterization can advance a one-dimensional view of Asian Americans that minimizes their achievements and overlooks their diversity.

There's been much discussion about the parenting methods of Chua, and the mental health aspect of kids who grow up under the iron-fisted rule of Tiger Moms (and recently, some discussion about Dads). But more recently, there have been articles about how Chua's book may have broader implications on civil rights and education. Hyphen columnist Victoria Yue also has a good piece on our blog. There's been a history, as Chang and Yue point out, of alleged discrimination against Asian American applicants.

One of our feature stories by Lin Yang, out in April, focuses on this exact topic of Asian American college admissions -- specifically, on the complexity of this issue. We hope to broaden the discussion around admissions, education and the overall well being of children and students. 

For now, what do folks think -- will this hurt Asian American applicants? That Chua's book could lead to more stereotypes and hurt students' chances of getting into the top, most competitive and prestigious schools, is sort of ironic, no? Or do parents and students need to stop buying into the elitism and status of Ivy League and other top schools? Are colleges and universities discriminating against Asian American applicants?


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.



As a college consultant, I have worked with quite a few Asian American students over the last twenty years. I would have to admit that in many cases I felt they did not get the college acceptances they should have based on their credentials as college applicants. Fortunately, they all went to schools that worked out for them, but in a number of cases it was not their first or second choice. I am not a believer in "brand name" schools and want my students to go to colleges that fit them academically and personally. However, I do remember some Asian parents who were disappointed if it wasn't the Ivy League.
I think that if people saw what I see in the "We'll Get Your Kid Into A Top College and You'll Never Have to Be Poor Again" industry in Orange County and Los Angeles, they wouldn't be surprised that not all academically overachieving AA students make the cut. I recently met one high-school senior who attended SAT classes every Saturday since he was in the ninth grade. He spent his Saturday afternoons in a tiny room with three other boys, practicing for the SAT. Neither he nor his parents thought that there was anything weird or wrong about that. They also didn't seem worried that his first SAT score wasn't high enough, and he had to continue spending his Saturdays in SAT class through half of his senior year. There are way too many high-school seniors who have almost perfect grades, but absolutely no extracurricular activities. When asked if they have any hobbies, they usually look at you blankly and say, "I like to hang out with my friends." I think what we should really be worried about is: Are AA moms creating Frankenstein monsters in their desperate pursuit of wealth and prestige? Is higher education going to collapse under the Tiger Mom-led charge by immigrants and minorities to use college as a magic escape tunnel that takes entire families from rags to riches? Do we need to be worried that highly educated AA women find it almost impossible to date or marry within their race? Or that highly educated AA men seem to find it hard to date...period?