Students should deconstruct academic stereotypes about Asian Americans


Lorna Ding and Eva Glazier

Enter the classroom of a math-related club. Most of the students there are Asian. Math is their favorite subject. They take high-level math courses in school and additional classes taught by college professors outside of school. This is the stereotypical image of Asians; we love math, we’re good at it and we don’t struggle with it.

This assumption has pervaded society. The 1987 Time magazine cover is titled “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids” with a picture of six Asian kids. TV shows portray Asian characters as smart, nerdy and antisocial, like Rajesh Koothrapalli from “The Big Bang Theory” or Evan Huang from “Fresh Off The Boat.” But most of us are not like those genius Asian TV characters who skip a grade, win national math competitions and get admitted into Harvard University.

My parents are not like the stereotypical strict Asian parents who make their children take 10 extracurricular classes all related to science and math or start teaching calculus to their 11-year-old child; I never skipped a grade level or won a single math competition. Regardless, my parents care the most about my math grade, which means math is the subject I prioritize the most. I stress out the most when there is an upcoming math test. I start cursing more when there is a math test. And yet no matter how many practice problems I do in preparation, I struggle to answer questions on the test.

As an Asian student, it is embarrassing when I don’t know the answer to a simple math problem. I would ask myself, “You’re Asian. Aren’t you supposed to know this?” My Asian friends who excel at math would assume I was on the math competition team in elementary or middle school—I went to tryouts every year but I never made the team. And due to the immense amount of societal pressure and the pressure I put on myself to be good at math, math became my least favorite subject.

In light of Pi Day and the International Day of Mathematics on March 14, break the stereotype that Asians don’t struggle with math, that our favorite subject is math and that Asians are only good at math. We shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed when we do worse on a test than other people. Don’t prioritize math over your other subjects just to fit the Asian model minority stereotype. There’s that phrase, “Roses are red. Violets are blue. There’s always an Asian who’s better than you.” Someone will always be better than you at math—Asian or not. So instead of forcing yourself to do hundreds of math problems and binge-watch videos from The Organic Chemistry Tutor past midnight, focus on bettering yourself and pursuing your own passions whether that involves math or not.